SIMA Green Boot Camp Recap


I (Bill) attended SIMA Green Boot Camp yesterday and have to say I enjoyed the experience.  Since we are pretty entrenched in the PR world for surf and the action sports industry in general, I thought it was something I should at least check out.  It was definitely worth my $75 non-SIMA membership fee, even in these tough economic times.

The event was held in three stages, minus the networking breakfast and address by Sean Smith, SIMA’s Executive Director.  I’ll give you a quick run-down and my thoughts as well.

Opening address:

Sean is a pretty solid speaker and presenter. I’ve only met him once at ASR and… well, that’s ASR, so I was impressed by what I saw on stage.

He made the point that since day one, surfing has been tied to the environment.  So while it hasn’t always been a focus, the surf industry does need to keep it in mind if we expect to have a continued existence.  Otherwise, we can just let Hollister take over (my thoughts, not Sean’s).

I disagreed with Sean on one point, and that comes to his statement with regards to cause related marketing.  To paraphrase Sean’s opinion, he’s just not a fan of CRM, or rather, claiming CRM.  He seemed to feel that if you’re doing something for a good cause, you shouldn’t market or brag about it.  That’s a good thought, but I disagree.

CRM, while we tend to consider it a charitable/consumer benefiting term, really relates to a broader spectrum of marketing, especially in surf.  For example, Billabong puts on the XXL Global Big Wave awards every year.  They’re promoting big wave riding and at the same time, giving surfing more exposure.  That’s a cause… with the benefit being the surf industry.

When it comes to more charitable or green initiatives, I feel brands should do what they can to promote their endeavors, if at the least, to get other brands to do something similar for the benefit of all.  Regardless of if it’s Boarding for Breast Cancer or an environmental initiative such as project BLUE, CRM is a point of differentiation for brands and should be promoted.

Just my opinion and not a slag against Sean.

Step by Step:  The Why and How of Carbon Footprinting – Jenny Bravo, tax leader from Deloitte’s Enterprise Sustainability Group

Lots of key learnings and questions for Jenny.  Turns out there are numerous incentives to taking eco-steps with your business, not to mention looming legislation that could cause some tax headaches if you’re not on top of it.

The Future of Green Products Panel Discussion:

This was moderated by Rob Campbell, publisher of TransWorld Business and included the following panelists:

Vipe Desai / Founder, Project Blue
Rob McCarty / Senior Design Director, Billabong
Derek Sabori /  General Manager, Volcom V.Co-Logical Society Environmental Affairs Division

This is probably what the most panelists came to check out.

Overall, the discussion was pretty lively and informative.

Someone from Vans commented that they had consumer research stating that contrary to popular belief, consumers won’t want to pay extra for eco-friendly products.  Someone else commented on a Piper study  to the contrary.  Derek Sabori hit it on the head though, and I know this first hand from experience.

Derek mentioned that Volcom has produced eco-friendly boardshorts in the past, but due to manufacturing needs, these were typically brown or black in color… not super sexy to a lot of surfers.  From working with both project BLUE and IPATH, I can tell you first hand that for a product that’s eco to sell well in this industry, it has to perform and look like everything else.  If it looks too crunchy, it’s only going to appeal to the hippy set.  Tyler Callaway from Surf Hardware / FCS made a similar statement about some recycled fins they’re making now.  Unfortunately due to production issues, their “green fins” are actually green.  While that’s ok for some, a lot of people still want the clear/translucent/colored products, regardless of eco-impact.

Rob McCarty seems to feel the same way I do and their Eco-Supreme Suede boardshorts mirror that design.  More than three million plastic bottles have gone into the design of these and they look anything but hippy.  That’s good, especially, as Rob Mignogna of Mignogna Consulting mentioned, there’s a giant garbage patch in the pacific filled with plastic containers.

Ryan Divel from …Lost made a good point that it’s hard for some medium sized brands to change their ways with limited resources.  Vipe was quick to point out that you don’t need to have a patented fabric such as Billabong’s Eco-Supreme Suede to begin taking eco-steps.  You can do it in small doses, maybe by limiting packaging or simply auditing energy waste internally at your company.

