While it might be a rather difficult concept to grasp, especially for those who hail from a time when "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" rivaled the "Star Spangled Banner" for the top spot as the publicly recognized national anthem, skateboarding is now officially more popular than baseball among American youths. And if the rapid proliferation of city-built and funded skateparks is any indication of skateboarding's staying power, we better get used to it.
Unfortunately, skateboarding in its very nature is a wasteful activity. That's not to say that skateboarders themselves are inherently wasteful (particularly in terms of brain cells, a misguided stereotype that society at large so often ascribes to them). But shoes and boards--all made from diminishing natural materials like metal, wood, and oil--quickly wear out over time, needing to be replaced as often as once a week for the sport's most dedicated followers. To put things in perspective, that's like each professional or minor-league baseball player retiring his mitt and bat after every other game.
But unlike used mitts and bats, you can't exactly pass off a broken board or pair of tattered, hole-ridden shoes as a hand-me-down; even the Goodwill and Play It Again Sports have standards. And when there are upwards of 13 million active skaters in America, that's a hell of a lot of gear to be manufactured, only to subsequently end up in a landfill.
Luckily, a few eco-conscious owners of skateboard companies have caught on to these environmental challenges and are making whole-hearted efforts to confront them. Vehicle Skateboards, for example, helmed by ex-pro skater Robbie Gangemi, recently began producing the first ever skateboards made entirely from recycled woods; Almost Skateboards and Satori Wheels are now using soy-based formulas and blends instead of pure oil-derived polyurethanes in some of the skateboard wheels they offer; the majority of big skateboard companies out there are utilizing and pushing P2 constructions, a special process of making boards that reinforces high-impact areas, which in turn resists breakage and therefore waste.
However, none have jumped so fervently into the heart of the Green movement as Pierre-Andre Senizergues, owner of international footwear brand etnies. Partnering with Costa Rica's indigenous Maleku tribe, known in their native land as the guardians of the forest, and La Reserva Forest Foundation, the French-born ex-pro skateboarder and CEO has vowed to plant at least 35,000 trees through his "Buy A Shoe, Plant A Tree" program. For each pair of Jameson 2 Eco kicks sold--a shoe that is environmentally friendly in itself, constructed partly from recycled tires, used rubber gloves, and old plastic bottles--Senizergues promises to plant a tree in what will soon become the etnies Rainforest. Not too shabby, eh?
While selling shoes is obviously one of the primary goals in planting the rainforest, Senizergues seemingly isn't just another soulless businessman completely blinded by dollar signs; from the looks of it, the longtime avid environmentalist appears to be authentically interested in eco-sustainability, using etnies as a platform to educate skateboarders and business owners around him to therefore promote change.
For the last decade or so, Senizergues has lent himself to philanthropic environmental causes as diverse as building green sustainable homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina with Brad and Angelina to recycling skateboards into furniture with the hopes that those around him will follow suit. He even chalked up executive producing credits on Leonardo DiCaprio's The Eleventh Hour. Needless to say, it's difficult not to believe him when he says, with a resounding conviction in his voice that reaffirms his genuinely altruistic intentions, "The reason to plant the rainforest is to capture the CO2 and cool down our planet. If we cool down our planet, we can bring longevity to the human species. So, for me it was important to plant trees for that reason, but also to convert the C02 into oxygen because it is always much better when you can breathe well. You can skate better, surf better, or snowboard better."
While the rainforest is obviously a temporary solution to a widening problem, especially as skateboarding becomes more and more prevalent in the coming years (in effect increasing the demand for more disposable skateboard products) Senizergues has solid plans to make his brand 100 percent carbon neutral by 2020--a daunting yet achievable task, considering he reduced his company's carbon footprint by 14 percent last year alone. But if he's to truly reach his goal, he's going to have to change the entire way he manufactures his products, reworking the infrastructure from the ground up.
He seems to be on the right path, though: "Recently we just came up with a new way to make shoes stronger by using less energy. It's a new way of making vulcanized shoes that has not been looked at for a hundred years. I'm very excited about this because we make a lot of shoes, so we can make a real difference here."
Unfortunately, while etnies are indeed making an environmental impact of their own, eco-conscious skateboard companies are still very much the minority in the blossoming industry. It'll be interesting to see whether or not the rest of the brands out there will eventually follow Senizergues' lead and foster the change the industry so desperately needs. If not, queue the garbage trucks.