Vans US Open 2015

The 2015 US Open is a  Deep Blue Surfing Event™, which is a more “Ocean Friendly” event. It sets a clear path for reducing environmental impacts of a professional surfing contest, while also providing social benefits for the local community. This sustainability report is a transparent description of the sustainability performance of the event, and includes measured data, photos and videos, and suggestions for improvement. It is based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework for sustainable event reporting.

Deep Blue Surfing Events address impacts directly related to the local contest area, including waste reduction, protection of natural resources, and the building of stronger communities. Deep Blue Surfing Events also reduce global threats to the sport of surfing itself from the effects of climate change, such as reductions in global wave heightssea level riseocean acidification and the loss of the world’s living coral reefs, by reducing and offsetting carbon emissions from the event.

This report, with quantitative data and suggestions for improvement, will provide a roadmap for all stakeholders to help create a more sustainable event in future years.

Summary of Impact Reductions:

* The 2015 Vans US Open of Surfing (USO) has exceeded the minimum requirements in four categories, and has been designated as a Deep Blue Surfing Event™ by Sustainable Surf.

Sustainability Performance Summary:

  1. Waste Diversion:  77% of waste diverted from landfill (25% minimum)
  2. Climate Change: 100% of CO2 footprint mitigated  (50% minimum)
  3. Community Support: Supported several local non-profit organizations (one minimum)
  4. Transportation: Provided shuttle service for general public.

The Vans US Open of Surfing did not meet the requirements of the renewable energy category, which requires a minimum 25% renewable energy overall. Biodiesel usage was not reported, although the generators did have signage declaring biodiesel.

The US Open is a major event that dwarfs all other surf contests in terms of the number of spectators and the scale of the infrastructure. The overall effort and commitment by Vans to create a sustainable contest is commendable. Vans staff, the USO operations crew, and the waste management partners showed an impressive level of dedication to reduce the overall impact of the USO and find ways to support the local community. Vans’ commitment to impact reduction, measurement, and public reporting shows that they will continue to improve how their contests operate and leave a positive legacy for the local community.

The Vans US Open of Surfing consists of multiple individual contests. Surfing contests include a men’s WQS event, a women’s WCT event, a men’s and women’s junior contest, and a longboard contest. The US Open also hosts a skateboard and BMX contest on a specially constructed concrete skate park. Additionally, there is a large festival village with many vendors and non-profit booths.

See the detailed summary below of each impact category, including data results and suggested improvements.


ASP Green Guidelines Recommendation: Implement a comprehensive management and diversion strategy to limit waste produced from the production of the event.

Minimum Goal: 25% of total event waste diverted from landfill.

Result: The 2015 US Open has exceeded the minimum goal for Waste Diversion : 77% waste diversion from the landfill.

Waste diversion at the US Open is a complex issue, because of the very large scale of the event compared to most surf contests. A typical major surf contest generates around 1,500 lbs of total waste material before recycling and composting. The US Open generated 77,500 lbs of waste material before recycling and composting, and 375,000 lbs of total waste material including the concrete skate park.

Vans used both front and back-end waste diversion strategies to achieve its recycling goals. Waste bin clusters, with trash and recycling options were set up throughout the event. However, the consistency of waste stations was poor, as some locations only had a trash or recycling bin rather than both. Thorough signage had been designed for the clusters, but due to an oversight by the waste management contractor, it was not displayed.

The total amount of waste was diminished by reducing the need for single-use plastic bottles: Vans worked with Flowater to provide filling stations for attendees with reusable water bottles.

Vans also brought in Global Inheritance to conduct education on recycling for event attendees. They set up a large Recycling Store on the beach and organized a sustainability game for fans to recycle material and win prizes including a free Firewire surfboard. A good number of young people participated in the #EcoChallenge game, and learned all about various recycling and sustainability opportunities they can implement back home.

Back-end waste diversion was the primary focus for the overall waste diversion effort. Vans brought in Waste Busters to sort waste from the bins in order to recover all compostable materials. Thanks to their efforts, 13.7 tons of food waste discarded in the waste bins was recovered for composting.

