Sustainability and the cycling industry: Rapha

Rapha’s sustainability manager Duncan Money tells Rebecca Morley about the brand’s sustainability strategies and why businesses need to come together

This piece first appeared in the February edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

The cycling industry has a contradiction when it comes to sustainability, according to Rapha’s sustainability manager Duncan Money: we are part of the solution and part of the problem. And the best way of resolving that is by addressing our own ways of working, the products made and how and who we work with: “Those are some of the greatest opportunities that we have as an industry,” Money told BikeBiz.

But is the cycling industry going in the right direction towards sustainability? This is a more difficult question to answer, said Money, as the cycling industry is made up of many different components, from bikes to accessories, apparel, media and pro racing. But what we can do is ask whether companies are using the lowest impact materials available.

So are we doing enough? The easy answer is ‘no’, according to Money: “But that’s because nobody’s doing enough anywhere. To put that into clear terms, just looking at climate, have the vast majority of organisations within the industry set science-based targets that align with the Paris Agreement in terms of reducing carbon emissions? Are they demonstrating progress against those targets on an annual basis? 

“The cycling industry is having a real boom at the moment, which means that production and consumption are going up. Even if companies are making progress, it’s probably been completely swamped by growth in the market. Absolute emissions will definitely have gone up across the entire industry, just because cycling as a whole is having a moment.”  

Sustainable strategies
Rapha published its impact commitments in April 2021 – long-term, measurable, ambitious targets that address all areas of environmental and social impact, the areas that the company expects the greatest amount of impact, and therefore can address head on. They cover community, diversity, equity, and inclusion, explains Money, in Rapha’s internal culture, partnerships and how it invests in development of the sport. 

“That’s really integral to Rapha’s core mission – to make cycling the most popular sport in the world,” said Money.That extends to our supply chain partners and treating them as part of our community and as colleagues; not just how we can create better products and innovate together, but also how we can ensure that the people that make our products are working with dignity and have good lives.

“We also have circularity and climate which we bundled together, because all these things are impossible to separate. A more diverse workforce is more innovative, and it’s a better place to address climate change. Without one, you can’t tackle the other.”

Circularity and climate
“We already make high-quality performance styles that are made to last, but now it’s a case of addressing the underlying materials they’re made with, the processes and the energy that go into making those as well,” Money continued. “By 2025, we’re looking for 90% of our production volume to be made with environmentally-preferred materials, which means recycled synthetics, organic natural fibres or animal material that meets the welfare standard.

“For transparency, we’re currently at 10% in 2021 by volume, so we’re looking to flip that in four years. There’s a massive innovation push going on. We already have a repair service and we’re looking to optimise and maximise that. We’re setting up a take-back programme in 2022 as well.”

Rapha is also part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), explained Money, which was originally founded by Walmart and Patagonia, who came together to create a standardised scorecard for the industry on the social and environmental performance of suppliers. 

“They brought in other big brands like REI, Nike and Adidas, and each brand brought their own expertise and collaboratively they built this set of tools called the Higg Index. Rapha uses the Higg Index to measure the environmental and social impact of our products, both at a material and facility level.

“The SAC has a collective target aligned with the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and we’re matching that. We haven’t set our science-based target yet but we know that we have to slash emissions in half. 

“We are targeting carbon neutrality in 2025, which I think is quite exciting from behind the scenes for a B2B business, because it puts a price on carbon. Whatever our entire carbon footprint is in 2025, we have to pay to offset that, which means that it now has a material cost. It starts to become this internal business incentive, to reduce our emissions upfront so that we’re paying as little in 2025 as possible.”

Customer concern
Sustainability has become an increasingly important topic of conversation among consumers, with many becoming more environmentally conscious about what they buy, but factors including age, demographic, rider type and existing values all play a part in how much a customer will care, Money said. “But ultimately, I believe customers care.

“The other most important thing is our staff, who are far more vocal than our customers. Their job is to be a few steps ahead of the customer in terms of their thinking and what they desire. When our staff speak up about a topic, we listen. That’s probably been one of the biggest wins that we’ve had – being able to engage with, listen to and draw ideas from people within the company.”

But there is a need for collaboration between businesses in the space, concluded Money. “Companies need to come together, especially looking at areas that are going to be common challenges. 

“Last year, we published our supplier list for the first time, so people can go on our website and see who all our suppliers are for Tier One. If anyone’s looking at that list and also working with any of those suppliers, then get in touch, we can work together to transition them to renewable energy and look at upgrading some of their infrastructure if necessary.

“There’s a need for collaboration, even if we haven’t got it all worked out yet. If we wait to work it out then it’ll be too late. We all need to work together, which is something that’s new.”

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