Trek’s second-ever Sustainability Report does something exceedingly rare in the outdoor industry: It talks about what the company cannot do.
These days, many outdoor companies seem to embrace every emissions-reducing pledge or environmental buzzword — without much evidence that they’re actually helping the planet. Trek’s report contrasts starkly with that status quo, setting realistic goals for improving its sustainability while criticizing some of the industry’s most widespread strategies.
On carbon offsets? Trek is throwing them out because they “distort reality” and “impair” the ability to improve business practices, the company said in a press release. On net-zero pledges? Many companies set those goals “without any plan to get there,” and “any net-zero claim should be met with skepticism,” the Trek report said.
Instead of those approaches, Trek has joined a long list of outdoor companies entering the resale market, from Arc’teryx to REI to Patagonia. It’s launching a new program for buying used bikes called Red Barn Refresh. Trek claims it’s the first manufacturer-led bike trade-in and refurbishment program in the cycling industry. (Spoiler alert: It won’t actually become available until later this year.)
“We occupy a planet plagued by damaging business and manufacturing practices … and we have failed to understand the true and catastrophic impact of our lifestyles,” Trek Bicycle president John Burke wrote in the report’s intro. “The consequences will affect us all.”
Trek Bicycles: Red Barn Refresh
With Red Barn Refresh, Trek hopes more consumers will choose to buy used bicycles instead of new ones.
“The most environmentally friendly bike is the one you already own, closely followed by one that was owned by someone else,” the company said in a press release.
With the refurbishment program, Trek aims to extend the lifecycle of its products, reduce consumption of new materials, and cut back on waste. Here’s how it works: Starting later this year, cyclists can trade in their used Trek bicycles at select Trek stores and participating retailers. In return, the bike owners will receive in-store credit toward a new bike.
The previously owned bikes will undergo an “exhaustive” 151-point refurbishment process. Then, they’ll be resold via Trek’s official website, trekbikes.com.
Details about where to find locations for turning in your bike — or when and where you can buy them online — were left out of Trek’s announcement. The website will likely become available later this fall, according to a spokesperson.
“Red Barn Refresh brought us back to the red barn that started it all as we embark on the journey of reducing consumption and extending the life of these bikes, which is better for our people and the planet,” Eric Bjorling, brand director at Trek Bicycle, said in the press release.
Trek’s Emissions-Reduction Plan
One thing quickly becomes clear from reading Trek’s report: The company’s leaders are trying to do more than recycle T-shirts.
For the second time, Trek tapped WAP Sustainability Consulting to assess every aspect of its business. The result is a 43-page deep dive into the company’s operations. It paints a dizzyingly complex picture of the difficulty of creating a sustainable business model.
Want to know the emissions behind every single part of four different Trek bicycles? That’s here. Are you curious about their building and infrastructure changes for reduced energy use? That’s here, too, along with plenty of facts about the company’s sustainability efforts to date.
For example, since cutting single-use plastics in 2020, the company has avoided half a million pounds of waste from its bike packaging. It’s also one of many bike companies partnering with Call2Recycle for proper disposal of e-bike batteries and selling apparel (and bike tires) made from recycled materials.
But for all its efforts, Trek is now firmly opposed to carbon offsets and net-zero pledges. Why? Because, like so many other companies, the vast majority of Trek’s emissions are “indirect” causes of its supply chain, the report said. A whopping 96.2% of all its emissions come from raw materials, transportation of those materials, business travel of employees, disposal of old products, and other sources.
To combat those emissions, Trek plans to “build with less impact” and “create products that are used longer” — hence the birth of Red Barn Refresh.
“You can’t change what you can’t see,” said Bjorling. “This report transparently shows our emissions findings and evolving roadmap for the future, demonstrating real, sustainable action. We hope this inspires change within and outside of the cycling industry.”