Vans also worked with Rainbow Environmental Services (RES) as the primary waste management partner. After Wastebusters removed compost from the waste stream RES took the rest for sorting at their materials recovery facility (MRF). This facility has a long running diversion average of 64% of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) recycled and diverted from the landfill.

Sustainable Surf has calculated that the combined estimated diversion rate from the landfill is 77%. This includes food waste that was composted, all trash and recycling from the contest, and street cleanup in the area adjacent to the contest.

This 77% recycling rate does not include material from the concrete skate park, which weighed 149 tons. 100% of this material was recycled by Rainbow Environmental Services using the Construction and Demolition MRF.  Used, clean concrete is regularly broken up and recycled into new concrete and other construction materials.  If the concrete skatepark is included in the overall contest recycling rate, it would significantly bias the final result because of its very large relative mass.  The US Open is the only surf contest that builds a giant skatepark on the sand, so for comparison’s sake, it makes sense to use a waste diversion number that is comparable to other surf contests.

The following table shows all waste diversion numbers:

Material Tons generated Tons recycled or composted
Food waste 13.7 13.7
Municipal solid waste 22.6 14.4
Street cleanup waste 2.5 1.6
Total 38.7 29.7 or 77%
Construction waste 149 149

Back-end waste diversion efforts

The US Open used advanced diversion methods to separate recycling and compost from the waste stream after collection from the public areas. Waste Busters set up a “mini-MRF” on the beach to pull out the compostables from the waste stream. After food waste was removed, the waste stream went through the commercial Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) at Rainbow Environmental Services to remove all recyclable materials from the waste stream, resulting in a relatively small amount of material sent to the landfill. These systems worked very effectively on the high-volume waste stream of the US Open.

The mini-MRF is a plywood table mounted on a slant. Waste diversion workers process bags of waste by emptying them onto the mini-MRF, and then hand-sort the food waste compost, recyclables, and landfill trash. This system is very effective and can produce very high waste diversion ratios in excess of 90%. It is also the only way to remove compostable material from a mixed waste stream, because commercial-scale MRF systems cannot separate food waste. The downside of a mini-MRF is that it is labor intensive.

Michael Siminitus, Founder of Waste Busters, describes how the mini-MRF system works.

The effectiveness of the mini-MRF could be significantly improved by implementing better controls on the plates, utensils, and food packaging materials. These items should all be made from compostable materials so that they do not need to be picked out piece-by-piece from the waste stream. Vans did make some effort to utilize compostable serving ware, but there is a lot of room for improvement. In particular, VIP sponsors brought in their own food catering, and generally made no effort to source compostable serving ware. Guidelines for sustainable catering options should be distributed to all food vendors and VIP sponsors for 2015.

Rainbow Environmental Services operates a state-of-the-art Material Recovery Facility (MRF) to separate all recyclable materials from the waste stream. This is a 38,000 sqft building with many machines, conveyors, and hand-sorting stations that can separate a single mixed stream of recyclables into multiple types of plastic, glass, metal, and other recyclable materials.

Video of the commercial MRF in action:

Suggested improvements:

The front-end waste separation system for the public and spectators can be improved significantly. Waste collection stations should include three bins that have separate colors, such a green for compost, blue for recycling, and black for landfill. The bags in each bin should also have similar colors, for ease of back-end separation, or be transparent for easy identification of materials.

An effort should be made to create a consistent “look” of the public-facing waste separation stations, so the the public knows that they are expected to do some waste sorting when they use the bins. Each bin should have a clear, easily readable sign.

Vans did design a sign for each waste bin cluster, and unfortunately it was not used by Rainbow Environmental Services. It is too bad that the signs were left out, because it is an excellent way to educate the public on the significant waste diversion efforts being undertaken out of public view. It will also improve waste diversion efficiency.

