The motivation for our philosophies is multi faceted. Mike Olson and I started Mervin MFG. We have been hand building surfboards, skateboards and snowboard ourselves since we were kids, over thirty years. This is a life’s work.
Nature: We both grew up in the pacific northwest region of the USA which is an amazingly beautiful place where the mountains meet the sea. Our parents were avid outdoor enthusiasts; Mikes’ father was a pastor, avid skiier and mariner and my dad was a bio chemistry professor, nordic skier and avid climber. Our childhood weekends and summers were spent outdoors hiking, camping, boating, immersed in nature. We were in our teens in the seventies and exposed to some of the early environmental focused hippy “off the grid” movements. The gas crisis and toxic disasters like Three Mile island nuclear incident and Love Canal toxic chemical all had significant impacts on us and pointed to the finite nature of global resources and consequences of abusing our environment.
Necessity: Another key factor in our environmental responsibility was that we had limited resources ourselves. Neither of our parents had much money and we had to work to get what ever materials we were going to use to build boards so we didn’t want to waste anything. Snowboard materials like steel edges and base material were also hard to come by so every little bit was treated as precious. As Mike began building snowboards money made from selling one board went into buying materials for the next project… wasted material was missed opportunity.
Self preservation: A third factor was that we hand built boards ourselves and were directly exposed to whatever materials and processes we were using. We both loved the creative process of building boards and riding them and refining and knew we wanted to be involved in experimental building and riding our entire lives. Both of us had experience building polyester surfboards which is very toxic and I had had a few particularly bad experiences with resin exposure both with surfboards and helping my dad build fiberglass kayaks. We were going to do this every day and needed to control our work environment by using the healthiest materials and process we could find. Oddly enough we found that quite often the more environmentally friendly material or process also proved both stronger and less expensive which further fueled our motivation. As the business grew a bit and we started hiring friends we felt responsible for their work environment, we didn’t want to expose anyone to a toxic process or materials which again was a motivator.
The right thing: Taking a stand towards environmental manufacturing is not always understood or appreciated. In the early years of our business everyone laughed at us and told us we were wasting our time with environmental efforts. Even today the environmental manufacturing aspect of our business occasionally comes under question… several consumer buying pattern studies say very few consumers make purchasing decisions based on environmental factors… citing price and other factors as much more powerful in the decision making process. We have always stood strong by the concept that for our customer it does make a difference at some level and even if it doesn’t reach the customer it matters to us and our crew morally and health wise. It feels good to try and make every effort possible to do a good job… the best boards possible using the most environmentally friendly materials, processes with the lowest impact.
Performance and price: The real cost of environmentally friendly manufacturing often seems to the effort it takes researching the alternate path less travelled. (Mike loves research) In many cases the more environmental process often proves to be both less expensive and higher performance. This is the case with wood cores… fast growing sustainable woods tend to have long straight fibers that are strong, light and lively or poppy perfect for snowboard or ski cores. Fast growing woods are often less desirable for other applications and grow very well in the our NW climate which makes them less expensive in multiple ways. Locally harvested, sustainable woods ends up being a win, win, win, win for us. Mike likes to call the fast growing, long fibered woods we use “natures fiberglass”. There have been many other examples of materials and process where the more environmental choice is also the high performance or lower cost choice.
Our own Factory: Controlling the performance, quality and environmental impact of your boards/ business is very challenging if you don’t actually do it yourself. Having and basically living at Mevin MFG our factory allows us to be immersed in the process. Change is possible… if we see a way to improve the factory or board quality in any way we can immediately act on it. We can hand pick our ingredients/components and know exactly where they came from and how we are handling them. Our factory is powered by wind and water generated energy. We have a no toxic solvents process and Zero hazardous waste facility. We have an ever growing recycling program that includes our “sawdust to soil” wood dust program and water based eco sublimation process that eliminates some sanding steps and silkscreening which is the most toxic manufacturing process in most factories and allows us to recycle unused base material. We are working towards being Zero landfill. Mervin is located in Sequim Washington which gets lots of sun…we are currently researching adding solar to our wind and water generated power.
Our philosophy is that we are trying to build the very best boards we can possibly build and that includes the process, materials, work environment, moral of the crew, environmental impact as well as the performance and aesthetics of the board. We have always been a bit idealistic and spiritual and felt like every little bit of energy put into a board along the way should be as positive as possible and all contributes to the story and ride. We also are aware that there is a limit to what you can do environmentally… you can push it to the point of comedy. We are all here on the planet using resources and making a mess of some sort but, if you try to leave things better than you found them or in some way set an example that is a positive contribution to society. If we all do that good things will come of it.
All our wood cores are sustainably harvested fast growing species. We use FSC certified wood.
We are using a bio polymer top material made from a bean oil.
We use low VOC epoxy resin systems. That are safe for our crew to use.
All our graphics are eco sublimated using water based inks. No toxic silk screening… sometimes it is what you don’t do that matters… if you see a snowboard that is super glossy and looks like it has a shiny clear coat on it… the process used to make it was most likely very toxic for the board builder and resulted in a lot of toxic solvent usage/waste.
We use food grade UHMW sidewalls and base material w recycled content.
We have total control over our factory. We built it from the ground up and control every process and material used. We are immersed in the factory every day. If we see a possible improvement in process or materials we can immediately implement change. We have a motivated, skilled, veteran crew with an open mind that is constantly pushing what is possible with performance, efficiency and environmentally. We have a culture of innovation and creativity; new ideas are welcome and every small improvement is celebrated.
We agree with you and appreciate your willingness to vocalize your position. We are doing everything we can to balance the needs of the business financially with moral and environmental responsibility and actions. We try to do our part and communicate our efforts out to our board sports world of surf, skate, ski and snowboard in the hopes that it will inspire others. There is so much more we can do at Mervin to improve things… the solar project has me excited. Taking steps towards environmental responsibility feels good… if every person takes little steps along the way big things can happen.