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What’s the Deal With Sustainable Ski Manufacturing?

Manufacturing skis sustainably requires re-thinking the whole process, from materials to how the industry itself functions. | WNDR Alpine photo.

It’s no secret that manufacturing skis puts a heavy strain on the environment. From the materials inside to packaging and distribution, the process of getting a ski onto snow requires serious energy outputs. Recently, a slew of snowsports brands have been re-thinking their approach to manufacturing, putting sustainability and a “business for good” model first. A goal for many is achieving the coveted B Corp Certification, something now held by over 5,000 businesses worldwide. As these brands are realizing, if we want to keep skiing and riding far into the future, creating our tools in a sustainable manner is in our best interest. But how are companies actually doing it?

When 4FRNT founder Matt Sterbenz started WNDR Alpine in 2019, a big part of his career shift had to do with his reckoning with how wasteful ski manufacturing was. Determined to do better, WNDR Alpine launched the first ever ski based on algae as a core ingredient. Their business ethos is centered around sustainability on all fronts, from the algae-based construction to a renewable energy production facility, and a focus on recycling products and increasing the lifetime of their skis and snowboards.

In 2021, WNDR became the first-ever ski company to become B Corp Certified—an esteemed and stringent certification that demonstrates a company’s commitment to the highest standard of environmental and social performance—leading the charge as more snowsports brands work towards their own sustainability goals. This fall, Faction and Icelantic both announced B Corp certifications, the result of a multi-year process assessed by B Lab to demonstrate their companies’ commitment to meeting these high standards. “We wanted to be a part of this collective of future-thinking brands who want to make a difference,” says Sara Asmoarp, Faction’s Head of Global Supply Chain and ESG, of Faction’s decision to work towards B Corp certification in 2014.

Sean Fox, Icelantic’s Sustainability Manager, said that while the company had already been taking meaningful action around employee benefits, local manufacturing, advocacy, and philanthropy, going through the B Corp process helped solidify and organize the company’s goals to hold them accountable for what they hoped to accomplish. “The fact that it holds us, and all companies, accountable for our actions is one of the things I love most about the certification,” he says.

Utah's WNDR Alpine is creating skis differently from the inside out. | WNDR Alpine photo.

So what does it look like to go through the B Corp certification process? To achieve certification, B Lab runs a rigorous audit of the company, starting with the B Impact Assessment, used to measure brand’s impact on the company's workers, community, environment, customers, and company structure. They want to see a commitment to positive change from a holistic approach, not just one element of the company. “One of the biggest changes to [Faction] was that our collective of hundreds of shareholders voted to amend our corporate articles of association, which now state that our business decisions will always be taken to incorporate people and the planet, not just profits,” shared Asmoarp. 

Of course, sustainable materials and production are a significant component to the B Certification process. For WNDR, improving their supply chain means creating their own, replacing petroleum-based chemicals in the manufacturing process with their algae-derived materials made by parent company, Checkerspot. Their Salt Lake City Design Lab also runs entirely on renewable energy through Rocky Mountain Power’s Solar Subscriber program and Dominion Energy’s Green Therm program.

Faction currently makes over 50 percent of their skis in a fully renewable energy factory in Austria, which cuts the carbon emissions of each ski’s production in half, as well as implementing recycled materials in their bases and sidewalls. “We calculate our carbon footprint annually to make informed decisions on how to reduce our emissions year after year,” says Asmoarp. “Where it’s impossible to reduce, we offset using high quality carbon offsets and investing in sustainable energy production.”

B Lab takes into account each brand’s commitment to enacting social change, rounding out the overarching idea of using business as a force for good, which drives the whole process. For Faction, that looks like investing in p\artnerships and donating to organizations like 1% For the Planet, Protect Our Winters, Coombs Outdoors, and Outdoor F.U.T.U.R.E. WNDR supports backcountry education and community building initiatives, connecting with their customers through events like the WNDR Roost and Rendezvous events.

Over 5,000 companies worldwide hold this certification—which gets reassessed every three years—including other outdoor brands like Rumpl, Lifestraw, Burton, and Patagonia. Since manufacturing skis is inherently wasteful, it takes significantly more effort for hardgoods brands to reach B Corp’s strict standards. Scoring an 80 or higher on the assessment is required for certification (Faction scored 93), and the cool part for consumers is that anyone can go onto B Corp’s website and read through a brand’s score on their own.

B Corp certification isn’t a fix-all solution, but it is an encouraging direction for ski brands to be headed in. “I think that a lot of brands in the outdoor recreation space could use the B Corp model as a way to formalize commitments and organize internally,” says Fox. “A lot of brands are doing really great things, but the B Corp Certification will make you prove it and be more transparent about it.”

It also establishes camaraderie, as a growing group of brands work to enact change, and many of them agree that the best way to move forward is to work together. “We don't view our peers in the outdoor industry as competitors; we see them as potential partners in a shared mission,” says Pep Fujas, VP of Marketing and Product Development at WNDR.

“Hopefully we can inspire other brands to try and certify,” concludes Fox. “We will all benefit from getting more brands in the snowsports industry involved in these commitments—and hopefully we can all start making waves in the industry to balance people, planet, and profit.”

About The Author

Sustainable ski manufacturing is becoming increasingly important in the ski industry. Not only does it have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of ski production, but it can also help to ensure that ski companies are making an effort to produce gear in an ethical and responsible manner.  hip arthritis With more people taking to the slopes, it’s becoming increasingly important to ensure that ski manufacturers are doing what they can to reduce their carbon footprint. As a skier, it’s worth considering whether the ski gear you are using is produced in a sustainable manner.