Vans tried to ensure that all food served in the VIP, sponsor, and athlete areas use compostable serving ware. This is difficult with VIP/sponsor areas, where Vans does not control food vendor choices. However Vans communicated recommended guidelines to sponsors well in advance of the contest, and asked for compliance. This did improve the ease of composting by Wastebusters, however many vendors did not comply with the request. Hopefully this situation will improve again next year.

In September 2014, California passed a law that requires businesses to divert organic materials from their waste stream. This could potentially apply to the US Open in future years, because the total volume of food waste in 2015 was approximately 4 cubic yards and could be regulated by the new law. A greater focus on front-end waste diversion is justified.

A final recommendation is that the US Open should consider doing a waste characterization study to understand how so much waste material was generated, even if most of it was recycled. It is likely that money-saving opportunities could be found by reducing the amount of material that needed to be recycled. This should be studied in the 2016 US Open.


ASP Green Guidelines Recommendation: Source significant portion of power from clean, renewable energy sources.

Minimum goal is 25% renewable energy utilization for event’s power needs.

Result: The electrical energy for the US Open was provided by diesel power generators using a mix of biodiesel and standard petroleum diesel. The final 2015 fuel numbers were not reported, but were probably similar to the numbers reported in 2014.

In 2014, the generators were powered by B20 fuel during contest days, which is a blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel. During event setup and tear-down days, some 100% petroleum diesel was used. The overall fuel mix for the entire event is 14% biodiesel.
Total fuel usage numbers for 2014:

  • 8,735 gallons of fuel used for all days including set-up and tear-down.
  • 1,195 gallons of biodiesel for all days (14% biodiesel overall)
  • 5,050 gallons of fuel used for event days only
  • 1,010 gallons of biodiesel used for event days (20% biodiesel or B20)

Vans sets up a very large air-conditioned tent on the beach, to sell merchandise. The size and scale of this store is impressive. On a hot day, it is very inviting to go into the tent to cool off and do some shopping. However, it uses a lot of energy to air condition a space of this size. This is probably the primary consumer of electricity at the entire event site.

Suggested improvements:

Continue using biodiesel in generators, and increase the percentage of biodiesel. Higher blends of biodiesel should be feasible to use in the generators, with some pre-event coordination with the generator supplier. Biodiesel should be used for set-up and tear-down days as well.

It would be interesting to compare the energy used by air conditioning of the store vs. the energy used to operate the webcast and other contest infrastructure.


ASP Green Guidelines Recommendation: Provide financial and/or outreach support for at least three NGOs and charities working on local issues relevant to the event.

Minimum Goal: Support at least one NGO working on a local issue relevant to the event.

Result: The 2015 US Open has exceeded the minimum goal for Community Support by supporting multiple community-focused nonprofit organizations.

For the past eleven years, the US Open has supported the Life Rolls On Foundation, and held an exhibition of adaptive surfing during the contest. Pro surfers take kids with spinal injuries into the waves and share the stoke and excitement of surfing.

Vans also works with Global Inheritance, to set up an educational booth in the main event area. This booth teaches event-goers about sustainability in a fun way and emphasizes recycling with artistic recycling bins. Their Recycling Store and #EcoChallenge provided many opportunities for positive engagement. See their photo gallery from the event.

Boarding for Breast cancer was another supported charity.  B4BC teaches surfers and snowboarders about breast cancer awareness, and had an educational booth on the beach.

Vans supported Stoked Experience, which brought twelve disadvantaged kids and three adult mentors to the US Open. They were given a surf lesson from the Corky Carroll Surf School, and then met Steve Van Doren who gave them a tour of the event and fed them lunch while they watched the contest from the VIP area.

Vans supported Outdoor Outreach from San Diego on an overnight surf trip to San Clemente, CA. Eighteen kids and three adults spent two days and a night at a surf camp on the beach. Vans donated $5,000 to Outdoor Outreach to cover expenses.

Suggested improvements: 
Vans is doing a good job of supporting local charities.

ASP Green Guidelines Recommendation: Calculate and mitigate the total CO2 footprint of event by purchasing 3rd party certified carbon offset credits (or through direct actions taken at event).

