See how the MTB industry is looking after our planet!
Chris King level up to B Corp
In March this year, Chris King became the first company in the bike industry to become a certified B Corporation. What's that mean? Well it involves striving towards change, and working to make sure their business, products and practices do no harm. It's a mix of reducing emissions, making products that are built to last and be serviceable, having ethical practices and more.
“We were founded on environmental principles,” explains Erik Fenner from Chris King, when we caught up for a video chat. “Chris was a child of the '70s. He was a cyclist and an environmentalist, and he wanted to make parts that didn't need to be replaced all of the time.”
You probably know Chris King as a company that makes high end parts that last a lifetime, and not so much for the environmental focus. But at the production level, how they operate is really interesting. From recycling the waste from machining, to using canola oil as a cutting fluid and having a huge water mass cooling and heating loop that needs no extra energy input for 9 months of the year, it is clear that Chris King promotes sustainable practices and manufacturing.
“Canola oil is infinitely recyclable. But we have to machine a lot slower. We could make 20% more product each year and therefore sell 20% more. And we're often up against the problem of what we are out of stock of at the moment. But it would be using caustic cutting fluids, and doing things that are not of interest to Chris. The ethos has been there behind everything we do,” Fenner says. “It's not about what's the fastest way to make it, or what's the cheapest way to make it, it is what is the most eco-friendly way to make it.”
Fenner is still realistic about what they're doing. “We're manufacturing stuff. We're using steel and aluminium mined from ore. We just make it good enough so it's only done once.”
There is hope that going to a B Corp puts pressure on others in the bike industry, according to Fenner, but given the points based system the certification uses, it isn't restricted to equipment production. And he sees the actions of brands like Patagonia as an indication that clothing companies may be one of the next to be certified.
“Maybe you can't manufacture in the most environmental way possible, but you can carbon offset or invest in benefiting the environment in another way.”
Chris King were already operating at a very sustainable level, but the certification is beyond more than production. “Going to a B Corp is not just the environmental element but also the social one,” says Fenner. And that has its own complications, including trying to find a more diverse employee base in a pretty niche sector.
Fenner adds that they have scaled back since he started with Chris King.
“When I was hired I was the 164th employee. Now we are at 80. We didn't let anyone go, but we just had too many people. It wasn't the work and social environment we wanted to create. And we were putting out more scrap as not everyone can work to the tolerances we want to.”
With strict efficiencies to maintain, I have to ask Fenner how their sustainability ethos impacts their partnerships both for teams, and for products like wheels.
“We've had a long standing relationship with ENVE and it has been great for both of us. We go with ENVE as we know their sourcing, their processes and how they treat their employees. And it's the same with Santa Cruz and their Reserve rims. They've built a super durable rim that they know will stand up to the abuse as best as possible. And if it doesn't, they'll stand behind it still.”
“We did a limited run of through axles with the Robert Axle project. We went with them as they are another small business, they told us who their machine shop was, and we knew their practice, and although they don't go to the same extent we do, they met us in the middle. Same with Peaty's, we helped them nail down some colours for the valves, and they have made lots of efforts with their products. Sustainability is a big factor in choosing who we work with. If a brand aligns with our values it's a key consideration for any colab.”
Fenner thinks sustainability should be at the forefront of all our minds, impacting what we carry when we ride, and what bikes we buy.
“Our playground is what we need to protect. You see wrappers from bars on the trail, all that stuff has an impact. You need to think about what you consume. What do you take on the ride, and how often are you replacing your gear? If you can get a bike and ride it and enjoy it, think about whether you actually need the new colour when the new model comes out. It will all make a difference, maybe not tomorrow but in ten years we will see the difference.”