Burning Question: Do Bike Brands Have Targets To Reduce CO2 Emissions?
2021 is a critical year in the fight against climate change. We’ve seen the record-breaking heatwaves, droughts and flooding, making the issue feel more immediate than ever. You may also have seen the IPCC’s latest “code red” climate report, and the crucial COP26 climate talks are due to start later this month.
In the bike industry,Trek released the first-ever sustainability report from a major bike brand, and we’ve seen a growing number of cycling companies making climate-friendly changes to the way they operate. But in many cases, it’s hard to quantify how much difference these actions will make, and some policies may be pretty negligible on the scale of a company’s total emissions.
Looking at companies outside the bike industry, a growing number are now setting voluntary targets to track and reduce their own emissions. In the best cases, they pay third-party auditors to keep track of all their emissions, including those generated by their suppliers, and have concrete plans to reduce and offset them.
Although cycling is among the greenest modes of transport, mountain bikes are more of a luxury good than a transport solution; our bikes are more often in a car than replacing one. And according to Trek’s report, the high-end carbon bikes many of us covet have the biggest emissions.
Besides, climate science tells us we need to get CO2 emissions to zero to stop global warming. It’s like a bathtub that’s rapidly filling up and about to overflow; if you don’t want water all over your floor, at some point you need to turn the tap off completely. In other words, net-zero means eliminating or offsetting all emissions from every sector. No exceptions. The fact that cycling’s carbon footprint is smaller than many industries is no excuse.
With this in mind, I asked representatives from over forty bike industry companies the following questions:
What are the main sources of CO2 emissions for your company? Have you set any targets to reduce your emissions, and if so, how do you intend to do it?
Below is a selection of responses from brands of various sizes:
Eric Bjorling, Trek
Essentially what we’ve landed on in terms of carbon mitigation is that there are a couple of operational things we can do (batch shipments, reduce air freight usage) but the biggest impact we (and frankly the entire industry) is convincing people to replace carbon-based transportation with bicycles.
We’re working on a number of ways to increase cycling mode share as our research discovered that if we could move just the US by 1% mode share, that would be the equivalent of 17 Trek Bicycle companies’ annual carbon output.
We are in the process of a broader evaluation of all GHG impacts including our supply chain. We assume from the work done in other sectors, and from the lifecycle assessment (LCA) work we did with Duke University that in excess of 80% of our GHG impact occurs in the supply chain.
To effect change here, we are engaged with our peers in the bike industry through a number of collaborative efforts that are focused on improving supplier social and environmental performance.
In October 2019 Specialized joined the Outdoor Industry Climate Action Corps in order to provide technical support for our GHG evaluation efforts and to align us with industry leaders. The OIA CAC have a stated goal of being climate POSITIVE by 2030. The roadmap for how we get there is not complete, but the process of measuring our impacts is well under way, and the framework for collaborative reduction efforts is in place.
Ruben Torenbeek, RAAW Mountain Bikes
Also, we offset our activities through Ecology and plant a tree for every order and we ship with DHL ‘GoGreen’, offsetting the CO2 of the parcel being transported.
Is that carbon offset for the shipping of bikes from the factory to the consumers, or does it cover more than that?
The ‘GoGreen’ covers the shipment from us to the customer. Ecology (planting trees to offset) is more general, we pay for planting trees per employee to offset our activities and on top, the one tree per order is just a little addition. It is not with the intent to offset the specific footprint of an order.
Cy Turner, Cotic Bikes
In the Reynolds 853 tubing we use, the iron element is 100% recycled, so that side of the equation is relatively low. We aim to make durable products that are easily recycled at the end of their life, and we carry spares for models dating back 10 years, so even older Cotic frames can be kept going if at all possible.
Packaging would be the next big thing. In terms of parts, we just have to hope that the large companies like Shimano and SRAM that we deal with are trying to be as clean as they can be because at our size we don’t have any influence with those big players. Although there have been some positive moves from the bigger players on this, it’s not enough.
