In paint-speckled jeans, tattered Nikes, and a black zip-turtleneck, Jason Salfi, co-founder and partner of Comet Skateboards, doesn’t come across as the CEO type–but then again, he is the CEO of a skateboard company, and a green skateboard company at that. The skateboards Comet produces aren’t just environmentally friendly on a superficial level, like Natalie Portman’s line of designer vegan pumps or C-IN2’s collection of men’s bamboo briefs. Comet has committed to environmentalism on a deeper level: green-collar jobs.
Green collar jobs are part of an emerging social justice movement in which businesses attempt to honor the environment in every step of their production and organization. Environmental justice activist Van Jones has called this business strategy the “green-collar solution,” and it includes both professional jobs (the heads of renewable energy companies, the designers, and the accountants) and manual labor (the builders, the installers, and the maintenance workers). Jerome Ringo, president of The Apollo Alliance, offered a succinct explanation of the green sector on NPR’s All Things Considered: “When we talk about production of wind turbines for example, someone has to design those wind turbines, someone has to build those wind turbines, someone has to install those wind turbines, someone has to maintain [them].” The key to creating this green workforce is getting politicians to appropriate money in the right places and getting more businesses to start adopting green principles, much like Comet Skateboards has.
Comet Skateboards’ workroom in Ithaca, N.Y., is lined wall-to-wall with bare decks, or the wooden plank of a skateboard, many of which are made from North American maple. Comet Skateboards uses local, sustainable materials like soy and hemp to produce its boards. By using these local materials, Comet saves money and contributes to Ithaca’s local economy.
This factory is Salfi’s dream, a culmination of more than 10 years of work that materialized just this year. Salfi, a 1993 Cornell graduate, used to live in San Francisco selling Comet Skateboards and developing his own production system. When Salfi visited his former professor, Anil Netravali, on a road trip to the East Coast in 2005, he learned about a side project Netravali was undertaking with Patrick Govang, a former industrial partnerships director for the Cornell Center for Materials Research. Together, Netravali and Govang were developing a new kind of sustainable adhesive that was less toxic than traditional glues.