Several years ago now, I (Jessica) had the opportunity to complete my MBA in Sustainable Business at Bainbridge Graduate Institute (now part of Presidio Graduate School). The program was dedicated to empowering business leaders to change the way corporations operate by combining financial, environmental and social objectives.
This was right up my alley because my head definitely belongs in the business world and my heart belongs either on a bicycle or in the woods (preferably both). The challenge is always where the rubber meets the road – how does it apply to real life?
Sustainability at Normal Bicycles
Since we started Normal Bicycles we have been considering how the concept of sustainability applies beyond just being responsible and kind human beings that run a business.
Cycling in itself is a great way to get outside, be active and reduce your carbon footprint. Many of you commute to work by bicycle and have found that the benefits outweigh the challenges. The more we cycle, the less we drive and that can only be positive. But that is only part of the story.
From a business perspective, sustainability is often described as pursuing a triple-bottom line (people, planet and profit) rather than the singular financial bottom line. We’ve taken a few small steps along the way. I’ll admit that I struggled with this because I am always asking myself if it’s enough. Well, honestly, it’s never enough so I’ll share our initial efforts and continue to share as we evolve.
For the bike frames themselves, we try to find either FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified sources or we try to go to the source itself. Last month we headed out Middleport, New York to visit a local mill to see what opportunities that will bring. We’re also planning to experiment in the spring with a tree that came from one of the Frank Lloyd Wright properties in Buffalo because it was at the end of it’s life. We have considered reclaimed lumber, however, it is difficult to ensure that the strength properties of the wood meet our requirements with reclaimed wood.
While the wood itself is sustainable material, it’s not sustainable unless it’s being replaced or replanted. For this year, we chose to partner up with One Tree Planted. We made about 10 complete bikes this year and a few partial bikes so we’ve planted donated 20 trees to the projects in California. Going forward we’ll continue to look for programs that support reforestation projects.
Recycled Office Supplies
Paper is one of the most prolific sources of wasted trees (in my opinion) in offices. We are able to address this in small ways by purchasing recycled printer paper, recycled paper business cards, recycled file folders and notebooks. Shipping materials and boxes are also on the list of culprits and we try to find recycled sources for those as well. You can even get packing tape that is recycled. Check out Earth Hugger and Caremail (on Amazon) as a couple of examples.
This has been the hardest and most challenging portion. We have resigned ourselves to just trying to source products that are made in the US when possible, though this becomes cost prohibitive most of the time. We source many types of inserts and brackets from Paragon Machine Works which are designed and manufactured in the US. We have custom aluminum dropout brackets made locally in Lockport, NY.
We’ve found several other high quality component manufacturers such as brakes from Paul Component Engineering. We are also planning to use US build wheels offered by Velocity Wheels with Industry Nine hubs and Phil Wood spokes for our next bike model to be launched in the spring. We’re also looking at several different front fork manufacturers.
These are all fantastic in the higher-end category but it’s almost impossible to find ‘value-based’ (read not expensive) components. And we had no luck at all finding chains.
And all this effort is simply at the most basic sourcing level. If I start thinking about the supply chain and the whole lifecycle of the raw materials used in the components or the end-of-life impact, I end up in a rabbit hole!
Moving Ahead in 2019
We’ve made a start and we’ll continue to look for opportunities and ways to give back and keep our footprint light.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions! Send me an email at jess (at) normalbicycles dot com.