As what happens sometimes during the Q&A phase, some people make statements instead of questions.  Lots of people accused the industry of blowing it, including someone sitting next to Bob (sorry, couldn’t see his name tag), who stated basically that Patagonia was going to take over the surf industry.  His rationale was that because of their advanced state of eco and team members that include the Malloy brothers, Patagonia is poised to take over surf.

Offline, I spoke with some colleagues that thought he couldn’t be more wrong.  While Patagonia is a fantastic brand, they’re far from poised to take massive bites out of Volcom, Quiksilver, etc.  Why?  Marketing.  Patagonia kills it from an eco and outdoor perspective, but the Malloy’s don’t appeal to everyone.  Action sports is both a product and marketing driven world, probably more about image than performance in some instances.  If Patagonia were to take over the surf industry, either there’d need to be a huge shift in consumer taste towards the Patagonia style or Patagonia would need to shift their style closer to what’s selling in surf.  Not to say it couldn’t happen… I just think it’s unlikely.

Overall, solid panel.  Rob Campbell kept everyone on track, even when some people wanted to ask more than their fair share of questions.  I’ve seen Rob moderate similar events and he seems to have a solid balance for letting people speak their minds, but also steering the conversation back to what the panel is actually about.

Overall, another theme was the lack of education regarding eco, from the employee level to reps to retailers.  Vipe mentioned that most shops don’t have an eco-area and if they did, maybe consumers would flock to it.  Throwing an organic cotton t-shirt in with all the others on the rack does not bode well for differentiation.

Save Trestles – Stefanie Sekich, coastal campaign specialist

(pic courtesy of OB

Stefanie gave a great presentation on the Save Trestles campaign Surfrider put together.  Most probably know the campaign, but Stefanie gave some great key learnings not just on what the capaign accomplished, but on how they accomplished it with a very limited budget.

Well, that’s it.  If anyone has comments about their experience at the Boot Camp or questions, please feel free to drop us a line.


~ by doubleb on April 17, 2009.

7 Responses to “SIMA Green Boot Camp Recap”

  1. Bill, you are spot on in your assessment of CRM.

    One of the biggest mistakes I see other NPO’s making (and one that we here at the Surfrider Foundation have made in the past) is approaching companies with our hand out. It’s simply not sustainable from a business standpoint, as ultimately relationships built on this foundation are destined to one of two outcomes: Either a greater or more pressing need comes along (as we saw following the Indonesian earthquake/tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005), or more frequently, customer response to the messaging begins to fatigue. It is essential then that both companies and charitable organization approach CRM relationships from a true position of partnership.

    The first question potential partners should ask themselves is what they are hoping to gain from the relationship? From the brand side this could be launch of product, brand enhancement, building customer consideration, etc. From the NPO it usually is money, however it would be a big mistake to overlook the opportunity for brand enhancement, entree into new audiences (and potential new supporters), etc. Then together the two parties should look for opportunities or activations in which they can begin to try and meet these goals.

    As well, don’t assume it’s a one size fits all. The most common request that I see here at Surfrider Foundation is from companies who want to stage a beach clean-up. In almost every case I try and dissuade partners from pursuing this activity – not because it’s not qualified, beach clean-ups are a central activity for who we are and what we do. However, there are only so many ways to spin a beach clean-up, and at the end of the day they end up like surf contests – just another generic opportunity differentiated by location and logos. Instead, partners should try and support whatever elements or assets that companies are using to support their brand identity. Then build the activation around that. We live in a time when we have a million different options to engage with customers (viral, UGC, art, music, volunteerism, etc). As such, there is simply no excuse to be doing something that has been done a hundred times before. Sure, sometimes there are turn-key opportunities, but it has been my experience that the best activations are the ones created from the ground up. Build it. Make it fun. Make it unique. Don’t cop out and say you don’t have the time – nobody has the time these days. Make the time, and I guarantee that you’ll find your ROI is 10x more than simply throwing money at trying to brand an opportunity that has already been covered by everyone else.