Minimum Goal: 50% of CO2 footprint of event offset or mitigated.

Result: The 2015 US Open has exceeded the minimum goal for Climate Change. 100% of CO2 emissions resulting from producing the contest were offset by the use of 3rd party certified carbon offsets. The calculated carbon footprint is 646 metric tons CO2e.

Carbon emission boundaries include:

      • Air travel and airport transit for all competitors in surf (43% of total).
      • Emissions from vehicle travel for athletes, spectator transportation to the event via personal cars and Vans shuttles (6% of total)
      • Biodiesel and petroleum-diesel power generators for the contest generators (12% of total)
      • Hospitality emissions from hotel stays for competitors and staff (7% of total)

A large portion of the event’s CO2 emissions comes from air travel by athletes to and from the event. Air travel is a carbon intensive form of transportation, because of the energy needed to fly long distances. Surfers come from all over the world, so distances traveled are typically quite long. Until planes can be powered by biofuel, carbon offsets are the only way to mitigate the carbon emissions from air travel.

Carbon Offsets
Mitigating the event’s CO2 footprint helps reduce direct threats to surfing from climate change/global warming such as: sea level rise, ocean acidification, reduced wave heights and loss of coral reefs globally.

The carbon (CO2) footprint from the 2015 US Open has been 100% offset by the purchase of high quality, 3rd party certified, carbon offsets from the Rimba Riya Biodiversity Reserve in Borneo, Indonesia.

The Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve conserves tropical peat swamp forest, which is one of the world’s most biodiverse habitats, and is excellent orangutang habitat. These forests are great carbon sinks, but they are now being slashed, burned and converted to palm oil plantations at an alarming rate — thus creating large carbon emissions while destroying pristine forest ecosystems and orangutang habitat.

The Rimba Raya project protects pristine rainforest while providing jobs, clean water, and health services to the local indigenous community. The carbon offsets purchased by Vans and others provide the capital to develop the project, which is designed to produce sustainable sources of income that don’t depend on carbon credits in the future. For more info, please see a detailed interview with the project’s founders, and a PDF document describing the project.

Suggested improvements: 
The Vans US Open of Surfing purchased carbon offsets for 100% of measured emissions, and uses broad boundaries that include air travel and spectator travel. The offset project chosen is a high quality, 3rd-party verified project. Overall, this is a job well done.

Due to a much larger infrastructure, the US Open uses significantly more diesel fuel than the average surf contest, and thus diesel fuel comprises a very large percentage of CO2 emissions. The percentage of biodiesel used was low compared to other surf contests, which have used up to 80% biodiesel.

A higher blend of biodiesel would significantly reduce the CO2 emissions from the event. Pure biodiesel has 80% less lifecycle carbon emissions vs. petroleum diesel. If the contest used B100, this would reduce the overall fuel-based emissions by 61 tCO2e. It should be possible to work with the generator vendor to approve the use of higher blends of biodiesel.

Communication can be improved regarding why mitigating carbon emissions is relevant to surfers. This step directly supports the health of the world’s living coral reefs and prevents sea level rise, which negatively impacts the waves in California and around the world. We recommend increased visibility about this important issue via the event webcast and website, which would be a very positive improvement.


ASP Green Guidelines Recommendation: Enable shuttle services, source hybrid/alternative energy powered vehicles, and encourage the use of public and alternative transportation for event spectators. Minimum Goal: Provide and promote alternative transportation options for staff, athletes, and spectators, where applicable.

Result: The Vans US Open provided shuttle service for the general public between the event site and a nearby high school. Over 6,000 people rode the shuttle over four days.

Suggested improvements: 
Vans provided a shuttle service for the general public on weekend event days. This service was effective and easy to use, and should be continued in future years.

Given the ease of bicycle commuting along the boardwalk in Huntington Beach, Vans may consider providing a bicycle valet service to increase the security of bicycle parking.

The authors on this report are: Kevin Whilden and Michael Stewart of Sustainable Surf.