We haven’t set any specific targets, but as a company, we keep going with constant improvement. We have increased the amount of material we can recycle instead of going to landfill this year. We use an energy supplier that generates 100% renewable electricity. We switched to paper-backed packing tape. We minimise staff travel because I don’t insist that everyone has to be in the same place every day.
We support Trash Free Trails, and that’s brought us a keen awareness of how much single-use plastic and is still used in bike part packaging. All our packaging is cardboard from sustainable sources. Re-using packaging from all sources is another thing we do well.
There are lots of things we do which add up to using less. I firmly believe the best thing we do is what we have always done; make a sensible number of frames and bikes that last a long time.
Bike Park Wales
In addition to using 100% green energy from Ecotricity, BikePark Wales will be balancing all carbon emissions from fossil fuel use across the business. From running our uplift busses to the machinery we use to create our trails. With the help of the team at Temwa, we have estimated that the park produces approximately 170 tonnes of C02 per year, all of which will be balanced with community-led tree plantation, rewilding and sustainable agriculture projects in Malawi.
Do you have any plans to further decarbonise your direct emissions on-site? Have you done much to improve the ecology/carbon sequestration on the BPW site its self?
We are trying to look at everything in the business, I’ve been in a meeting just today discussing living roofs and solar thermal heating for the shower facilities we hope to build in the next 18 months. Direct emissions are a challenge, Offsetting is just a stop-gap whilst we work out what technology can help us get carbon neutral. Electric vans would be a big one, as soon as a viable and affordable option becomes available we are super keen to go down that path.
We’ve done quite a bit on-site, we built a Reed bed to treat all the foul water from our bike wash which acts as a small carbon sink. As part of the developments we just did (car park and new building) we have planted a tonne of new trees, created wildflower areas and hibernacula for small animals as well as nesting boxes for birds and bats. In the grand scheme it’s small fry and we are learning as we go but it’s always high on the agenda of any decision we make. My take on it is that businesses have to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in, governments just aren’t setting targets or introducing help for private businesses fast enough so it’s our responsibility to do what we can.
Joe McEwan, Starling Cycles
As part of a government-funded project, we are involved with, conducted by the National Composites Centre, a Life Cycle Assessment of the CO2 impact of different frame manufacturing processes was completed; including steel and carbon epoxy frames. The final Global Warming Potential metric (kg CO2-eq) gave a value of 4.2 for the European-made steel frames, vs. 68.1 for the epoxy carbon frames made in Asia (16 times greater).
[Editor’s note: this report is not yet published, but I have seen a preprint version and the numbers Joe quotes are consistent with the current version of the report. However, it should be noted the report assumes the carbon and steel frames weigh the same, which is of course not realistic, but this shouldn’t change the broader conclusion of the paper – that carbon has a higher carbon footprint than steel.]
The vast majority of the impact for the carbon was in the production of the raw material [transport made up less than 1% of total carbon emissions], typically manufactured in countries still using highly polluting energy sources. The metric considered only the initial frame manufacture, the comparison is swayed further toward the benefits of steel when you consider the longer lifetime, repairability and reduced manufacturing scrap rate of steel frames. In summary, steel frames are vastly less impactful than carbon!
Other than raw steel manufacture, our company has a relatively low carbon impact. Brazing is low energy, we only have a small workshop, we have no heating (it’s bloody freezing in the winter), all but one of the staff cycle to work. We are about to replace my diesel van with a cargo ebike to take the frames to the powder coaters a short distance away. But it is acknowledged that small scale production may be less efficient than mass manufacture.
We do import products and parts from Taiwan, and we do ship our frames worldwide. These are perhaps the key areas where we could make the biggest impact and something we would love to be able to improve.
Chris Holmes, Marin
Some of the bigger areas we have focused on are limiting travel and sustainable packaging initiatives. The pandemic has shown us that we don’t always have to have a crew fly around the globe to present forthcoming models to our distributor partners and that using videoconferencing is actually preferable to most of those who would have made the trek to our meetings in the past.
On the packaging front, we are working diligently to eliminate non-recyclable materials used in our bike packaging. We have also asked our dealers to join us on this journey, encouraging them to use green energy sources in their shops, use eco-friendly cleaners and lubes in their shops, and to properly recycle our bike cartons. You can learn more about Marin’s sustainability here.
