Bureo is a company that recycles a harmful form of ocean plastic, discarded fishing nets, and fashions them into skateboards and sunglasses. Their products are designed taking inspiration from aquatic animals incorporating fish scales as the primary friction providing grips on their skateboards. They have recently started offering apparel made from 100% organic cotton with a portion of the proceeds going to "Save the Waves Coalition" which works on preserving and protecting the Chilean coastline. Fishing nets make up an estimated 10 percent of the ocean’s plastic pollution. They have embedded sustainability in their business model where they donate funds to local non-profits in Chile for every kilogram of fishing net they received, and have been certified by the Living Future Institute for their use of cradle to cradle life cycle and net positive use of water and energy.
Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management
Bureo’s Minnow skateboard is manufactured in Chile. Their innovation is their unique business model. The founders Ben, David, and Kevin are skateboard enthusiasts with a deep connection and understanding of the marine ecosystem. After speaking with experts, they were struck by the large scale harm of discarded fishing nets. Through their past experiences and research, they found that the fishnets were incredibly durable and strong enough to transform into skateboards and were also highly recyclable. Thus, Bureo was founded as a way to provide sustainable products while raising awareness about the harm of fishnets by building their supply chain through coastal fishing syndicates.
Bureo collects its raw materials through their program called "Net Positiva" wherein they educate local fishing syndicates of the harm of discarded nets to the aquatic eco-system. They incentivize the syndicates by providing a recycling program and giving them a channel to discard their waste in a way that benefits the environment and the beach community. In return, for every kilogram of fishing net Bureo receives, the company finances additional projects to support fishing communities most affected by these forms of waste.
The nets which are collected are then cleaned and prepared by the local community, creating jobs along the way. The nets are then shredded through a mechanical recycling process and re-pelletized before being cast into steel molds to create the skateboards. The beauty behind this is that these pellets can be used to fashion any plastic based product as they are at a competitive price and quality to virgin pellets. A big example can be Adidas experimenting with recycled ocean plastic in the past month to produce sneakers and logos for soccer teams Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Bureo has developed a custom resin formula for their products. The construction of signature Bureo fish shaped skateboards characterized by a distinctive fish scale gripping pattern, swallowtails, and a unique locking system seems fitting for a company hell bent on making our oceans cleaner.
Founders Ben, David, and Kevin have always been passionate about surfing, skateboarding, and beach communities. After taking up beach clean-up initiatives as a hobby, it took a brief “Eureka” moment, and they realized that this plastic could be put to use. As founder Ben puts it “The idea was under our feet the entire time”. The inspiration behind the skateboards came from their grave concern for the aquatic ecosystem. Plastic pollution in the oceans is a growing phenomenon, and the founders wanted to provide an alternative use for discarded plastic to create environmentally sustainable products. As Ben puts it, “We set out to make an inspiring product by incorporating sustainable design and innovative features and making a board that everyone would enjoy riding. We want to show people that this material isn’t a burden or waste, but an incredible raw material with high potential for upcycling,”
“Just as a wave starts with a small disturbance on the surface of the ocean, we are starting with this small change in an ocean of plastic, and with more time and energy we can create a great wave of change”, said Ben on the inspiration behind their initiative.
Bureo’s greatest impact is the conservation of aquatic ecosystems around the coastlines. To date, they have collected more than 100,000 kg. of derelict fishing nets through a shared-value business model. The company impacts the local community by raising awareness about the harm of discarding fishnets into the ocean, finances additional community projects from the fishing nets in the communities most affected by these forms of waste, and provides jobs in the local communities to support their mission. Their use of fishnets not only changes the fishermans’ perspectives about the plastic fishnets, but also the consumer and shows them there is an outlet for this waste. Their success in the fishing community in Chile has provided them the opportunity to expand their operations into other coastal communities. On their impact in Chile, Ben says “Chile gets a cleaner coastline and communities, and Bureo provides the most quality skateboard we can to the market.”
Bureo’s use of waste fishing nets provides them an opportunity to source cheap raw materials from neighboring fishing syndicates. Because of their focus on sustainable products, they have been able to get seed funding from Patagonia and retail their wares through the Patagonia chain, leveraging the brand image of Patagonia to create consumer and brand awareness. Through their innovative process for recycling fishnet plastic, they have now been able to branch out into other consumer products and have started making sunglasses. They are now in the midst of partnering with larger companies to incorporate their recycled plastic into their product line, which will allow them to dramatically grow their business and environmental impact.
The environmental benefit that the company provides is stopping the further pollution of aquatic ecosystems. Through agreements with fishing syndicates along the coastal communities of Chile, they have set up a reliable and sustainable supply chain. The fishermen deal with an incredible amount of fishing waste with limited resources and infrastructure. Bureo is working collaboratively with a wide range of organizations to build a global fishing net collection coalition with the goal of turning this huge source of plastic pollution into a net benefit (pun intended) and aim to make a huge dent in the amount of plastic being discarded into the oceans. The fishnets are transferred to their recycling plant through empty returning trucks, which improves sustainability efforts.
The use of recycled fishnets results in a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the use of virgin plastics. For every square foot of fishing net collected through their program, they give back by investing in local communities. Through their expertise and resources, they have funded community compost programs, recycling centers in many schools in Chile into recycling plants and raised awareness on the importance of recycling. They also use their skateboard as a teaching tool to inspire young children and show them that there are alternatives to the way things are being done right now. As Ben puts it “When we show them the skateboard and the fishing net, they are like “WOW, how did you make this from this”. “We want to encourage the next generation to start thinking differently.” said Ben on the impact of Bureo.
Ben Kneppers, Founder
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Business Website: https://bureoskateboards.com
Year Founded: 2014
Number of Employees: 51-200