Sustainability. Green manufacturing. Zero landfill. No matter what terms are used, every car company has a position, if not a mission statement and color (usually a shade of blue or green), devoted to the cause of reducing the environmental impact of vehicle manufacturing. With some, it’s hard to determine real action beyond the lip service, but others are more honest dealers.
Subaru has been leading the charge for decades. In May 2004, its Subaru of Indiana manufacturing center became the first zero-landfill automotive assembly plant in the U.S., with 100 percent of its manufacturing waste either recycled or turned into electricity via incineration.
Honda can make a legitimate claim to environmental leadership, as well. It has been atop corporate sustainability and greenest-manufacturer lists for years, arguably with a deeper impact than Subaru, given the breadth and depth of Honda’s U.S.-based car, motorcycle, powersports, small-engine, and aircraft production capabilities. Globally, General Motors deserves plaudits for its 152 zero-landfill operations, including every GM manufacturing facility in Mexico, a country that has been often been a convenient place for greenwashing multinationals to hide dirty operations.
So how are zero-landfill targets achieved? Through a combination of common sense, creativity, and economies of scale. Some are easy to imagine, such as melting down excess scrap metal, bolts, and fasteners for new body panels or grinding up damaged bumpers into pellets that are sent back to the molding machine. Harder to visualize is how cardboard boxes can become headliner insulation or that engine-block casting sand makes good mulch. It takes imagination, vision, and, sometimes, two surf bros from Northern Ireland.
You know those hand-sculpted clay models we’re fond of showing? They’re not solid clay but instead large slabs of polyurethane foam covered with the expensive sculpting compound in order to keep both weight and cost down. To find a use for the foam infrastructure that underpin its clay models, Jaguar Land Rover turned to Chris and Ricky Martin (no relation to either musician) of Skunkworks Surf Co. in Coleraine, Northern Ireland.
JLR already reclaims 50,000 metric tons of aluminum waste from its press shop, enough to stamp approximately 200,000 Jaguar XE body shells, so the concept of recycling isn’t new. Similarly, the Martin brothers are already pioneers in the construction of foam surfboards that use recycled aluminum stringers and environmentally responsible, heat-activated adhesives to increase board lifespan and reduce the impact of their production. So they were ready to figure out how to turn JLR’s large slabs of polyurethane foam into the “blanks” that provide the buoyant internal structure of a modern surfboard.
This “second-life” program indeed has a doubling effect. Recycling old automotive foam not only keeps it out of a landfill but also tackles a core issue in surfing. Contrary to the all-natural image of the sport, modern surf gear (namely surfboards and wetsuits) is made from a wide variety of foam, fiberglass, plastic, neoprene, resin, and other petroleum-based products. Like the auto industry, surf companies large and small struggle with responsible environmental stewardship.
Shortly after announcing its partnership with Skunkworks, JLR arranged a test ride of the first five Waste to Waves surfboards at El Porto—a beach only a mile from Motor Trend’s headquarters in El Segundo, California. The conditions were typical for a winter in L.A.’s South Bay; a swell was in, and once the marine layer burned off, relentless sets of big, dumpy waves revealed themselves. The sets were too big for my amateur skills and their longboard, but I did catch a nice ride in on the lightning-bolt-emblazoned single-fin pintail. Kudos to Jaguar Land Rover and Skunkworks Surf Co. for a small, fun step in the right direction.
Five questions with Skunkworks Surf Co. founder Ricky Martin
After our surf session, we had the chance to chat with Skunkworks Surf Co. founder Ricky Martin for more details on the Waste to Waves program and how it all began. The Martin brothers started Skunkworks with the aim to improve the durability and lifespan of some of the most common surfboards you see at every tourist beach and surf rental shop: mass-market soft-top foam surfboard. The Skunkworks team believes they make the most environmentally friendly soft boards on the market, which are hand-finished in their factory in Northern Ireland.
MT: What kind of foam is used in the Jaguar Land Rover concept vehicles and how does it differ from the kind normally found in surfboards? The two-minute video on your site mentions that the vehicle foam was possibly “the best ever used to make a surfboard.” Why?
RM: The foam is a bit of a secret. If we told you, we would have to kill you, ha ha! It is similar to XPS, but that is all we are telling you. The strength-to-weight ratio is as good as or better than anything on the market with the same flex characteristics. The fact that it is recycled and no longer going to landfill is obviously more important than anything else. The need to recycle has reached a peak like never before, and at least—and I can only speak for the U.K. and Ireland—it is starting to get the media headlines it deserves. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem. It may sound like a cheesy strapline, but it isn’t. Businesses worldwide need to take the lead, and the surfing industry should be pioneers, as individual surfers are generally environmentally aware. However, our purchasing patterns of everything from wetsuits to boards contradict our individual philosophy. Once people see a recycled product is as good as or better than a non-recycled, we will start to win the battle.
MT: How did you guys get connected with JLR?
RM: JLR approached us to see if we could make boards from their waste material. JLR has a target to be waste-free by 2020, which coincidentally is exactly the same target Skunkworks has set. The concept was the brainchild of an internal JLR team composed of people from various departments such as sustainability, design, and merchandising. We obviously jumped on the opportunity to work with them, as they stand for so many things we believe in such as manufacturing at home, paying their staff good wages, and setting themselves sustainability targets.
MT: How many boards can you possibly make in the Waste to Wave program? Are you limited by the amount of foam that is available? If so, do you have plans to work with other vehicle manufacturers?
RM: It is estimated we could make up to 1,000 boards per year through the Waste to Wave program depending on how much foam becomes available. The boards are completely customized; this is a special product and will be treated as such from start to finish. At the moment we have no plans to work with other manufacturers.
MT: Which boards will the public be able to buy and for how much? Available in the U.S.?
RM: We are hopeful the public will be able to buy boards from the Waste to Wave project in 2018. We have a page on our website where individuals can register their details now, and as soon as we are ready, we can contact them. The cost will depend on the style, size, and design of the board, as each will be customized, and I see no reason we cannot be shipping these to the U.S.
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