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Sustainability is a word often used loosely when describing processes or products. Everything we create or consume has an impact on the planet, no matter how good the materials or manufacturing process. Our job is to better understand those impacts and make the best decisions possible to help mitigate them. In order to do that we have to examine the entire product life cycle from extraction of raw materials, to manufacturing, to product use and on to what happens at the end of product life. The impact at each step of the product lifecycle is important and we constantly strive to identify where the greatest impacts exist and how to reduce our footprint.
The environmental impact of a product is more complex than just the materials used to assemble it. It includes all of the impacts associated with creating those materials, getting them to a factory, assembling the product, shipping it, how it is used by the consumer and where it ends up at the end of it’s life. Life Cycle Analysis is the study of all of those impacts. It is a complex, time-consuming exercise requiring deep expertise and the cooperation of everyone in the supply chain. While it’s a labor intensive process, it’s also the most precise way to determine the true impacts of creating a product and helps us understand where we can improve the process.To help us better understand the impacts of producing bicycles, Specialized partnered with Duke University to examine the life cycle of carbon fiber and aluminum bicycle frames – the backbone of the cycling industry. The results of that work uncovered several areas of potential improvement, most notably the energy embedded in the industry-standard method of heat treating aluminum frames. In that process a tremendous amount of energy is lost as unrecoverable heat waste. Moving forward we’ll be partnering with an engineering team at Duke University to determine options for recapturing waste heat and converting it back into useful energy. If successful, we plan on making those results open source so that all manufacturers can take advantage of a more efficient, environmentally friendly method of production.
Examining products through the lens of life cycle analysis is the most useful means of evaluating environmental impacts. However it’s a process that is exceptionally time consuming, cost intensive and requires very specific expertise, making it unattractive to many manufacturers. This is where collaboration comes in to help shoulder the burden. Through the combined resources associated with the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and NIKE, a consortium of leading global brands, suppliers, universities, NGO’s & government agencies have invested in creating the Higg Index—a powerful tool for evaluating a brand’s sustainability work in policy, product, manufacturing and social responsibility. Specialized has been an active contributor in this work and one of the driving members in the OIA Sustainability Working Group charged with creating the Equipment Index—a module for evaluating outdoor gear and bicycles. Once this work is incorporated into the Higg Index, the bicycle industry will have a clear and consistent method for evaluating its designs and manufacturing practices while driving future improvement.
It’s easy to think our single biggest material consumption is the carbon fiber or aluminum used to make our bikes and products. Surprisingly, our largest material footprint is in the materials used to package and ship those products. Having inventoried our packaging footprint we are now involved in a multi-year effort to reduce the number of packaging materials, reduce the size of our packaging, optimize the number of products we can fit in a shipping container and focus on more sustainable packaging materials.
In addition to being rigorous about the performance of the materials used in our products, we are just as committed about the materials we do not want to see in our products. Our Restricted Substance List (RSL) and Packaging Restricted Substance List (PRSL) are based on the most stringent global legislation. In addition, we've voluntarily included substances that may not yet be legislated but have been identified as hazardous.
The bluesign system is a holistic approach to eliminating harmful substances at the front end of the textile manufacturing process, ensuring that all inputs for textile creation are as sustainable as possible while meeting environmental and safety requirements worldwide. A bluesign certified factory represents the highest standard in textile production which is why Specialized aligns itself with bluesign certified factories whenever possible.
At Specialized we take product testing seriously. In addition to the professional teams we work with, we maintain several in-house testing labs as well as extensive athlete testing programs to ensure the products you buy are as durable as possible. Each of these products has a life span and we do our best to find a second home for those materials once a product has reached the end of its life. Our goal is zero waste in our distribution centers where these products are collected.
Bicycle tubes are of no interest to major rubber recyclers who focus instead on car and truck tires. Preferring to keep these materials in circulation without major reprocessing, we have partnered with Cycle Dog, a Portland based manufacturer of dog collars and accessories made from recycled bicycle tubes.
In addition to recycling all cardboard and paper products, we find a second life for virtually all of the materials used in our products.