The Surfboard Cradle-to-Grave Project

Surfboard Cradle to Grave ProjectBy Tobias C. Schultz
As the surf community has been made aware of its own environmental footprint, the interest in creating a surfboard from “green” materials has grown exponentially. But without a life cycle assessment of the baseline materials used in surfboard manufacture, it is impossible to make informed decisions to reduce the footprint of the sport.
What part of the board contributes the most to its environmental footprint? Which parts of the manufacturing process will be the easiest, and cheapest, to improve? These are the questions the surf community needs to answer before real improvements can be made; these are the questions the Surfboard Cradle-to-Grave (SCG) Project was started to resolve.

In the Surfboard Cradle-to-Grave Report, you can find the carbon footprint of the two most common types of surfboard, polyurethane (P/U) and expanded polystyrene (EPS). By comparing the environmental footprints of future boards against these baseline materials, we can find out which new types of board are truly “greener.”
“It’s easy to buy an ‚Äòenvironmentally friendly’ surfboard and say you have reduced your footprint – but is it a ‚Äògreen’ board just because its maker says so?” says Tobias Schultz, the founder of the SCG Project. “The only way to make a real comparison is to assess the carbon footprint of a new type of board, and compare it to the carbon footprint of the conventional surfboards found in the SCG Report.”
Over a surfboard’s entire lifetime, it is the manufacture of a board’s foam core and petrochemical resin that make up most of the carbon footprint, according to the detailed life cycle assessment performed in the SCG. The fiberglass that makes up a surfboard’s outer skin is responsible for a tiny fraction of this – less than 5%.
“This means making a board with substitutes for fiberglass – balsa wood or bamboo, for example – do not produce boards with a significantly smaller footprint, even in a best case scenario,” the SCG Report states.
Imagine Surfboards has already used the SCG Report to show the carbon savings in their innovative type of surfboard construction, which uses recycled polystyrene as a substitute for the virgin materials usually used in the foam core of a board.
Other companies wishing to reduce the carbon footprint of their boards can read the SCG report here. If a more detailed consultation is desired, they can contact Tobias Schultz directly.
About the Author:
Tobias Schultz is an engineering graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, and is a member of Engineers and Business for Sustainability. His work includes sustainable building design and life cycle assessment; he is thrilled to be part of the rapidly expanding green economy. Read more about him at his website.

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3 responses

  1. Nice work on this. Glad to see people take a product they care about and work on an LCA like this. But why are you calling it Cradle to Grave? Isn’t the point of an LCA to think about impact beyond the useful life as well?

  2. The Cradle-to-Grave Technical Report includes some notes on the end-of-life of a surfboard. In short, if transported to a landfill, the impacts are minimal, creating less than .1% of the pollution of manufacturing and maintenance.
    If left to biodegrade outside, it’s unclear what the effects are. Leached toxins into the environment are bad, however data is sparse on their actual effect. It’s safer to landfill the board, where any toxins are contained.

    1. Tobias,

      I am currently doing my thesis on a very similar topic and would love to get in contact with you. I assume you no longer use your Berkley email but if you are interested in talking and maybe answering some questions heres my email:

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