    In traveling and speaking before audiences at various partnering and sponsorship conferences, the one point that I emphasize more than anything else; that a successful partner always puts his partner’s goals before their own. If both sides are able to do this, not only does it practically guarantee a successful partnership, it lays the foundation for a relationship that will grow and prosper over time.


  2. As for CRM, a little humility goes a long way. It’s pretty easy to read when a companies in it for the glory or in it because they truly support the cause.

    As for Patagonia, I think their business model is one to be examined in detail by many of the public companies that have the balls to get away from a strictly “growth-based” business model. Their clothes definitely miss the mark outside their core customer base, but their entry into wetsuits has really made everyone else step up their game. It’s a good outside force to have as sort of an antithesis to the PacSun/Hollister side of the equation.

    Thanks for the coverage, interesting to hear about.

    Something the business side of things still don’t completely get about “green” is that it’s not just the material and packaging, but the whole cycle. If you’re making recycled polyester baggies in 3rd world sweatshop you’re missing the point. Social responsibility is a part of the equation too. Lifecycle too, again, look to Patagonia’s business model as leading the way here, they not only make recycled poly wearables, but they take them back and recycle them again. It’s about taking responsibility for your product. That thought process hasn’t really sunk in yet in consumer goods. The fact that companies can reclaim their products when the consumer is done with them and convert them back into useful products that they can then re-sell back to the same customer base.

  3. Thanks so much Matt and Phoresia for checking this out and keeping the discussion alive.

    Phoresia, you’re totally right with the “whole cycle” aspect. To paraphrase something Vipe from project BLUE once told me, hybrids are great, but what about all the other cars on the road? We can’t just junk them!

    I know Billabong and eesa are taking back wetsuits and socks, respectively. Awesome start. My friend Eneri Abillar @ has a great take on being eco-friendly too… build products that last. I won’t go on about us currently living in a disposable society, but when friends do mock my 10+ year old Burton Snowboards backpack while at the beach (especially because they know I could probably get a new pack for free from Rome SDS), I tell them I’m going green (with a smile).

    Patagonia is awesome because they’ve been looking at the bigger equation from the beginning (as is my understanding). I won’t fault anyone for not having this world-encompassing view because I do think every little bit helps. If some new skate brand wants to use recycled hang-tags, is that a huge deal? Compared to most, no, but we should encourage the small steps to motivate companies to make the bigger ones.

  4. Hey Bill,

    Thanks for continuing the discussion from SIMA. The name tag you couldn’t see was mine, Chris Clark. Perhaps you couldn’t hear what I was saying so allow me to put it in writing. I never said that Patagonia was going to take over the surf industry. I said that Patagonia was going to blow the surf industry out of the water in regards to sustainability. I don’t tend to speak in generalities. Green was the topic and I was sticking to the topic.

    I just had to speak up. How long can you sit there and watch the watered down corporate followers pat each other on the back for making a bamboo t-shirt when there are companies out there who are taking a major hits on their margins to put out a product that is going to keep our planet alive.

    I also wanted to make the point that the Malloys are the type of athletes that you should be sponsoring if you are serious about going green. Andy Irons might sell a lot of merchandise for your brand but he isn’t selling your green movement.

    I talked with Sabori afterwards and we see eye-to-eye on where things need to be. He has read “Let My People Go Surfing,” but his hands are tied so Volcom has settled for baby steps. It’s going to take an out cry from the core participants to say NO to non-sustainable goods.

    It’s no good to talk and not offer up a single solution. I will continue to criticize until things turn around. My offering comes in the form of marketing. After attending Red Bull’s Group Y the night before and then SIMA the next morning it is clear that there is no consensus on where the responsibility lies as far as green education. The brands, distributors, and wholesalers think that retailers are un-educated on green products and that’s why consumers don’t buy green. The retailers think that the consumer is un-educated by the brand and that’s why they aren’t buying green. I am going to side with the retailer on this one. It’s a retailers job to keep a good mix of core and mainstream product in the shop to hit all demographics. It is the retailers job to provide an attractive atmosphere and friendly environment. It is the responsibility of the brand to educate the consumers through marketing and advertising.

