Yulex: Changing the game for rubber smallholders in Southeast Asia

Using PEFC-certified rubber, Yulex is proving that we can create rubber products that are renewable and truly sustainable for rubber smallholders and communities.

Yulex: Changing the game for rubber smallholders in Southeast Asia

27 November 2022 News

Who is Yulex?

Yulex is a company that develops plant-based alternatives for everyday, oil-based products. Yulex uses natural rubber to produce their range of open and closed cell rubber foam and latex emulsion products, which are used as substitutes for neoprene and petroleum-based polyurethane foams.

The story of Yulex rubber started with a post on the blog of outdoor clothing giant Patagonia. A member of their product development team for wetsuits wrote ‘“We’ve got a long way to go before anyone has a true ‘green’ wetsuit.” The post caught the eye of Yulex CEO Jeff Martin, a materials engineer who had been searching for an alternative way to make rubber products without the use and extraction of destructive fossil fuels. 

Alongside Chief Technology Officer Jim Mitchell, Jeff got to work on a rubber foam prototype that used latex instead of synthetic rubber and approached Patagonia for a meeting. The rest, they say, is history and in 2013, Patagonia became the first company to release a surf wetsuit made from Yulex natural rubber foam. 

From their origins, Yulex have embraced sustainability as a core part of their identity as a company. Yulex is committed to deforestation-free products sourced from renewable and sustainable sources, without the costly extraction and processing of non-renewable fossil fuels. In fact, for every kilogram of Yulex material created by tapping a rubber tree, processing that sap and turning it into rubber chips, Yulex estimates that between 7.1 to 9.6 grams of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere. In comparison, creating the same rubber from petroleum results in CO2 emissions of about 182,000 to 196,000 grams. For limestone, another material that is used to make material for wetsuits, the number could be as much as twice that because of the heat required to process the rock.

Today, Yulex produces sustainable rubber products to suit a range of applications including outdoor sportswear, sports medicine equipment and fashion apparel. But sustainability extends far beyond just responsible sourcing; true sustainability must be inclusive of the people who produce that rubber.

How does Yulex support key beneficiaries, such as smallholders, by sourcing PEFC-certified rubber?

 As a company that is committed to the use of renewable materials to replace fossil-fuel based products, Yulex also believes that sustainability needs to be inclusive of the people who produce those materials and the communities that they come from. This is one of the major reasons why Yulex made the decision to source PEFC-certified rubber from their suppliers in Vietnam:

“When I see smallholders with regard to natural rubber, I want them to be able to benefit from the premiums that our company Yulex, with our connection to the market, can bring. But I want to ensure that the premiums are shared all the way down to the primary producers of natural rubber. It’s more than just believing in putting a certified and sustainable supply chain in place, but truly making sure that the beneficiaries of that go all the way back”. - Yulex Chief Business Officer Liz Bui.

When Yulex sources a shipment of PEFC certified rubber from smallholders in Southeast Asia, the company is confident that the benefits of certification are reaching the primary producers of that rubber. In accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals developed by the United Nations, PEFC safeguards the sustainability of forest products, which play an important role in the daily life and well-being of millions of people worldwide. 

We ensure that property rights, tree ownership and land tenure arrangements are clarified and established and that legal, customary and traditional rights are respected. The role of forestry in local – often rural - economies is specifically emphasized in our requirements, and we help promote the long-term health and well-being of communities. PEFC forest management schemes have the potential to reduce poverty, support rural livelihoods and contribute to the economic development of smallholders and the communities that they come from. 

For example, PEFC standards stipulate that wages shall meet at least legal, industry minimum standards or exceed them, and in cases where working wages for smallholders are lower than the country's living wage, steps should be taken to increase wages to bring them into line with a liveable wage.

 In addition, PEFC standards require certificate holders to comply with applicable local, national and/or international legislation on forest management, including property, tenure and land-use rights for indigenous peoples, local communities or other affected stakeholders; health, labour and safety issues; anti-corruption and the payment of applicable royalties and taxes.

Stability is sustainability.

When you think of sustainability, you may think of the environment, fossil fuels, natural resources or our individual impacts on the planet. But do you ever think about the primary producers of the products that we use everyday? 

 For Yulex, sustainability starts at the source, and the company has embraced a holistic approach when considering the sustainability of their products. Sustainability can only be achieved if smallholders are at the heart of the transition towards managing rubber plantations responsibly, and they must reap the benefits of such a transition:

If you can provide a stable income that allows smallholders to send their children to school, get health insurance and all of the other things that come with a living wage, smallholders' lives become economically sustainable, and that to me is the true definition of sustainability.

Part of sustainability is stability, it’s not just certification all throughout the supply chain, it’s really the ability to sustain it, and the incentives have to be there to sustain it, and for smallholders, those incentives are economic benefits.” - Chief Business Officer Liz Bui

 Many rubber smallholders are still largely subsistence farmers, and the vast majority of them will cultivate other crops to withstand global rubber price pressures. The volatility of the global rubber market is also a leading cause for the conversion of rubber plantations into other monoculture plantations, such as palm oil plantations, where large swathes of land and forest may be cleared en masse.

Dr. Bui believes that these farmers are often more focused on ‘survivability’ rather than ‘sustainability’, and that providing real, tangible economic benefits and administrative support is the first stepping stone in the drive towards true sustainability.

What’s next for Yulex?

Starting from a prototype sheet of rubber no bigger than an iPhone, Yulex now works with over 30 of the worlds biggest and most influential brands, including Billabong, H&M, Patagonia, Sanuk and Timberland to produce rubber products that are renewable, sustainably sourced and fair for the environment and the people who work so tirelessly to cultivate and harvest natural rubber. But Yulex isn't done yet. 

 At the end of November, Yulex will be on hand to exhibit the benefits of their rubber products at the International Trade Fair for Sporting Goods and Sports Fashion (ISPO) in Munich, the biggest sports apparel and equipment trade fair of its kind in the world. If you are interested in meeting with representatives from Yulex at the show, book a meeting with them here.

Yulex are leading the way for sustainable rubber. Their commitment to sourcing from sustainably managed forests and ensuring that rubber smallholders reap the benefits of sustainable practices is a shining example for other companies engaged in the natural rubber supply chain.

‘PEFC is Here’ Sustainable Rubber Campaign

‘PEFC is Here’ is PEFC's awareness campaign to promote the use of sustainably sourced rubber and rubberwood. As part of the campaign, we highlight companies and brands that prioritize environmental conservation by offering PEFC-certified rubber and rubberwood through case stories and graphics. If you source and sell PEFC-certified rubber and rubberwood products, join us today!