For a long time we wanted to write a blog article on the topic of sustainability in equestrian sports. But somehow it never felt right - after all, our cooler rugs are made of polyester fleece, among other things, which is not really an environmentally friendly material. That's precisely why this topic is always on our minds. So today we're talking about sustainability and the question of whether Sportsfreund Studios is a sustainable company at all.
This text is the result of a conversation between our author Karolina Kardel and Sportsfreund owner Veronika Conen.
Karolina: "I still remember our first phone call very well. Back then, you wanted to know if we were on the same wavelength and if I fit in with #teamsportsfreund in terms of my attitude. We very quickly came up with topics such as sustainability and appreciation of nature, life and therefore also products. The phone call was at the end of 2018 - the topic has been on our minds ever since, but it's not really tangible. The term sustainability does not even appear on the website. It simply says that the product should become a sustainable product. At the same time, Sportsfreund Studios always makes a sustainable impression on outsiders like me. That's why I'll just ask you directly: What does sustainability mean to you and what is sustainable at Sportsfreund Studios? "
Is Sportsfreund Sustainable?
When asked about this, Veronika has to laugh a little and admits openly: "When I started Sportsfreund Studios, I didn't think much about sustainability. But we are perceived as a sustainable company by many of our customers. The term is brought to us from the outside rather than being used specifically for us. I keep asking myself whether and to what extent Sportsfreund Studios is a sustainable company? What does sustainability even mean? And can a company that lives from the sale of its products and thus from the consumption of horse owners be fundamentally sustainable? Or is sustainability rather a marketing label that serves to soothe the conscience? "
Organic, vegan, made in Germany: What does sustainability mean?
In preparation for our interview, Veronika looked into the topic of sustainability and came across a nice summary on the avocadostore.de website. There, the following aspects are assigned to sustainability:
- Raw materials from organic farming
- Made in Germany
- Conserving resources
- Cradle to Cradle
- Fair & Social
- Recycled & Recyclable
- Pollutant-reduced production
Furthermore, three pillars are generally defined:
Ecological sustainability, Economic sustainability, Social sustainability. The points mentioned above can primarily be assigned to the aspect of ecological sustainability. Economic sustainability is about economic efficiency, value preservation and value enhancement. Social sustainability primarily includes fair treatment of the people who are involved in the company or the manufacture and production of the products.
These are the points on which we based our discussion. (Note: Even if some points are critically questioned in the following, this has nothing to do with the quoted website!)
Can a fleece rug be sustainable?
That Sportsfreund Studios is seen as a sustainable company pleases owner Veronika. After all, the associated and related aspects are important to her. At the same time, she is always a little amazed. Because: A horse blanket made of polyester fleece is rather problematic in terms of the environment and thus sustainability.
The term itself seems increasingly overused to Veronika. In her opinion, there is more appearance than reality behind it, whereby the term sustainability is supposed to secure competitive advantages and degenerates into a marketing label that soothes the conscience but is ultimately empty of content. Thus, in their eyes, green washing is a major problem with regard to the credibility of sincerely "green" products.
And she also takes a critical view of the above-mentioned aspects of organic, Made in Germany, pollutant-reduced and CO2-saving - not because of the thing itself. "Organic alone is not automatically sustainable. Sustainability means, among other things, that I only take as many raw materials from nature as can grow back. But I can rarely say 100% to what extent the material I use is consistently produced in a way that reduces pollutants, saves CO2 and conserves resources, because there is a lack of transparency.
The same applies to social sustainability and fair treatment of people who have contributed to our products in whatever form. Here again, the supply chain is the linchpin. The fleece fabric for our sweat rugs, for example, comes from abroad, the yarn comes from Europe and the rest comes from Germany. However, very few products are manufactured from start to finish in one country, and the trace of the individual components is lost at some point. I have the blankets themselves sewn in Germany. At least here I can be sure that the seamstresses have decent working conditions and social insurance. I even know them personally. "
In their eyes, the label Made in Germany is often a mere marketing tool. A product can be called "Made in Germany" if only the final assembly was done in Germany. The fact that a large part of the product was manufactured abroad is not relevant.
