Ben Kneppers of bureo
Ben's Bio: Ben is an internationally recognized sustainability consultant and entrepreneur, specializing in life cycle assessment (LCA) and corporate environmental and social responsibility. He holds an MSc in Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability and a BSc in Mechanical Engineering. Ben is the co-founder and COO of Bureo Skateboards. Bureo Skateboards designs and manufactures a unique line of sustainable skateboards by utilizing the growing amount of plastic pollution in Chilean communities and coastlines. By offering recycled high quality products, Bureo enables ethically conscious consumers to support recycling development and job growth for local inhabitants. An outdoor enthusiast and lifetime skater, Ben brings an unmatched passion for the environment and skateboarding to the Bureo efforts.
The Full Conversation: Click play and listen here »
The Highlight Reel: Feeling flighty? If you want to listen to music and skim over what I thought were the highlights of the conversation, simply click play, enjoy this tune handpicked just for you by Ben, and read on »
be-7: Part of what be-7 aims to do is look at stories and see common themes throughout life that got you to where you are, doing all of the huge things that you are doing for the ocean right now. So, tracing back from those memories of being on the coast nonstop as a child up until today as you are, doing the work that you're doing-- are there a couple stringed events that you see as being monumental in putting you on your path to Bureo Skateboards?
Ben: [...] and the message he [Ben's father] would always tell me is you can do anything you want, as long as you put your mind to it. And he would always repeat that, repeat that, but the other thing he would say once in a while that really dug into me is, he said something along the lines of, "The best job you are going to do is the one you love to do the most." And that really dug into me. [...] the connection with the ocean, the clear example right before my eyes of someone that had nothing and created something and pursued his dreams so tangibly, and then on top of it, the message I got from him was, "You can do this too and when you do it, the best way to do it is, go about it doing something that you really love."
[...] when I came back, I got what you call "reverse culture shock" and I really wanted answers to try to somehow justify this [what Ben had seen overseas] and what I ended up stumbling into was the field of sustainability. And I met some people working in this space, that were friends of friends, and I started reading books and books about all of this stuff and [began] understanding that there are these greater, greater issues at work that are driving these situations and putting people into these circumstances and a lot of, pretty much all of it, at the crux has to do with unsustainability.
[...] we, the three of us [Ben Kneppers, David Stover, and Kevin Ahearn], we loved the ocean, we loved surfing, that's how we first kind of connected, but from there we just thought, "Man, there's got to be something more meaningful we could do with our lives than just, you know, continue with these safe and steady careers." [...] it seemed crazy at the time but I took that jump and it was exactly what I needed. You know, I continued with my environmental career but, unfortunately, I was feeling the same pains that I had before about not seeing the change I wanted to see, but also I saw this incredible, supportive startup for entrepreneurial environment Chile had to offer. I relayed that back to David and Kevin and that's when we really dug in on just saying, "Hey, this could be our moment to really, actually do something." It's one thing, you have a late night talk with your friends about, "Hey, we should do that... or do this" but we could actually do something here... the formula at the time, the recipe was perfect to set it off.
[...] you can be bitter about it [ocean plastic pollution] or you can do something about it and we said, "Screw all of this information that's out there that this is such a burden and it's overwhelming and it's growing every year, but instead, let's just flip it on its head and let's use this as a tool to inspire people and use it as a resource."
be-7: In terms of that perfect recipe that you talked about and pieces of the puzzle, it seems like you are [truly] following your heart and sometimes that seems to be the path less traveled, but you have this great inspiration, your father, who taught you that that is the way to go from an early age and so that's the path that you have been on. In terms of following the heart being more rare than one would think, do you feel like in terms of the ebb and flow of conflict and challenges that you have had fewer challenges than if you had taken another route or perhaps it's more challenging than you would think to do things that you love?
Ben: [...] I think certainly it has not been an easy road, but the sweet isn't as sweet without the sour... as they say. [...] I could have easily gone the safe route and fallen back into, "I need to make some income and do the honorable thing of getting a good job immediately." [...] that perseverance of just saying, "No, getting some job somewhere isn't what life is about, it's about going after what your passions are." In summary I think, it has not been easy, but when you break through, it is all the difference. You know? Everything is out there for anyone to achieve or take, or what have you... I mean certainly people are meant for doing some things more than others, but everything is out there, it's just a matter of your perseverance in doing it... and perseverance goes alongside very nicely with your passion. [...] I definitely can say that I have had no regrets with these steps I have made, and yes they've been painful, but I think they payoff in the long run.
[...] the formula is really about:
Step 1: find out what you really love to do
Step 2: go after it, just go after it, whatever that means
Step 3: whatever comes of it, it does not matter, because you are already succeeding in the fact that you are going after what you love to do, so no matter what, you are winning
be-7: [...] what are you most excited about right now, within everything that you have going on?
Ben: There's a lot to be excited about [...] in the beginning, we invested time to make us known as Bureo Skateboards, but really we are turning the corner as being "Bureo", a company that all along has been about creating innovative solutions for plastic pollution, inspiring future generations, initiating social change... so that certainly does not limit us to just making skateboards.
[...] here in Chile [...] I've been full focused on, "How can we expand this in a scalable and sustainable way?" [...] we're figuring out a model where we can partner directly with the fishing communities, give them the infrastructure they need to properly manage their fishnet waste, and do it in a manner that we can provide supplementary income by employing local workers to manage those nets and have a supply chain on the ground to get those nets shipped and recycled, that can be feasibly applied across the whole country and produce the plastic at a very competitive price, virgin plastic. And really what that leads to is a formula [shared value business model] where we can scale this to potentially to where we can actually phase this waste out completely.
be-7: If you had one message or legacy that you wanted people to know about the oceans, what would that message be?
Ben: [...] highlighting all of the beauty that nature has to offer us, and by highlighting it we are getting people to appreciate it again and when people get to appreciate it again, then they take value in it and unfortunately have to become educated on the fact that these things are under threat, then they will make it a priority. [...] I think when it comes to the ocean, it's about enjoying it.
Wondering what Ben Kneppers ate for breakfast on November 24th, 2015? Listen to the full audio above. To all of you skaters out there, Ben shares some exciting news about a new collaboration around minute 26 of the full conversation.