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Q and A: Chris Hines interview

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CNN caught up with Chris Hines in Cornwall, England to talk surfing, sewage and saving the world...

CNN: Chris, what drives you?
Chris Hines: I'm an environmentalist but with no formal training. I've done it through passion, based on what I know and what I see of the world. I want to make it a better place for all the six billion people who live on planet Earth.

CNN: Tell us about your background.
Hines: I was born in Plymouth in Devon. I had my first wooden surfboard aged five and my first proper board aged twelve, and I've surfed ever since.

For ten years I ran a campaign called Surfers Against Sewage where we helped clean up 400 million gallons of crude sewage discharged each day around Britain's coastline. Then I came to the Eden Project, where I'm Director of Sustainability.

CNN: What's the Eden Project, and what do you do there?
Hines: The Eden Project was the vision of Tim Smit. He wanted to build a stage on which to tell the stories of the relationships between plants and people, and sustainable futures for everyone. It's an amazing place. We have the world's tallest greenhouses, 1.2 million visitors every year, we host international conferences on things like the rainforests, sustainable construction.

At Eden, it's my job to ensure that we walk the talk and that we run in a way that balances the environment as well as running a business that's financially viable. We reduce and reuse items we then recycle, and we have a policy of buying in products made from recycled materials. We also use the way that Eden does what it does to try and act as a catalyst for change beyond the Eden Project.

CNN: Tell us the story of Surfers Against Sewage.
Hines: In 1989, Britain was discharging 400 million gallons of crude sewage every single day around the coast of Britain. Surfers were getting panty liners and condoms in our faces; they'd be all over the beach and floating past you in the water. In the sea, you couldn't see your feet when you were sitting on your surfboard. We said, we've got to do something, so we formed Surfers Against Sewage.

From the moment that we started, it was seven or eight years before we got agreement from central government to clean up. I left after 10 years when I'd seen that the program was in place and was happening. Now, when you're in the water, you can see the bottom, you can see fish floating by, and you don't see any sewage.

CNN: And now, at the Eden Project, you're developing an eco-friendly surfboard. What prompted you to do that?
Hines: Surfing, especially with groups like Surfers Against Sewage, has this wonderful green imagery. The perception of surfing is that it's a wonderful sport in tune with nature but the reality is that the surfboard is a lump of horrible petrochemical plastic and will sit in landfill sites and have a negative environmental footprint, i.e. it has a negative impact in terms of the way it's manufactured and what happens to it at the end of its life. As surfers, we wanted to change that.

CNN: Can you tell us about the moment when you decided to make the first Eco Board?
Hines: Pat Hudson, one of my colleagues, said we had to take down a balsa tree in one of the biomes [the large domed greenhouses at the Eden Project] because it was going to fall down, and we should make a surfboard from it. I said, well, let's make a completely sustainable surfboard, because I knew people who could laminate in hemp cloth and plant-based resin, so we went for it. It was a eureka moment: we thought, let's really have a go, let's really see what we can do.

CNN: Talk us through the components of the Eco Board.
Hines: The first surfboards we made had a balsa core, and then they were laminated in hemp cloth with a plant-based resin. But we learnt that balsa is too heavy for commercially viable boards. We needed to reduce the weight, so we worked with local partners to develop a plant-based foam.

Both our local partners, Sustainable Composites and Homeblown, have foam that is up to 50% vegetable based and those boards are now being ridden. I rode a 50% vegetable-based foam board in the water last weekend and had brilliant waves on it. It's also been shown at the world's biggest surf expo in Florida, and it's progressing rapidly. Those blanks should be commercially available in two to three months and look to be taking the world by storm. The laminating system is a little way behind but again there's good progress being made on that as well. It's really sending big ripples through the whole surfing world.

CNN: How long do you think it will take before the surfing industry takes this responsibility on board?
Hines: I think the surfing industry recognizes it has a responsibility already. They now need people to come forward with the materials, processes and products to allow them to make that step towards the green future. That'll probably take us five, ten years, but look how long it took to do Surfers Against Sewage -- five, ten years -- and look how long it took to build Eden -- five, ten years. We can make huge changes in that time.

CNN: The surfing idea is great because it's so simple. Can you give us any examples of things you've thought you'd like to see in action?
Hines: We should be able to look around at crops growing in the fields and say, "That field is fruit, the field next to it is the packaging for the fruit and the field over there is the energy that'll power the vehicles to get the fruit to market." It's about thinking all of those things. I once thought that if you can blow popcorn, then you can blow surfboard blanks. Why do we have to confine our thinking?

CNN: So the solution for us is to think laterally?
Hines: Yes, as a species we get confined into boxes and people say, You can't do this, it can't be done. All of our parents always said there's no such word as can't, and we need to believe that and open up our way of thinking. We can do anything.

CNN: Where do you think we'll be in 20 years' time?
Hines: In 20 years, we'll have made huge shifts as a species because if we all live like we do in Europe now, we need three planets: we haven't got three, we've got one. And that's what we need to do. We need to learn how to live, sustainably, as a species, on planet Earth.

CNN: What difference can individuals make to the environment?
Hines: People can make a huge difference, and it's vital that we all do because every little thing, every decision we make, can have a positive or negative effect. Six billion people making positive choices is six billion steps forward.

CNN: You're very focused on solutions, aren't you.
Hines: Well, environmentalists can have a gloom and doom attitude. I feel very strongly that you have to be solutions-based, because that's what takes us forward, that's what gives people hope.


closeup of Chris Hines

Chris Hines: an activist and environmentalist with a passion for surfing

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