If you’re into snowboarding, I probably don’t have to introduce you to Burton, which makes boards, clothes, and snowboarding accessories. Successfully combining cutting edge technology with contemporary designs, Burton has become the largest snowboard brand in the world. Now it looks like the company wants to add another component to its secret sauce – the green factor.
Earlier this month, Burton Snowboards and Mountain Dew announced the arrival of the new 2013 Green Mountain Project outerwear collection, which utilizes sustainable fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. The announcement explains that “the new collection marks the next phase of the Burton x Mountain Dew partnership introduced last year, built on the shared focus of improving sustainability in apparel and outerwear.”
The new line of the Green Mountain Project (GMP) outerwear collection includes three jackets and two pants for men, and two jackets and one pant for women, all featuring fabric created from the pellets of recycled bottles. In addition, the collection also implements recycled and natural blended materials that have a lower impact on the environment whenever possible, such as hemp.
This seems like a win-win story from a marketing point of view, but is it also a win-win from an environmental or sustainability point of view? This is a tough question, but we’ll give it a shot by dividing it into five sub-questions that hopefully will provide us with a better idea of what the answer actually is.
Does this collaboration makes Mountain Dew a more sustainable drink?
In fairness, this collaboration seems to be more about making Burton’s outwear more eco-friendly, not Mountain Dew’s soda drinks. Still, Mountain Dew presumably collaborates with Burton not just because they share many customers, but also because it hopes this collaboration will reflect positively on its brand, specifically in regards to sustainability performance. If Mountain Dew is hoping for a green glow from the collaboration, it’s fair to look consider whether it actually makes Mountain Dew any greener.
Back to the question, I believe the answer is not really. First, Mountain Dew is still is a carbonated soft drink brand. This collaboration doesn’t make it any healthier or better. The only positive impact this collaboration can have on Mountain Dew is if more people will recycle more bottles of Mountain Dew (see next question), but it’s not clear to what extent we can expect it to happen.
Brett O’Brien, VP of Marketing at Mountain Dew, said in the announcement, “Environmental sustainability and winter action sports are important to all of us in the DEW nation, so we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to combine both through this partnership.” So while the collaboration will probably make the DEW nation cooler, I doubt it will make it greener.
How much recycling is important anyway when it comes to soda bottles?
It is important. While PepsiCo is actually very advanced when it come to life cycle analysis and carbon footprint, I found the answer on Coca-Cola’s website. According to the company’s calculations, “the carbon footprint of some of our best loved products and 30-70 percent of their CO2 emissions come from the packaging – recycling reduces this impact massively.”
In other words, recycling can play an important role in reducing the carbon footprint of soda bottle (or can). At the same time, it’s important to note that recycling doesn’t really impact another important factor when it comes to soda bottles – their water footprint.
Is fabric made from recycled plastic bottles a new concept?
Not really. In 1993, Patagonia adopted fleece into its product line made from post consumer recycled plastic soda bottles.
How important this step is for Burton Snowboards?
It depends. Greg Dacyshyn, Chief Creative Officer of Burton, was quoted in the announcement, saying, “Thanks to Mountain Dew, every outerwear jacket and pant in the new 2013 Green Mountain Project collection is made with fabric that was once a plastic bottle. Our recycled fabric performs well on snow, has a great hand-feel and is super adaptable to prints, so it meets our high-quality standards for outerwear while helping reduce our impact, which is a big focus for us.”
So apparently reducing its environmental impact is an important issue for Burton, but it’s not clear exactly if this intent/vision will also translate to taking other steps, as the company has no clear environmental agenda or goals as of now.
Would Burton use this collaboration to engage customers in sustainability?
To me, this is the most important question. While it’s clear that using eco-friendly materials can reduce Barton’s carbon footprint, I believe that this is not the main positive result that can come out of this joint effort. As the most successful snowboard brand in the world, Burton has the power to use this collaboration and its new eco-collection to increase awareness among its customers of environmental issues, as well as to the fact that eco-friendly solutions can be high quality, stylish, cool and desirable.
For some reason, when it comes to sustainability issues most apparel companies fail to engage with their customers, even those of them who have an impressive record. Will Burton succeed where others fail? We hope so because then this collaboration will become a true win-win from an environmental perspective. Until then, this is just a cool collection of stylish outwear made of old Mountain Dew bottles, which is also not that bad.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.