I don’t know about you, but I have really been struggling as I witness the effects of climate change on our planet. Watching California burn, a place my wife and I shared a wonderful 5 years learning to kite and foil, has been sad. Witnessing 115 degrees temperature in Seattle this summer however, that was downright scary. And now the “bomb cyclone” remnants of a tropical hurricane off the coast of BC? I am scared because as a mechanical engineer who’s devoted my life to understanding the way things work and the role of energy conversion in everything from building things to moving stuff around, the only solution to this problem is simply to stop consuming so much stuff. We need to drive less, fly less, eat less, and buy less crap on Amazon. This is a solution that no American consumer or government will acknowledge, due to the obvious impacts to our “economy.” The crazy thing is, the climate impacts on our economy will be far more devastating than reducing our consumption. With Project Cedrus this year alone, I have witnessed production stops and material shortages due to the Texas Freeze, Oregon heat wave, and Hurricane Ida. I have lost orders, and shops who want to carry the product can’t. Witnessing the economic impacts first-hand with your own business is an element of climate change that I had not imagined when I was younger.
I graduated college in 2006, and was excited to enter the technical workforce at a time when “clean tech” was the hot investment area and the world actually seemed to care about climate change despite no real obvious impacts on every day lives… yet. Following the Global Financial Crisis however, the only thing our government or the media seems to care about are “jobs” and our “economy.” Even Australia, the worlds largest coal exporter and home to the highest CO2 emissions/per capita, just announced that they will postpone net-zero carbon efforts due to any impact on the jobs and the economy. With the solution to the climate crisis being reduced consumption, I have lost hope that we will avoid the catastrophe predicted by the UN.
Living without hope is not a way to live. In a way, Project Cedrus has been a very important creative outlet for me to look at opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint of manufacturing and our activities, while not necessarily reducing jobs or the performance of our foil equipment. I want my customers and perspective customers to know that reducing the carbon footprint of Project Cedrus, and manufacturing sustainability, were not an after thought. These goals were in fact the entire basis for this endeavor.
Another side effect of the Global Financial Crisis were impacts to the development schedule and ultimate delivery of the Boeing 787, the first primarily carbon fiber commercial airplane ever built. Due to the delays, Boeing was forced to scrap millions (yes, MILLIONS) of pounds of carbon fiber pre-impregnated with epoxy per FAA guidelines. The material must be stored in a freezer, and has a 5 year shelf life, to ensure that the monomers in the resin do not prematurely crosslink and reduce the strength of manufactured structures after they are cured in an oven at 350F. When I saw 1,000 pounds show up on a surplus auction in 2015, right around the time I was struggling to learn to foil with a heavy aluminum setup, I knew that would be my opportunity to not only make a better foil, but potentially reduce waste in the process.
My initial launch customer batch of masts was made almost entirely from re-purposed materials from Boeing. The carbon, the adhesive used to glue the edges on, the high gloss polyurethane clear coat, even the giant Pelican rifle cases they shipped in! It was a fun exercise, scouring the auction sites looking for specific materials and mechanical properties that would work for this unique architecture. It also saved me a lot of money, however it’s a common misconception that the cost of materials is what makes carbon masts so expensive. It’s actually the labor, especially in a mast that weighs only 2 pounds. In addition to using repurposed materials, the mast architecture results in less material usage, which means a lower carbon footprint and a lot less manufacturing waste. This is not insignificant, the carbon footprint of carbon fiber is extreme. The precursors and the heat required to carbonize them are extremely energy intensive. It’s why BMW co-developed a carbon fiber factory in Moses Lake, WA where a majority of the energy comes from carbon-free hydroelectric power. In Trek Bicycle’s latest sustainability report, they point out that a carbon bike has a carbon footprint about 3 times that of an aluminum frame. I expect a similar story in the hydrofoil world, if not worse, especially if you are talking about a solid carbon mast made in Asia.
Unfortunately, a business must be financially sustainable before it can be environmentally sustainable, and I cannot operate with the unpredictable supply chain of Boeing surplus auctions. My adhesives and paints now come from traditional sources, however the carbon hat sections used as primary structure of the mast are still manufactured using material that would otherwise be destined for an industrial oven and landfill (carbon prepreg is toxic until cured, so even to dispose of it they use massive amounts of energy to properly cure it). Project Cedrus sections are also now produced using a press, instead of an oven, which reduces consumables waste such as vacuum bags and sealing tape.
My goal with Project Cedrus is to make a mast that lasts a lifetime; I never want to sell you another mast, unlike most brands. End of life of our “toys” is a serious problem. Ever wonder what happens to skis, bikes, boards, and foils when they break? Think of the mass and toxicity of the materials used in these products. We enact plastic bag bans and worry about styrofoam packing material, when every other year athletes are ridding themselves of 10lb+ pair of skis or kite boards because they’ve delaminated or destroyed after hard use. You can’t recycle these goods, which is partly why you see surfboard fences in Hawaii or ski-covered chain link in Whistler. The ocean we love and play in is filling with plastic, and landfills are being stuffed with broken things not designed or built to last. Companies should be responsible for end-of-life, and/or incentivized to make products that last. I can’t tell you how many pictures of broken foil masts I have received from customers looking for a stronger solution. What happened to these expensive and resource-intensive masts? I am proud to say that I have not had a single structural failure of a Project Cedrus mast, and that every mast produced is still in service today.
It’s also important to talk about the supply chain. As someone who’s made a lot of stuff in Asia, I can tell you the US has much higher environmental standards for manufacturing and waste disposal, which is partly why it’s important to me that the mast is made domestically. Project Cedrus is made entirely of components produced between WA and CA, assembled in OR. Everything moves via ground, and only short distances. The mast is largely consumed locally too, with a majority of foilers from the CA coast and Columbia Gorge. Even my packing material is used, thanks to a local body shop who supplies me with endless bubble wrap and foam. The only things I have to buy are custom-length cardboard boxes and paper packing tape.
The carbon footprint of shipping from Asia is not insignificant. A container from Taiwan used to run about $2,000 to LA… and now it can be up to $20,000. I believe this will have profound impacts on the sporting goods industry in general, and as a consumer I would prefer my investment in a product going to technology, innovation, and quality… not increased shipping costs from Asia. I hope Project Cedrus is a launch pad for other potential opportunities to help businesses and brands “onshore” some of their manufacturing. Send me a note if you’re interested in help with this!
In closing, I want to bring this back and talk about jobs creation. I am proud to work with a number of small businesses to make Project Cedrus. These employ people that live near me, and care about this planet as much as I do. This is an example of reduced consumption not reducing jobs; a higher quality, longer lasting product can actually create jobs. Not only that, but these are skilled jobs, and I look forward to the business continuing to grow and using this opportunity to train and educate future engineers, machinists, composite technicians, and painters.
Thank you to those who’ve supported this business, and I hope you get many years out of your mast. To those on the fence, please understand that this is a major motivation for me but not the only. Performance and economics have to be there, and I can assure you that a stiffer, lighter, stronger mast is more fun to ride, and that compatibility ultimately reduces lifetime cost of ownership significantly. Thank you to my customers who are patient with me during these challenging times in supply chain and manufacturing. I know I won’t change the world with this, but I hope to at least make you feel a little better about being a consumer and I can sleep a little deeper knowing I’m having an impact. And hopefully in the meantime, the citizens and governments of our world can align on an approach to address climate change.
Thanks for reading, Kyle