Italian Bike Saddles

Globalization and the Bicycle Industry

Pollution in China
Pollution in China

Made in Italy vs. Made in China
The Environmental Impact

While other companies brag about recycling cardboard or placing a solar panel on the roof as evidence of their environmental consciousness, at Koobi LCC, we believe environmental impact is directly related to the source of manufacturing of our products. That's why we continue to base our saddle production in Italy, where environmental regulations on manufacturers and controls for quality of working conditions are considerably more stringent. In fact, in the 2008 UN Environmental Performance Index, which ranks nations according to the performance of their environmental policies, Italy was ranked 24th of 149 (by comparison, China was ranked 105th). And though many Italian saddle producers have followed the trend of moving saddle production to China or Taiwan in recent years, Selle Italia, the company that produces our saddles, has not only maintained its original production facilities but further invested in the construction of new production facilities in Italy.

In recent years, the bicycle industry, along with most other American industries, has participated in the rapid globalization of the international economy. In the race to build a cheaper, if not necessarily better product, many in the bicycle industry have moved their production facilities to countries such as China, Vietnam, and Taiwan in hopes of finding cheaper labor, less expensive materials, and employees that don't view "finding" a finger in their chili as a path to financial security.

After all, the idea behind trade is that everybody specializes in the area where they have the greatest comparative advantage and leaves the rest to somebody else. By and large, this has had benefits for everyone. In a world where the average Chinese college grad makes around $264 USD a month (as of 2007), only the most creative of comparisons would suggest that the U.S. has any advantage in the production of labor intensive goods (read bicycle products).

Unfortunately, shifting production to the developing world has also had serious consequences. Lax environmental controls and the inability or lack of motivation for national governments in developing countries to enforce environmental controls has resulted in significant repercussions for the environment in large swaths of the developing world. China, for example, which has become one of the largest sites of bicycle factory construction in recent years, is now home to 16 of the world's top 20 most polluted cities, according to the World Bank. Air quality data produced by the European Space Agency suggests that, prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing had the worst concentration of sulfur dioxide on the planet and according to the Chinese Ministry of Health, cancer caused by air and water pollution is now China’s leading cause of death. Although China's central government has implemented a number of initiatives in order to combat the spread of pollution throughout China, local government officials have a strong incentive to protect industries under their authority, no matter how dirty they are. While the relatively small size of the bicycle industry makes it unlikely that it has played anything more than a minor role to play in this phenomenon, by moving production to countries such as China, the bicycle industry has still contributed to the poor environmental conditions now experienced by the majority of East Asia's populace.

The next time you're shopping for a new bicycle product, consider researching where the product was produced before buying. Buying from a country with a stronger environmental track record means that there is a much greater likelihood that the product was produced in a responsible manner and in many cases may not be much more expensive.


Air Pollution In China
Water Pollution In China

By: Phil Schweizer, Koobi Founder and Owner