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.
#009: Sebastian Bogdahn, Sustainability Manager Schwalbe
When did your company start addressing its environmental impact, and why?
"Quality, durability and customer relations have always been of major importance to Schwalbe [tires and inner tubes]. As these aspects also play a key role when talking about sustainability, you could say that this spirit has been part of our identity since the very beginning.
In order to better adapt, tackle and understand the dynamic and ever-changing challenges of incorporating sustainability into our processes, we teamed up with the EPEA environmental institute in 2013 and set up a roadmap, paving the path towards a responsibly shaped future. We’re continuously critically re-evaluating ourselves and all processes involved in our supply chain. In accordance with the so called “Cradle to Cradle”-principle (C2C), it is our goal to reduce energy and raw material consumption, to avoid waste production and to reuse materials instead.
We don’t intend to comfortably rest on the idea that bicycling in itself is environmentally friendly. Instead, we try to evaluate all aspects of our products involving their entire lifespan from raw material production to utilisation or rather recycling.
We consider the transition from a linear economy to a prospective circular economy as one of our elementary guiding principles. We’re not there yet, but we’re on our way!"
What particular impact within the lifespan of your products do you focus on, and why?
"Schwalbe’s sustainability roadmap includes several “green milestones” that mark specific achievements, standing representatively for the wide-ranging efforts along the entire product lifecycle. The mixtures of our Green Compound and our GreenGuard puncture protection, for example, exclusively contain renewable or recycled raw materials. The development was a huge technological challenge but we eventually managed to establish these eco-positive components in our product portfolio.
The introduction of our tube recycling system in 2015 is another landmark. By actively collecting and recycling old inner tubes, we can reduce the energy input by 80% compared to the production of virgin material. Moreover, each new Schwalbe tube contains 20% recycled material. In our philosophy recycling and re-using materials not only saves energy, raw materials or prevents waste production but also sets a powerful statement against today's “throw-away society“.
Schwalbe’s latest green milestone is the partnership with the Fair Rubber association. We’re very proud to be the first tire manufacturer worldwide to join the network. By paying an additional premium for each kilogram of natural rubber, the basic idea is to improve the living standard of the people at the start of the supply chain: the tappers and farmers. The premium goes 100% to these important members of the supply chain who use the additional finances to invest in improving infrastructure, education and health care, for example.
We balance our sustainability efforts to equally take ecological, economical, technological and sociological aspects into account. This holistic approach pretty much forms the foundation of our philosophy."
What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
"One of the major challenges is definitely the balancing act between ecology and economy. As mentioned before, we’re always trying to figure out ways to comply our actions with all aspects of sustainability. Now and then, there may be promising innovations or groundbreaking production techniques that are just way too cost-intensive to be realised immediately. However, we put all our efforts in efficiency enhancement and material or process improvement to finally be able to put those ideas into practice. That is what the daily business of our product managers and engineers looks like.
At the same time, it is necessary to achieve technical feasibility and to ensure product quality and safety aspects. For instance, using alternative or recycled raw materials in production is not always easy to do. Here we benefit from the amazing Schwalbe teamwork spirit and from the long-standing partnership with our manufacturing partner in Asia. The fruits of all these efforts are reflected in our green milestones.
A special shout-out goes to our customers for their interest and their terrific support in sustainability issues. They really push things forward and help us to complete our integrated approach on a way to a responsible and eco-friendly future."
What are your ambitions for both short and long term?
"Actually, we do have a roadmap but for two reasons you cannot really say how long it takes us to get to the finish line. Reason one is that there is no predefined finish line. Due to rapidly changing sociological and political circumstances as well as the continuously ongoing development of new technologies, we always have to react with agility and flexibility.
Secondly, our sustainability business is, to a certain extent, pioneering work. One can never be sure about when, or even if a plan is feasible. Overall, we’ll certainly keep on giving our best each and every day and stick to our path towards a sustainable future!"
What do you expect of the cycling community on this journey?
"We’re full of hope for a collaborative movement of people becoming more aware of all the consequences their daily behaviour causes. As a company and as a representing part of a future-driven mobility sector, we’ll intensify our engagement, contribute eco-effective solutions and put all our efforts to push that movement towards a modern sustainable society."
Find out more about Schwalbe here: www.schwalbe.com Photo credits: Schwalbe