5 QUESTIONS FOR is an interview series with cycling brands that are trying to step up their game when it comes to reducing environmental impact.The series does not set out to present perfect examples, nor does the series intend to favour specific brands. What we do hope to offer is an informative and honest account of the possible challenges, gains and pitfalls of their journey. And to inspire more cycling companies to become part of this shared responsibility.
#006: Staffan Widell, co-founder of Ass Savers
When did your company start addressing its environmental impact, and why?
"Ass Savers (mudguard concepts) was born out of the quest to find a suitable use for a waste material from the printing industry, so one can truly say it has been with us from the start. All of the founders have been involved in sustainable design and production in different ways since the early 2000's so it was never a question of "if", just a challenge of "how" to set up a business like Ass Savers in the most sustainable way."
What particular impact within the lifespan of your products do you focus on, and why?
"Sustainability is complex because it's not always the most obvious and easy to communicate efforts that have the biggest impact on your footprint. We have a holistic approach to sustainability and try to raise the bar in several areas. I think our greatest achievement has been to design our products from the start to fulfil a function with as little resources as possible. We aim to solve the problem of a wet butt with as little as 25 grams of printed and die cut polypropylene. No metal parts, no packaging or instruction booklet. Compared to other aftermarket solutions for the same problem, we use a fraction of the resources to achieve our goal.
We also spent a considerable amount of time reducing the impact of shipping, and as a result we can now ship thousands of units in a normal carton where others might need a full container. For shipping directly to our consumers, we have basically the same impact as that of a regular postal envelope. It all has its origin in the initial design process of the product itself."
What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
"The starting point for our design process was the abundance of waste material from the printing process of PP. We wanted to find a way to "hack" the production process in order to avoid the material going to waste in the first place. The instant success of our first product quickly led to the point where we couldn't source enough waste production to be able to meet demands, and we were forced to buy material to start our own production. For a long time we tried to buy recycled materials but after a lot of tests and quality issues we were forced to use virgin PP and that felt like a big step backwards for us.
But we never stopped looking for a solution and kept pushing our suppliers. Luckily, last year we managed to obtain a reliable source of high-quality recycled material made from industrial waste production. Today we are phasing out all the virgin PP from our production and it feels like we have come back to our initial aspiration of utilising waste material for the production of Ass Savers.
Another BIG challenge for us, perhaps the greatest, lies in the perception of our product. Because of its simplicity and relatively low price, people tend to see it as a disposable item, although it has been designed to withstand years of hard use. It is a cheap product and as such it will always encourage to consumption, and we as a profit driven company will always welcome the extra revenue. So far we haven't found a viable model that can ensure the prosperity of the company and solve the issue of mass consumption, but we will keep on looking. In the meantime, we try to reduce our impact the best we can."
What are your ambitions for both short and long term?
"As a company, we are perhaps less prone to draw ambitious plans for the unknown future than others. We still honour our original ambitions to provide the cycling community with useful and reasonably priced products, while keeping our negative footprint to a minimal level, using design and innovative thinking to continuously raise the standard for those ambitions."
What do you expect of the cycling community on this journey?
"We hope for a greater awareness about environmental as well as social issues and we wish that consumers will start to ask questions about where and how their products are being made. We also believe that the world is in desperate need of a more reasonable approach to consumption in general.
Contrary to popular belief, buying a new bike will not make you happier but riding any bike actually will. ;)"
Find out more about Ass Savers here: www.ass-savers.com Photo credits: Ass Savers