ECOBOARD Project – FAQ

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Q: What is the definition of an ECOBOARD?
A: An ECOBOARD uses at least one of the following components:
– A foam blank made from at least 25% recycled foam or 25% biological content.
– An alternative blank structure made from 75% renewable materials such as wood or bamboo
– Resin made from at least 25% biological-origin materials

Q: Why does a recycled content blank and/or bio-resin define an ECOBOARD?
A: There are two reasons for this.  First, blanks and resin account for the majority of the impact of a surfboard. The lifecyle impact of the blanks and resin is 88% for an EPS/epoxy board, and 51% for a PU/PE board.1 In contract, fiberglass has an overall impact of 4% and energy used during shaping is also 4%. The majority of the remaining impact is from repairs over the life of the board. So therefore the most significant steps a surfer can take to reduce impact is to look at alternatives in the blank and the resin.

Secondly, through analysis of the lifecycle impact of both foam and resin, it is clear that the majority of the environmental impact from foam and resin comes from the production of petroleum-based chemical feed stocks. In the case of EPS foam, the overwhelming majority of the impact comes from the extraction and production of raw materials used to make the foam.2 Recycled and bio-based feed stocks are the most effective method to minimize the environmental impacts of these surfboard components. Entropy Resins is currently conducting an LCA on their Super Sap product, and early results suggest a 50% reduction in lifecycle CO2 impact from replacing only 30% of their petroleum feed stocks with bio-based feed stocks.3

Q: How much environmental benefit can recycled blanks and bio-resins provide?
A: These products can make a very significant difference. The unfortunate reality is that environmental footprint of a surfboard is extremely large. Initial research shows that a 5.5 lb EPS/epoxy shortboard causes over 600 lbs of CO2 to be emitted over its lifecycle.1 The ratio of CO2 emitted to product weight is an extraordinary number at 110-to-1, comparable only to the impact of electronics and computers which use significant energy in their manufacturing. Most consumer goods have a ratio of approximately 4-to-1.

A complete LCA has not been finished on the benefits of sustainable surfboards. This LCA would incorporate calculation on the changes environmental benefits for the following components:

  1. Recycled foam or wood vs. virgin petrochemical-based foam
  2. Biological feed stocks in resin vs. petrochemical feed stocks
  3. Recycled plastics or wood in fins, fin boxes, and leash plugs
  4. Advanced techniques such as vacuum bagging and wood veneers
  5. Lifecycle benefits from increased durability and lifetime of a board

Q: Is petroleum-based epoxy resin also considered environmentally friendly?
A: From an environmental viewpoint, we should consider both toxic emissions that are harmful to human health, and non-toxic emissions of CO2 that threaten oceans and surf. In terms of human health, all epoxy resin is generally superior to polyester resin because it has minimal or zero emission of toxic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) during surfboard production. However in terms of CO2 emissions that are harmful to oceans and surf, only the lifecycle CO2 emissions of the products matter. Epoxy resin made from 100% petroleum sources will have roughly equivalent CO2 emissions to polyester resin made from 100% petroleum sources. The only way to reduce lifecycle CO2 emissions of resin is to utilize a large percentage of biological-sourced or recycled feed stocks. Bio-based epoxy resins reduce both VOC and CO2 emissions, and are thus significantly more environmentally friendly than pure petroleum resins.

Q: Why does CO2 matter so much? Is Global Warming real?
A: There are many reasons why CO2 is a serious threat to surfing, regardless of what you believe about global warming. Two reasons are indisputable. First, CO2 is the best proxy measure of the energy and resources that goes into a surf product, so looking at this number gives you a good idea of the sustainability of a product relative to other similar products. Second, CO2 levels are rising in the atmosphere to a level not seen since 35 million years ago, and at a rate never seen in the geologic history of the Earth. This is causing ocean acidification at a rate far beyond the natural buffering capacity of the ocean to absorb CO2 without significant increases to ocean acidity. There is no precedent to the impact this will have on ocean ecology, but calcifying organisms such as coral, some plankton, and shellfish have difficulty producing their shells in a more acidic environment. When combined with other threats, 90% of all coral reefs in the world will be threatened with extinction by 2030.4 So if you like the idea of surfing in tropical waters, you should care about CO2.

With regard to global warming, the scientific story on this is extremely strong and very difficult to argue against. There is strong observational evidence that the world is warming, that sea levels are rising, and that ocean circulation patterns are changing as a result of human-emitted CO2. This will produce significant negative effects on surfing. A 1-2m sea level rise will cause permanent high tide at most surf breaks, while stratification of the oceans has already caused a reduction of the amount of nutrients available to phytoplankton — which should concern those who like to eat fish and enjoy a healthy ocean.

Footnotes:
1. Schultz, 2009.  ‘Surfboard Cradle to Grave Study’, T. Schultz;
http://sustainablesurfcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Surfboard-Cradle-to-Grave-Technical-Report-June-2009-by-Tobias-Schultz.pdf
2. With new technology, EPS material can be recycled through many lifecycles. Various LCA studies have shown that majority of the CO2 emissions from EPS comes from the production of raw materials that eventually become EPS.
3. Rey Banatao (CEO Entropy Resins), personal communication. Entropy Resins is currently conducting an LCA on the benefits of bio-resin, with the results to be published soon.
4. World Resources Institute, “Reefs At Risk, Revisited”, 2011.  http://www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited