Monday, November 12, 2007

On Sustainability and Standards

From the website a few weeks ago, we received an email from Rob in Massachusetts. Referring to frequent online discussions on manufacturing practices, he raised some good questions about how we look at standards and practices in their health for the environment, the community and the business. As Charlie says, the blog is a good place for us to address these issues and hear your feedback, and I thought his response was a good place to start.

Hi Folks,
As you may have noticed there's a bit of a buzz about where products are being made, especially in the outdoor community. Speculation being a poor substitute for information, I thought it reasonable to just ask.

I have been using Karhu skis over the years with great satisfaction and will likely always keep Karhu equipment on my short list. I have not been basing my choices solely on manufacturing locale and conditions, but these are matters do enter into my decisions.

What I am looking for is information regarding what it took for you to select a fabrication facility, your experience in developing trust in such facilities and your part in defining and monitoring the working conditions at the production (etc) facilities. We already know that Karhu, as has happened to other companies went through production quality issues, the Betty delam matter comes to mind. We also know that Karhu and the rest went to great lengths to resolve the problems for their customers and resolve the production matters. Those were no small efforts. Some general info about the process would be part of my request as well.

I'm asking for quite a bit and appreciate that time you have just taken to read this. I do hope that Karhu, knowing it can stand proudly as a business with good stewardship intended, can make such information part of it's web site's "About Us" page.


Response from Charlie Lozner:

Dear Rob,

Thanks for your interest in Karhu.

"Sustainability = Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” - Our Common Future, World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987

In regards to stewardship, we look very serious at "sustainability" – in terms of profitability as well as responsibility. It implies ongoing efforts, as opposed to a one time fix. "Sustainability" as a broad term includes both environmental and social responsibility.

From our perspective quality product is integral to the sustainability of our company. It cannot be removed from the equation of where we build our product. Making skis is not something that can be done with cheap unskilled labor. The factory we work with has trained many, many skilled workers and provided many, many relatively high-paying, high-skilled jobs. Our manufacturing is not a hands-off process where we send designs and they ship product back to us; in the first stages, our process engineers spent several months at the new facility to get production running. Today, our engineers and designers regularly rotate through the factory, working with the engineers and staff on site to develop new tools, assist with the process and monitor the production, and our new facility has provided us with our best production quality to date. Because the first hand knowledge gained through these visits, we are confident that our work force is treated and compensated fairly.

The related issues of environmental stewardship and fair labor practices are also part of every decision regarding design and production. It is not "where", but rather "how" you make a product that matters. In the design process of any ski, boot, pole, etc, we look at ways to reduce waste (and cost) in every step of the process. This was the driving factor in moving from Canadian Poplar to Paulownia from China for our new Greenlight cores. This reduces transportation costs and CO2 footprint significantly. It also helps to create local demand in China for sustainable forestry. We work aggressively to reduce scrap materials (ink, epoxy, wood, tops, bases, edges). This is as much a business necessity as it is an environmental responsibility. These practices were in place in Canada, and they are now in place in China.

We take our jobs and our position in the outdoor industry very seriously. Graham, Dan, Eben, Nils, Francois, and I and everyone at Karhu are as much a part of the community as you and everyone on TTips. We ride our bikes to work, use FSC-certified paper for our consumer brochure, and on and on. We support Alison Gannett, Lorenzo Worster, Zoe Hart and other athletes that are out there trying to make a difference and generate awareness as well as inspiration. We want to be able to pass winter on to our kids and our kids’ kids. That's what gets us up for work in the morning and keeps us going late into the night. Thankfully we are in a position to make fun products and also make change.

We will be addressing issues like this and others on our new blog... As it grows – and the discussion with it – we welcome the chance to foster more conversation with the community at large.

As a consumer... keep pushing the industry. That's your job. Don't let the current Green movement become a passing fad.

Best regards,
Brand Director – Karhu

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