The whimsy of a Bureo Minnow skateboard, with the raised scales that pattern its deck and its fishtail back-end, belies the serious mission it serves. At the core of each Minnow is 30 square feet of recycled fishing net that otherwise may have found its way into the tons of plastic that litter our oceans.
Bureo founders Kevin Ahearn, Ben Kneppers and David Stover didn’t set out to build a skateboard company that also happened to be sustainable. In a twist on reverse engineering, their primary impetus was to build a sustainable business. The decision to make skateboards its product came later.
“To make a sustainable business model,” said Stover, “we knew we had to make a product from collected materials, and we knew there was an abundance of potential materials in the ocean.”
Specifically, there are 269,000 tons of plastics in our oceans, and five to 13 million metric tons more make their way there each year. Ten percent of that is estimated to be derelict fishing gear. Kneppers had prior experience in Chile and knew the country not only had an excess of discarded nets but lacked a recycling solution for them. After establishing the means to convert nets into suitable raw materials for skateboards in the U.S., the end-to-end manufacturing process—from recycling and repurposing through skateboard production—became based in Chile.
Results were immediate: in 2013, Bureo collected two to three tons of fishing net. In 2014, they reached seven tons—and the company expects 2015’s total to be a multiple of that number.
“That part of what we’re doing isn’t innovative —recycling has been around for decades,” said Ben. “But we can go further and create a net positive impact in our communities.”
In Bureo’s case, this translated to a partner – ship with Chilean fisherman and fishing communities. Artisanal fishermen are paid an hourly wage for time spent harvesting nets and a price by weight for nets turned in for recycling. Larger commercial fishing operations direct the money Bureo pays for their nets to foundations that serve local fishing communities.
In speaking to future entrepreneurs and other companies, Kneppers says the Bureo message is simple: “We know we can’t solve these problems on our own. You are at your best when you work to improve something you feel passionate about—for us, it was our personal connection to the ocean. By working together, through these passions, we can truly address these global issues. Our goal is to catalyze this change.”