The marine industry understands the value of sustainability in the products they purchase, especially as environmental concerns continue to impact on-the-water activity. At Sunbrella, sustainability has always been a core value of our company and our culture, and we take pride in our commitment to our people, our communities and the planet.
As a family-owned, 141-year-old company, we are focused on doing the right thing. This includes our sustainability priorities: investing in quality to reduce waste, focusing on renewable energy, setting a gold standard for environmental management systems and maintenance support, and offering recycling options to support the full life cycle of Sunbrella fabrics.
We are proud of the reputation our superior fabric and service have earned us in the marine industry and look to continue this pattern of good with ambitious goals that strengthen our impact.
Investing in Quality
One of the ways Sunbrella is executing on a broader goal of sustainability is in our focus on high-quality fabrics, which last longer and limit the need for replacement. This in turn saves materials and energy, while also reducing waste and allowing boaters to spend more time enjoying life out on the water, and less time and money on repair costs and maintenance needs.
In conversations with marine professionals over the years, we noticed that the term “Sunbrella” is often synonymous with the canvas fabric for which we initially became known more than 60 years ago. When Sunbrella first introduced our solution-dyed fiber to the marine market, it set a new standard for the formerly cotton/polyester-based offerings in the industry. Since then, we have continued to innovate industry-leading fabrics that have changed the way the world thinks about how fabrics look, feel and perform.
We are continuing to push the envelope to create the future of textiles for the marine market and expand upon our legacy by introducing new products that work harder and smarter for boaters. Most recently, we launched Sunbrella Horizon marine vinyl, our first non-woven upholstery fabric. It uses knit-backed construction to provide the softness and comfort of a leather-like material, with four-way stretch and recovery, while also resisting mold, mildew and cold-cracking, as well as fading often caused by exposure to UV rays. It also provides the industry’s best protection against bacterial pink staining and includes a proprietary topcoat that allows users to easily wipe it clean. These attributes ultimately improve longevity and therefore reduce the environmental impact of replacements.
Operating Ethically and Sustainably
While producing a long-lasting product remains important, there are additional factors we consider. It starts with the production of the fabric itself and manufacturing product in the most sustainable way possible. Recently, we have outlined our goals in our first-ever corporate sustainability report in order to share our commitments more publicly.
As part of this plan for the future, we aim to be powered by 100 percent certified renewable energy by 2025 and are committed to being carbon-neutral for Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030. In partnership with key supply-chain partners, we’re also working through and adopting additional ways to reduce Scope 3 emissions. These efforts are a continuation of our longstanding commitment to reducing our environmental impact and using renewable energy that goes back to when our parent company Glen Raven began operating a hydroelectric generator at our facilities in North Carolina in 1939. Since then, we’ve continuously looked for ways to reduce our emissions, from investments in solar energy projects to partnerships with utility companies.
Alongside our transition to 100 percent renewable energy, we work continually to minimize waste. We currently divert from landfill more than 90 percent of the waste produced at our facilities through increased efficiency, recycling programs and partnerships, and will expand on that with our new goal of implementing zero-waste-to-landfill practices at all facilities by 2022.
Our largest plant, in Anderson, S.C., is a great example of how we’re working to make our operations more harmonious with the environment and our communities. In fact, in addition to two of our other facilities, it meets the international gold standard for environmental management systems: ISO 14001 certification. From more energy-efficient equipment to a program dedicated to restoring the natural habitat of the facility’s 180-acre campus, these efforts earned recognition from organizations such as the South Carolina Environmental Excellence Program and the statewide Wildlife and Industry Together program. We even successfully planted more than 25,000 trees.
We are also making an on-the-ground difference in our communities by supporting more than 200 nonprofits, locally and globally, through board leadership, creative partnerships, associate campaigns, volunteer programs and financial assistance. For example, we recently partnered with SeaCleaners, a nonprofit addressing plastic pollution in our oceans through collecting and reusing it with as little environmental impact as possible. Additionally, as an organization, we are educating our team members and encouraging employees to use work hours to volunteer with opportunities such as World Clean-Up Day as a way to give back.
Expanding Support and Service
While all of our products are designed to be durable from the start and to remain so even after years of use and exposure to the elements, we want to help our customers get the most out of their fabric throughout its lifespan. The experts on our Sunbrella Care Team help boaters and marine professionals extend the life of their Sunbrella fabrics. The Care Team is on call for everything from ensuring proper application to addressing a hard-to-clean spill. In the rare event our customers do have a problem, we also offer the most comprehensive warranties in the business. Our 10-year limited warranty against loss of color or strength now includes labor costs to replace the fabric covered for the first five years on all marine canvas fabrics. Our Horizon collection comes with a five-year warranty covering replacement fabric and labor costs and a three-year warranty against bacterial pink staining.
When a product does reach the end of its long life cycle, we offer all our fabricators and end customers a convenient and sustainable option for fabric disposal through our Recycle My Sunbrella program. Since the program began in 2009, we’ve collected nearly 1 million pounds of fabric that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill, and our goal is to recycle another million pounds by 2025.
From innovations in Sunbrella fabrics durability and longevity to reducing waste in our manufacturing process, everything we do is aimed at producing the highest quality fabrics possible while being the best stewards of our environment. By centering these efforts and engaging with our employees and communities, we’ve been able to create fabrics that customers know, love and prefer while staying true to our values. We have worked hard to create loyal customers and intend to maintain that trust for years to come — and that includes continuing to prove our focus on sustainability both on and off the water.
David Swers is president of Glen Raven Custom Fabrics.
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.