Michael Zellmann, SRAM
SRAM has been deeply engaged in a range of sustainability efforts for years, including:
• Doing a thorough analysis of our carbon footprint and developing our long term sustainability strategy
• Analyzing Scope 1 & 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Calculations [Editor’s note: this article explains what’s meant by scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.]
• Enrolled in Renewable Energy Audits
• Developing Corporate Social Responsibility Plan
• Engaged with Climate Action Corps and P4B Sustainability Working Group
• SRAM HQ – LEED Certified
• Removing hard plastic packaging for all new AM products
• Using Biodegradable plastic in our poly bags
• Phasing out single-use plastic trays in OE and internal packaging
• Replacing with paper pulp or reusable plastic trays
• Procuring renewable energy globally [including factories]
• Made improvements based on energy audits
• Increasing serviceability of components
• Doing more repairs instead of replacements for Reverb
• Looking for opportunities in other products to repair instead of replace
Hans Heim, Ibis Cycles
On the manufacturing side, we developed a new manufacturing process to build carbon frames in the USA with solar power. We are generating 60% more power than we use which flows back into the grid displacing the need for non-renewable energy. The emissions created in the manufacturing of the carbon fiber material itself are roughly offset by our excess power production.
On transportation, about 3 years ago, we almost completely stopped using air freight for incoming shipments. The emissions from air freight are ~10x that of ocean freight and that was not acceptable.
We have recently taken almost all the plastic out of our bike packaging and now everything is 100% recyclable. We have been pushing our suppliers to take responsibility for eliminating plastic packaging.
Each company in the supply chain will need to work on reducing emissions at the source. It is all voluntary at this time. In the near future most companies will be compelled both internally (employees) and externally (market) to prioritize the environment.
We have been researching carbon offsets to find highly-vetted options for offsetting the rest of our business, though our preference is to reduce directly rather than pay to offset. The idea that you can just pay a fee to reduce your impact is better than nothing, but really, we need to be responsible at the source. So we will buy offsets while working on reducing emissions throughout our supply chain.
And finally, we are consciously making products that will last a long time and be able to be maintained which saves resources and waste.
Over the past 12 months, we have carried out a climate environmental audit of the entire business with the help of Climate Partners. We are currently hard at work diving into this data and defining timelines and plans for long-term solutions to reduce our CO2 emissions. But, as an indication of the expectations we place on ourselves- we are committed to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI).
This initiative is striving for a zero-carbon economy- in an effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. We will be making headway on our ‘race to net-zero’ immediately with carbon offsetting programs while we work on the necessary changes to our future business practices. We hope to share a complete overview of our environmental goals with Pinkbike and the cycling community as soon as possible.
As a side note (without wanting this to sound like corporate BS) – if you look around Canyon the momentum has been shifting towards a more sustainable future for some time. Many of our facilities receive power from solar panels on the roof. We developed an improved Bikeguard box for shipping, which uses fully recyclable materials, and no tape. The transition to EV’s for our company vehicles is already underway, and we have made significant reductions to superfluous business travel. Our R&D teams are also investigating more environmentally friendly alternatives to carbon fibre- such as Flax fibre. But in truth these are the low hanging fruit- and we are not going to pretend that some EV’s and nice recyclable packaging will protect us from breaking the critical 1.5-degree global temperature gain. We have a lot more work to do.
Leo Kokkonen, Pole Bicycle Company
After ditching our carbon project four years ago for ethical and environmental reasons, our decision to CNC manufacture frames was the single most significant ecological strategic step. In-house production not only avoids the overall cost to the environment by air and sea freight, but it also means we can develop and expand on producing other models in the range soon.
For us, by far, the largest source of CO2 emissions comes from manufacturing and shipping. Currently, we manufacture most of our products in our factory in Finland by CNC machining, and we are doubling our capacity next year. Now, we produce Evolink in Taiwan, and we assemble the bikes in Finland. Our packaging materials are made in Finland, and probably even the carton wood is from our local forests. CNC machining uses electricity produced by nuclear, wind, or water power plants with low CO2 emissions. Our factory uses geothermal heating, and we have solar panels for cooling. We recycle all metals, paper, and cartons. In our region, only a fraction of waste ends up in landfills.