"Of course, I could also say that from now on I will only buy totally sustainable material, where I can trace the production from A to Z. But as a smaller company, I often fail due to minimum purchase quantities. As a smaller company, however, I often fail because of minimum purchase quantities. And I also have to keep an eye on affordability. Full sustainability is ultimately reflected in the price of the end product, which no one wants to pay. Whereas a higher price tends to guarantee more careful handling. So concessions have to be made here. In some respects, however, a small company also acts more sustainably because it is more flexible and inherently more regional. For example, because manufacturing abroad does not yet pay off. "
After all, fleece is a recycled product made from PET bottles. And the fabric scraps left over from production are used to repair damaged blankets on the one hand and donated on the other: One part goes to an animal welfare organisation that uses this fabric as a hygienic underlay for cat and multi-pig litter boxes and washes it for cleaning. Another part goes to the Tent School project, which builds schools in the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. The fabric is needed in sewing workshops for women.
"For us, I see the issue of sustainability as an ongoing process in which we strive to become more and more sustainable. That is somehow more honest. You can't do it all at once, but in some respects we are already doing quite well. "
Everybody wants wool
Sportsfreund is now the equestrian shop with the widest selection of wool products for horses. There are Cooler Rugs in two different versions as well as Saddle Chloths and Pads (filled with lavalan® - the wool insulation is the filling made of 100% natural and renewable raw materials - new wool and corn-based PLA fibers) made of the environmentally friendly material. "Our truly sustainable product is the BAVARIA sweat rug made of Bavarian mountain loden. Here, the wool comes from species-appropriate sheep from the Bavarian and Austrian alpine regions, the traditional fabric is woven in Bavaria according to strict standards, and the blanket is also sewn in Bavaria. This makes the product 90 % regional. The origin of the other components such as the webbing and Velcro is also clear: they come from the European circular economy. By the way, our wool saddle blankets are also great; they don't have a polyester filling but a natural padding made of Bavarian fleece from happy sheep. "
For those who don't know yet: Sportsfreund is based in Munich.
Sustainability: How do I as a consumer use with the product?
"For me personally, however, sustainable does not only mean that I consume a promised sustainable product. It is also about how I, as a consumer, handle the product. How I treat and care for it and how I thus contribute to the durability of this product. Do I myself make sure that it lasts a long time or do I not care because I want to buy a new item in a month anyway? "
The aspect of durability plays an important role for Sportsfreund Studios. "Our products are carefully crafted and will last for a long time if handled and cared for properly. That's why we enclose "handling forms" described in detail with every order. Each of our buyers has the opportunity to contribute to the longevity of our products and thus their sustainability. Let's be clear: A sweat rug is not made for the paddock and certainly not for rolling around! That hurts me personally. Even if it is easy to wash and repair. After its final demise, a fleece blanket can then be returned to the cycle via the recycling container. A woollen blanket is even compostable, provided you take the trouble to cut off the PP ingredients and dispose of them separately. "
Sustainability concerns us all!
Whether you take the word sustainable or want to look for another formulation: appreciation towards other people, animals and the environment plays an important role for us at #teamsportsfreund.
"One characteristic of sustainability is the conservation of resources. By this we also mean our very personal, human resources. Just as exploitation of others is reprehensible, self-exploitation is not okay either. The result is always a dumping spiral of rock-bottom prices and exhausted, sad people. As it is aptly said: Whenever a product is cheap, someone else has paid before us. What really annoys me is when higher prices are simply described as outrageous. Especially small handicraft and design businesses often offer their goods far too cheaply, for fear that people will be angry and no one will buy. Yet so much work and passion goes into it and they could easily charge double without being impertinent. "
"The term "made with love" has also become mercilessly hackneyed by now, but there's something to it. In any case, we will never produce cheap, quick-fix products. We want to have just as much fun making and selling our blankets as our customers have using them. Sustainability concerns us all and comes from a successful interplay between manufacturer and consumer. "
Here is our own CHECKLIST of sustainability