One of the most successful Norwegian companies in Thailand is Starboard. We talk to CEO Svein Rasmussen.
Eco-conscious windsurfing brand Starboard is paving the way in preserving the oceans for future generations to enjoy.
Awindsurfer since 1978, Svein Rasmussen is a decorated athlete, with more than a decade on the competition trail and several world and European titles under his belt. Since retiring from competition in 1993, he has been focused on running his Starboard brand, which is dedicated to crafting some of the finest windsurfing boards out there. “By the time I ended my 15 years of backpacking between world championships and the Olympics, the windsurfing industry was suffering from an image problem – it was seen purely as an extreme sport and global interest for it was waning,” Mr Rasmussen says.
During this transformative time in the industry, Rasmussen met with Jean-Louis Colmas, a surfboard shaper from New Caledonia who, at that time, was the only one to use wood rather than plastics to craft the boards, so he decided to found Starboard in 1994, in Thailand where it is still headquartered to this day.
“My goal was to generally improve windsurfing gear, get people out on the water and enjoy the open water, so the brand was a natural extension of my love for the ocean. Essentially we looked at the situation without any bureaucratic filter and acted on how to improve products while also introducing a lean financial operation.”
The use of innovative materials and focusing more on the casual part of the market helped propel Starboard as the global market leader within seven years of operations. In the last few years, however, Rasmussen has started to seriously consider the impact production has on the environment, a move that gave birth to Starboard Blue, the eco-initiatives arm of the brand.
“Humans are not vital to the planet, as Captain Watson would say, we are but mere passengers in the first class on spaceship earth. We need to learn how to control the damage we inflict on the biosphere and at Starboard
Blue, we are creating a space where likeminded people can gather. We are really only getting started with what we hope will develop into a strong movement of ‘ water people’ standing up for the oceans. Every single one of us can play an important role in improving the future and we simply need to take a look at the facts and act without any bureaucratic delays and excuses – this is the shared DNA at Starboard.”
One of the key initiatives Starboard Blue been working on is called SUPKids, an education program combining environmental understanding, water safety and paddle boarding. The book and program runs global and is translated into six languages, including Burmese and Japanese.
Another is Trash Hero World, which got started in Bangkok and is on a mission to create sustainable, community-based projects that remove existing waste, and reduce future waste by inspiring long-term behaviour change in the younger generations.
“We also work with Parley for the Ocean, who run the UN Clean Ocean campaign, and support dedicated standup paddle plastic fighters like Foundation Watertrek. Aside from that, we have cofounded initiatives like the umbrella platform, Protect Blue, which among other objectives is setting out to create an environmental curriculum to share with educational ministries worldwide. The goal is to eventually educate millions of children on the environmental beauty, as well as fragility, and how they can become ambassadors for the planet.”
Being carbon conscious something that Starboard takes very seriously, and it has recently introduced an internal, annual carbon footprint report.
“Annual carbon footprint reports are pretty standard for leading global companies like Apple and at our world dealer conference in Costa Brava in 2015, we announced our plans to become carbon net positive by 2018. We then brought in a specialist who calculated all our emissions, ranging from our team riders’ travels to each and every component in all our products, as well as electricity used in manufacturing. It totalled to 3,600 tonnes of CO2, and we started to work on reducing emissions by changing to bio and recycled materials while installing solar panels helped to reduce emissions from electricity generation by 80%.”
Another pivotal aspect of this initiative became the Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park in Myanmar, where Starboard plants one mangrove tree for every single board it produces.
“The amazing fact about the mangrove is that in addition to cleaning water, enhancing fish production and being a strong-rooted shelter against heavy weather, one tree on average catches and stores roughly 1 tonne of carbon over the first 20 year. With such efficient carbon storing technology at hand, our company became carbon net positive already in 2016, and we have so far planted 104,500 trees in our little Starboard forest.”
Despite constant innovation and collaborating with various organisations to fight plastic, Mr Rasmussen knows he has his work cut out for himself, as currently only around 7% of plastic is being recycled and there is currently no legislation against single-use plastic products.
An investigation by The Guardian established that consumers around the world buy a million plastic bottles a minute and that plastic production is set to double in the next 20 years, and quadruple by 2050. Around the world, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic leaks into the oceans, and a recent study found that billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic.
Starboard recently launched the Plastic Offset Program ( POP) at the Plasticity Forum in Sydney. This first-of-its kind pilot program sets the standard for companies to quantify their plastic use and dedicate funds to offset it by adopting an internal “price on plastic”. Starboard will be the first company in the world to both quantify and offset their plastic footprint in an effort to change how businesses value the externalities of plastic production, use and disposal.
Ramussen also thinks that great efforts should go towards acceleration of bans on single use plastic products, rather than awareness campaigns, which unfortunately don’t seem to have much of an effect “before it’s too late”.
This position has been backed even by Sir David Attenborough, who has recently called for the world to cut back on its use of plastic in order to protect the oceans.
Speaking at the launch of his new BBC TV series, Blue Planet II, which will be broadcast 16 years after the original series, the broadcaster and naturalist said action on plastics should be taken immediately and that humanity held the future of the planet “in the palm of its hands”.
He said everyone’s actions had an impact on the ocean. “We have a responsibility, every one of us,” he said. “We may think we live a long way from the oceans, but we don’t. What we actually do here, and in the middle of Asia and wherever, has a direct effect on the oceans – and what the oceans do then reflects back on us.”
Rasmussen says that even the smallest grassroots initiatives often have the highest impact when it comes to limiting our footprint on the planet.
“Just look at the Bye Bye Plastic Bag organisation – sisters Melati (16) and Isabel (14) Weijsen have managed to push through a plastic bag ban on Bali, with the regulation coming into effect next year. We are stuck in denial at times, but let’s start with denying plastic straws, bottles, bags and cups from our daily lives and try to end the plastic addiction in Thailand and worldwide.”
Above left: Abraham Shouse on Starboard paddle board with his friends. Abe is a man of many talents; a team rider for Starboard, always in the water, creating toys to use in the water, or filming the action. Above: Svein Rasmussen, CEO of Starboard close to the ocean he loves.