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.
#011: Shelley Lawson, Strategy Director Frog Bikes
When did your company start addressing its environmental impact, and why?
"Since we started Frog Bikes (children's bicycles) in 2013, the environment has been in the forefront of our business decisions, from designing longevity into our bikes right through to our energy usage and our daily habits at work. Whilst the usage of our bikes has an inherently low environmental impact, unfortunately the manufacture of bicycles does cause emissions, and we have always felt acutely aware of our responsibility to try and reduce this."
What particular impact within the lifespan of your products do you focus on, and why?
"The longer a bike is in use, the less new materials have to be extracted from the ground to make a new one. However, we all know that children grow out of their bikes much faster than they wear them out! In designing and building our bikes the focus is therefore on making products that last, so a bike can be traded up when outgrown, or become part of our Pre-loved Frogs programme for second hand Frogs.
We use standard sized parts and mainstream suppliers to enable repairs and help to extend the life of our bikes, and by selling through our network of bike stores, consumers can easily get their bikes serviced or repaired locally and many of our dealers will offer a trade in for a bike that has been outgrown.
Whilst we have also reduced our packaging (especially plastic) we recognise that our biggest emissions come from the metals in our bikes, so that is the key long-term focus."
What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
"We face several major challenges:
- aluminium suppliers in the far east have been very resistant to making the switch to recycled aluminium, so we may have to radically alter our supply chain to make our frames locally and thereby control the recycled content of the aluminium;
- suppliers have been reluctant to change their shipping & packaging processes to reduce single-use packaging;
- it has taken 5 years of discussion with 2 of our landlords to persuade them to switch to renewables;
- I see the biggest future challenge being getting bikes back to us, or to regional hubs, at the end of their useful life so that we can remanufacture parts and reuse the aluminium."
What are your ambitions for both short and long term?
"In the next couple of years we should be able to dramatically cut our scope 3 emissions by sourcing low carbon aluminium. This may happen through our existing suppliers in the far east, but we are also exploring alternative frame manufacturers in UK and Europe; this would take a number of months to develop because there is very little frame building capacity in UK/Europe currently and substantial investment in robotics would be required to make it cost effective.
For the longer term, we aim for fully closed-loop operations where all end-of-life bikes come back into our supply chain for reuse, remanufacture or recycling. This will require a very large investment in infrastructure and skills, and is likely to require collaboration throughout our industry to make it economically viable. Legislation has pushed this forward in the automotive and electronics industries in recent years; it is likely that the bike industry can learn from these models."
What do you expect of the cycling community on this journey?
"We expect bike riding families to be at the forefront of embracing the circular economy, and we already see enthusiasm for reuse of bikes and parts. In this time of very high demand of bikes (since summer 2020), the secondhand market is thriving; consumers appreciate the cost savings and the environmental benefits of multiple ownership in children’s bikes, and we are launching an MOT scheme so that families can take their 2nd hand Frog to a dealer and get a comprehensive safety check and warranty renewal."