Sole Technology Institute (Etnies)

To inspire youth through a passionate commitment to authentic action sports brands

Monday 10 October 2011, by Adam Martin, Alejandra Henriquez, Jenny Svedberg, Karlotta Kopf

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a) The main facts about the activities of the company.

This company started its activity in 1986 with its skate shoe brand Etnies, the source of inspiration for the name were the urban skater tribes that managed to create their own culture within society. In 1989, Pierre Andr? Senizergues retires from pro skateboarding to join the company and Etnies became the first skateboard shoe firm managed and owned by a pro skater. He is now the current CEO of Sole Technology Inc and plays an important role within the firm.

The early 1990s were tough times for the young firm because of the recession the US was undergoing and the lack of experience in business of its owner. However, in the mid 1990s economy recovers from the slowdown and the firm decides to expand to Europe, namely, Switzerland and the company launches three more footwear brands ?S, ThirtyTwo and Emerica.

In 1996, Pierre created Sole Technology Inc, in order to turn this firm into the parent company of all the brands that the firm held, and was declared ?rookie? manufacturer of the year by Action Sports Retailer magazine.
The Sole Technology brands have experienced a wide success ever since, and are seen as being some of the favorite brands of their target market.

b) The ethical challenges this company is addressing.

The action sports industry is highly competitive. Reducing costs to maintain profits can often lead to externalities. Pollution is a main issue due to the materials and adhesives used in the production of shoes. Energy use from their state of the art research facility must also be considered; water consumption is also a major factor. Skateboarders quickly wear out shoes meaning that they must be replaced, for companies this seems like a good thing as it ensures constant high demand, however this must be balanced against the waste it produces. As with most ethical dilemmas facing businesses it boils down to whether they should seek to maximize profits or, to work towards a better world. The firm has made commitments to working towards the latter through green policies ranging from installation of solar panels to the ?buy a shoe, plant a tree? program, that promises for each pair of recycled shoes they sell, a tree will be planted to try and offset the rising levels of green house gasses in the atmosphere.

It is not simply a case of if they should maximize sales or reduce costs at the expense of society. The firm must also choose whether or not to divert profits to one or some of the ethical programs outside of the confines of their business. These traditional corporate social responsibility actions generally cost money but can improve the image of the company in the long run. The firm has engaged in these actions through collaborations with autism charity Autism Speaks and their annual events helping the homeless and others in need.

c) What makes you believe this company is really ethical and why you trust it.

In 1998, Sole Technology donated 10,000 pairs of shoes to Los Angeles area homeless people as an eleemosynary act and it became an annual event. The firm also contributed to the cause of California AIDS Ride bicycle event through the Los Angeles Mission, showing publicly its concern for the surrounding society for the first time. Sole technology is also donating shoes and clothes to at-risk children and for disaster recovery, such as victims of Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua and Katrina in the US.
Later, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, the firm organized a benefic event in Brooklyn to raise funds for the affected people and rose over $35000 and Pierre himself donated $15000 from his pocket.

In 2003, the company started actions to partially finance the Lake Forest skate park, one of the largest concrete skate parks in the US, as an action to encourage the practice of sport among young people. They also continued to support the park by sponsoring high-profile events for today?s youth culture.
Since 2004, Etnies has been hosting a Christmas event, Etnies Annual Holiday Festival, for kids who need a little holiday cheer in their lives. At this event, Etnies gives away over 500 pair of shoes.

In 2005, the firm started to promote eco friendly policies by installing rooftop solar panels to power its R&D building showing that is also concerned with the environment. This concern has been strengthened with the hiring of an Environmental Affairs Manager Roian Atwood, the firm is a pioneer within the industry by doing so.

In 2007, Pierre teamed up with WAD Magazine and Nadege Winter, the creator of Green Dream Team, to create the WWP project. WWP is a re-used t-shirt line, taking old t-shirts and recycling them into new fashionable creations. These t-shirts are pushing a statement with a fun, music-inspired twist, with slogans as God Save the Green, Losing my Pollution and Smells Like Green Spirit.
Each year Sole Technology continues to contribute time, money, shoes and clothes to charities etc. and they strive to be at the forefront of our industry in environmental effort. Their philosophy is ?we believe in a better world just as we believe in a better shoe?

Since Sole Technology do so much for the society we think it makes them convincing as an ethical company. Even if they have as intention to improve their image, we get the impression that they still care about what they are doing and not only about their image.

d) The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how you think this company may improve.

As Sole Technology and the daughter companies have already implemented many ethical and environment-improving actions the company will probably continue their efforts. The principles and rules invented and lived by the CEO are central to all employees. Pierre Andr? Senizergues ultimate goal is a successful company not only on the balance sheet, but also on ?the streets, the slopes, the runways and ultimately on our amazing planet?
( The company sets high standards and one dream is to become one of the most ecologically sensitive organizations in the industry. This implies high effort and strict activities, which have to be controlled and employees must be motivated. This might cause difficulties to develop for the company. Furthermore, the company is highly committed to their action as based on their eco-audit (2008) they are analyzing every angle concerning water usage, waste and consumption and carbon emissions. Therewith, they want to become a carbon neutral company by 2020. The former point might be too optimistic as they are a company producing mainly shoes containing synthetic material which is normally made of oil. Furthermore, transportation and delivering (e.g shipping) is usually fuel-based and fulfilling their goal would imply a strict restructuring in only ten years. In this way their goal might be not realistic when they take every step of their production into account.

Nevertheless, they already implemented a lot of waste-reducing systems and are engaged in social actions as providing homeless people with shoes. Next to these actions the company must ensure that their action will not be seen as only window-dressing activities. Sometimes it is a big challenge to communicate the ethical actions in the right way to stakeholders. If customers or society do not approve their actions as ethical they might loose credibility. Still their attitude seems highly motivated: ?We are confident that the future looks bright for eco-conscious corporations, and we strive to be a leader in the field every day? (RoianAtwood, environmental affairs manager).


Pierre Andre Senizergues Interview

Location: Lake Forest (United States of America, CA)

Sector: footwear, clothing

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