words Lesley Snyder // photo Craig Thomas
Shreddin’, carvin’, tearin’ it up: it’s no secret that snowboarders have their own gnarly lingo. But there’s one word synonymous with snowboarding that has become a universal household name: Burton. Now the largest snowboard brand, Burton is a company with a conscience. The industry leader has created a boarding empire while applying grass-roots efforts for sustainability on a corporate scale.
Burton Snowboards founder Jake Burton moved to Vermont in 1977. Utilizing his Londonderry barn as a workshop, Jake began self-constructing and self-testing “Burton Boards” prototypes and selling them out of his station wagon. From spearheading a venturesome startup – hand routing every snowboard, more or less alone – Jake is now the CEO of what is a multi-million dollar success story, co-owned by his wife and Burton’s president, Donna. Its merchandise has since expanded to include apparel, boots, bindings and snowboarding accessories. The company stays headquartered close to home, in Burlington, Vt., but its stores are spread across the globe, reaching Austria, Australia and Tokyo.
While much of Burton’s booming business spills over Vermont’s borders, it’s apparent that the environmentally-friendly, socially-responsible corporate philosophy is rooted in the Green Mountains. A passion for sustainability is woven into the fabric of the company – literally. Working with Mountain Dew, empty soda bottles are upcycled into thread for Burton apparel. Since 2008, Burton’s factory implements the Green Mountain Process, using sustainable materials and eco-friendly manufacturing. Burton joined with bluesign technology to reduce the environmental impact of its products. A “Restricted Substances List” is enforced throughout factories, and Burton is working to bring in as many bluesign-approved fabrics as possible. As a corporate gold partner of Protect Our Winters (POW), Burton has contributed over $10,000 to safeguard the planet against global warming. On Earth Day 2013, Burton launched a POW-inspired Instagram campaign, encouraging riders to photograph how they are taking care of our winters.
Concern for the environment is echoed inside the corporate offices. Burton’s EPIC program (Environmental Protection, Integrity, Conservation) consists of a committee of employees invested in improving their eco-impact. Past EPIC initiatives include a “green” kitchen (free of disposable products), group bus schedule to company events and an organic vegetable garden.
Burton champions alternative transportation both on and off the slopes. Not only did Jake fight to make local resorts snowboard-accessible, Burton recently received a silver ranking by the League of American Bicyclists for their cycle-friendly workplace. The company provides no-cost bus passes, loaner bikes, and Free Bagel Fridays for alternative commuters and hosts an annual competition for the most creative commute to work (paddleboarding, anyone?). With a casual dress code, even arriving to the office via flip-flops is acceptable.
Jake describes snowboarding as a “fountain of youth,” and it appears he’s right. Burton created what had been a mere fantasy for the adult workforce: grown-up snow days. If the ground sees over two feet of snow in a day, offices close and employees are sent to the slopes for snowboarding.
While committing to preserve its natural resources, Burton also takes care to create a symbiotic relationship with snowboard enthusiasts. Created in 1998, Burton’s “Learn to Ride” program provides new snowboarders (as young as three years old) with specialized instruction and beginner-specific equipment at its 185 Learn to Ride Centers worldwide. Jake and Donna wanted to make the slopes even more accessible by founding the non-profit Chill Foundation, which has introduced snowboarding to over 17,500 at-risk kids. A minimum of one percent of Burton’s pre-tax dollars is donated to Chill, supporting its mission to foster self-esteem and the development of life skills in urban youth – while on the slopes!
Burton is continually working to lessen its environmental footprint, to ensure that its equipment – from boards to beanies – is as sustainable as its ethos.
“We are riders, and we take change personally.”