    The brands are missing the key demographic when marketing green. Most of the people who buy green are just out of college to 40 years old. That is because we have role models like Rob Machado, The Malloys, Rasta, Donovan, etc. But the youth has no one to look to. Get some kids on the hype and market the hell out of it. Get some of the young guns on board with your green initiatives and really hit it hard. Make it an obligation. Don’t give people a choice in what to buy. Green or Standard. Make a stance and go all green.

    Whoever does this first will be the hero out of all of you posers. Yeah I love you guys but I’m calling you out. Someone’s got to do it. Billabong was leading for a while with their work in Central America but not of it really got out into the mainstream. Push it boys! Keep pushing it.

    If anyone is interested in sustainable surfboards check out SIMR Custom Surfboards at I’m not afraid to admit that Fletcher Chouinard probably is light years beyond me in sustainable surfboards but until I get my hands on his secret formula I will continue to use the most sustainable products on the market.

  5. Thanks for checking in Chris. You have some great thoughts and passion. Am I correct in thinking you’re professionally tied to Simr ( If so, I look forward to seeing your success.

    Unfortunately, when a lot of the surf brands were started, their eyes were no on sustainability in terms of the environment and now they’re playing catch-up. This is an area where Patagonia is definitely a leader and new brands can follow.

    I agree that there’s a marketing issue here and part of that is to do with product. One example is what Derek mentioned with their boardshorts… the ones coming out of Volcom were not able to be produced in line with current aesthetic trends. Volcom could decide to buck the trends and only do eco-boardies… but if they don’t sell, there’d be a big issue in terms of how they’re going to deal with the loss of revenue. If people are out of work, it’s hard for them to be considerate of the environment when they’re just trying to get by.

    As people who work in marketing, it’s easy for us to come up with ideas, but as was discussed, there is a giant chain already in place, from infrastructure down to marketing at the retail level. Bigger brands, no matter what the industry, will always have a harder time shifting because of their size and processes in place. This is where smaller brands can succeed.

    Becoming more eco-friendly for these surf brands won’t happen overnight, but it will happen eventually for them to maintain their consumer relationships.

    If it were easy to do and I had all the answers, I’d just start my own apparel brand. If you have all the answers, I’d encourage you to!

  6. Bill – correct again. “Sustainability” needs to transcend just being a green ethic. It needs to be about profitablilty, job security, creativity, imagination and every other reason we are here doing what we do. Ideally all that will incorporate business practices and product that leave minimal environmental and social footprints, however it is unrealistic to expect that this is going to happen overnight. I for one am proud of the strides that the action sports industry has made to front engineer sustainability into their products. To all the nay-sayers I say look at all the bat and ball sports (or other sports such cycling or fishing) and see what kind of committment they’re making towards sustainability – hardly any, if at all. That’s why more and more kids are putting down baseball gloves and picking up skateboards. Let’s remember that we, as both an industry and community, are culture shapers. As such, any time spent posturing back and forth with one another is wasted time. Celebrate the advances – big and small, and let’s stay focused on moving this train down the tracks.

  7. Thanks Matt. I wasn’t going to call out other activities, but you’re totally right. The action sports set do seem to be making strides compared to others. NPO’s such as Surfrider and initiatives in the project BLUE and Protect Our Winters vein are all trying to get us on the right track.

    The cliche about if everyone made small steps we’d see big changes is usually true. If everyone just flipped over their computer print-outs and used them again, we’d be cutting down a lot less trees for paper. We do that here. It’s a pain and sometimes it’s not feasible, but we try to do it when we can. Does that make us super green? Hardly, but we’re trying to take steps. Same with unplugging non-essential devices when the weekend comes.

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