In an effort to find new cost-effective ways to reduce its environmental footprint, lifestyle audio brand Skullcandy rolled out an upcycling program last year in collaboration with the electronics facility Cali Resources.
Launched nationwide, the program accepts returned or damaged Skullcandy products for refurbishment to eliminate waste. A portion of the proceeds generated from the upcycled products go to the winter sports climate advocacy nonprofit Protect Our Winters.
More than 34,000 products were upcycled during the program’s first eight months, according to Skullcandy.
Recently we caught up with their director of sourcing Dylan Priest to learn more about the Utah-based consumer audio equipment company’s upcycling strategy, and get his insights into evaluating prospective program partners remotely.
What prompted Skullcandy to launch the new upcycling program?
Our Millennial and Gen Z consumers — and our employees — are very concerned about climate change and sustainability so Skullcandy started to assess its supply chain.
Over the last 10 years we have taken returned products from our retailers and recycled them the best that we could with various partners. The problem was that we didn’t have a partner able to fully recycle most of the components through their supply chain.
We saw an opportunity to work with a partner that could process returned products, enabling us to upcycle a good portion, and return them to the economy for a second life — and then recycle the remaining plastics, metals, paper, and cardboard.
How does the program work?
Currently we are managing the flow of customer returns from our various retailers and consolidating at our distribution centers in the US and Canada. We then send monthly shipments to our partner to inspect, sort, upcycle, and recycle.
Once in their facility, we sort the products, log them in our internal system, and then send them either to a refurb line or to be stripped and recycled through their supply chain.
What are the benefits of upcycling electronics for Skullcandy?
Previously customer returns resulted in a loss, financially. Now, working with our partner, we have the benefit of receiving compensation for the materials we are sending through their supply chain to be upcycled.
Products that previously would have seen the end of their lives are seeing a second life as upcycled product that is then sold to alternative channels of retail, where both Skullcandy and our partner benefit from the resale.
As part of our upcycling program we are also giving a portion of our proceeds to Protect Our Winters, further supporting their mission. They benefit financially as well.
What’s the biggest challenge Skullcandy faces around electronic waste?
I see the biggest challenge as getting the word out that we do this and having the consumer actually send the product back. At the end of the day, we need to educate the consumer to return the product to avoid the waste, but it is entirely on them to follow through.
Having the program set up in a way so that it is easy for them to send the product back to us is the challenge. We are addressing it by working with partners like POW to get the word out to a larger audience.
It’s a tough question given everything that’s happening now, but where do you see Skullcandy’s recycling and upcycling efforts headed?
We plan to continue with this program, and will start to expand this whole program globally. Also we are exploring different types of materials to potentially be used in future products, from biodegradable plastics to recycled paper pulp for packaging.
Do you have advice for fellow executives in your industry around upcycling?
Some leaders are concerned about the impact of upcycling on their brand. We believe it’s a positive for any brand to give a product a second life. The relationship and give-back portion with POW makes this even more brand-positive for us.
Furthermore, it’s important to find the right partner for your business and products. Take the time to visit the facilities, and understand their processes and what they will provide to you with the program.
During the time we vetted partners, we found that there are a lot of companies that have a nice PowerPoint presentation about their facility, capabilities, and supply chain. But once you visit these facilities and look into the process, it is a different story.
If a physical visit isn’t possible, especially with the novel coronavirus situation, what do you recommend?
This obviously is a challenge and you will never be able to replace an onsite visit, but we have used the technology that is available like video-conferencing, pictures, and FaceTime. It is a short-term fix, but if the only option is to move forward then this can be used in place of a visit.
Another option is using references from the partner to see what their customers are saying about the facility. You can find out what issues they are having and what the facility does well.
Those are a couple things that we are doing while facing the challenges with this virus.