For us, it’s pretty hard to make any significant shifts to reduce our CO2 emissions as we are probably doing the best we can at the moment. Currently, our primary focus is to reduce waste and to recycle as much as possible.
What percentage of the aluminium ends up in the finished frame? What happens to the rest of the material – is it recycled locally, and is it the same quality?
We machine shell co structures with a wall thickness less than 1mm from billets. I can not give you a specific number because we have several parts, and some have a better production rate than others. I estimate that the end product has roughly 20% of the original billet weight. Our machined aluminium is single grade, and we recycle the scrap in Finland. Ideally, they don’t downcycle the material, but that’s up to the recycling facility who we sell the material. We get money from our scrap because it’s worth money and it’s not waste.
Producing less scrap is something that we are getting better at all the time. Making less scrap means fewer emissions, but another driver is that less scrap means more profit, and we want to sell more affordable frames. The bottom line from an environmental view is that metals are desired scrap at all lifecycles of the product and production methods. In addition, remaking metals use renewable or low CO2 emissions energy sources, and recycling aluminium needs only 5% of energy than its original process.
[Editor’s note: If 20% of the billet weight in Pole’s process ends up in the frame, then they produce 4Kg of scrap for every 1Kg of frame weight. If all that scrap is recycled and re-used (not down-cycled) and uses 5% of the energy of producing virgin material, then Pole’s process will require 20% more energy than a process making frames from virgin material with zero scrap.]
Jackie Martin, Fox Factory
Sending orders out to Endura’s network of dealers and direct to consumers has an impact on emissions but given that the relative distances are much smaller it has a lower impact than the process of moving containers from East Asia to its main markets in the UK, Europe and US. Endura’s manufacturing, warehousing and design base in Scotland also has a footprint – mainly the electricity and natural gas used to power its 5,000 square meter facility in Livingston. The biggest reductions in emissions will come chiefly by switching to renewables, particularly for electricity, and this is something that is currently being pursued.
Cumulatively, the activities under the direct control of Endura [Scope 1 emissions] represent around 74% of the total CO2 impact of their clothing. Consumer use – predominantly washing – contributes around 20% to a garment’s environmental impact and significant reductions can be made by influencing consumer behaviour in washing and extending the product’s life span.
Endura estimate that retail activities contribute 3% of an item’s emissions, with end-of-life management adding a similar proportion. Endura views end of life management as their responsibility, but from a CO2 emissions point of view, it’s not the lowest hanging fruit. However, planning has started on an initiative to retrieve and fully recycle products alongside packaging such as LDPE bags, something that’s already in place as part of the European Outdoor Group’s Single-Use Plastics project.
Whilst aggressively reducing CO2 emissions under their control is a key part of Endura’s future, the company’s One Million Tree Initiative can reduce their net carbon footprint much more quickly. The mangrove restoration project in Mozambique was chosen as it offers particularly high levels of carbon sequestration per plant, but also because the project was ready to start planting immediately. Endura are also planting trees closer to home, next to the trails at its charitable trust centre in central Scotland where native woodlands have started planting in 2021. This project will create a woodland of 85,000 broadleaf trees, capturing carbon and improving biodiversity on otherwise agriculturally unproductive land.
By pledging to plant one million trees per year over a ten-year timeframe, the carbon capture effect compounds as more and more trees are planted and then begin to reproduce naturally. This will see Endura first balance out the CO2 that their activities produce and rapidly move beyond this to remove much more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit. By 2030, Endura forecast that their net footprint will lock away more than 100,000 tonnes of atmospheric CO2 each and every year.
Research is underway at Endura to prove a chemical recycling process that can operate at scale and shift the mindset of the industry – and even the government. But these challenges are about infrastructure which will take years to change and we do not have the luxury of time. We’re just trying to get a job done here and the fastest, most cost-effective and powerful way to do that is through carbon offset.
