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.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - HENRI VIIRALT

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...

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