• Become climate positive by 2030 by working to lower our manufacturing footprint and neutralizing more than the balance that remains
• Convert our Boulder, Colorado, headquarters to a zero waste and solar-powered facility
• Eliminate 100 per cent of polybags from all of our publishing and mailing efforts
In pursuit of the first goal, we’ve recently completed a carbon footprint analysis of Outside Inc. that identified our total annual GHG emissions as well as the major sources of emissions. This data provides us with a road map for reductions, and we’re forming an internal sustainability task force to drive progress. Early in 2022, we will share a report on our findings, the details of our plan to achieve carbon neutrality in 5 years, and the first pieces of content we will be producing to inspire our audiences to take action in their own lives.
With regard to the second and third goals, we’ve already made enough progress that we’re confident our business will be polybag-free and Zero Waste by early 2022.
I expected a universally lacklustre response to my questions, but I’m glad to see some bike companies are taking the issue seriously, and in many cases taking real steps towards cleaning up their act. In the past, there’s been a lot of tinkering around the edges with the odd bit of plastic-free packaging here or a recyclable saddle cover there, so it’s encouraging to see some bike brands looking at where their major sources of emissions are and beginning to grapple with them.
Avoiding air freight, buying renewable electricity, installing solar panels or buying materials from the greenest suppliers can all be significant steps towards decarbonising. But for now, the only way for manufacturers to get anywhere close to carbon-neutral is through carbon offsets, and companies like Raaw, Bike Park Wales, and Endura are investing in this approach.
Carbon offsets are often accused of being a sticking plaster rather than a real solution, and even as an excuse to keep polluting, But this Climate Care article makes clear that while offsetting can’t be the whole solution, it is nevertheless a necessary part of getting to net-zero. Research shows that companies who paid for offsets cut their scope 1 (direct) emissions by 17% on average, while comparable companies who didn’t buy offsets reduced their direct emissions by less than 5% in the same timeframe. While this doesn’t prove that offsetting causes companies to cut their emissions, it puts to bed the idea that they act as a license to carry on polluting. This makes sense because if a company pays to offset their emissions, they have a strong financial incentive to reduce them on the balance sheet. Besides, the best carbon offsetting projects have been proven effective and have co-benefits, too. For example, Health in Harmony is a charity that provides healthcare, education and jobs for people in tropical rainforests to prevent them from resorting to illegal logging. This approach has published research as evidence of its effectiveness in improving healthcare as well as carbon drawdown, and the charity says it can offset a ton of CO2 for just $20. The point is, although carbon offsets aren’t a full solution, companies who invest in them should be applauded, especially when combined with direct emissions cuts.
Where does this leave us, the consumers? Although the role of personal action is often overstated, what should you do if you want to minimise the environmental impact of your cycling? According to the report Starling cited from the National Composites Centre, making a steel frame results in smaller emissions than a carbon frame, and according to Trek’s sustainability report, carbon frames and components have higher emissions than aluminium ones too. However, the report Specialized cited from Duke University found the aluminium frame to have a higher carbon footprint than the carbon one, so it’s not a clear picture. Trek’s sustainability report and this article from the European Cycling Federation both put the carbon footprint of making a whole bike somewhere in the region of a few hundred kilograms of CO2 equivalent, and other papers I’ve seen put the figure in that rough ballpark.
Despite what some commenters may think, I’m not interested in persuading you to buy more bikes. If you’re still shredding your 1993 GT Tequesta then more power to you, and the most environmentally friendly bike is the one you already have. But while buying fewer bikes is a good thing for the environment, it’s worth keeping that in context. The average European is responsible for about ten tons of CO2 per year and the average American about twenty, so even if you bought a brand new bike every year (which I would call excessive), that’s only around 1% of your personal “carbon footprint”. Trek says that making a Fuel EX produces 153Kg of CO2. That’s the equivalent of driving a typical internal combustion car about three hundred miles. Perhaps the best thing you can do as an individual is to ride your bike instead of driving, and not drive to where you ride your bike.