Sourcing Journal’s Sustaining Voices celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action.
Allbirds is neutralizing its carbon footprint, one pair of shoes at a time.
Allbirds describes climate change as “the problem of our generation,” one that business can either exacerbate or help relieve.
Launched in 2016, the creator of the “world’s most comfortable shoes” has favored renewable materials such as New Zealand merino wool, eucalyptus-based Tencel and castor bean oil. But although this strategy keeps the company’s CO₂ emissions lower than most of its rivals, “any footprint is too high,” a spokesperson said.
It was therefore practically from “day one,” Allbirds says, that it worked with Brazil’s Braskem to develop SweetFoam, a sugarcane-derived outsole that the company bills as “carbon negative” because it eliminates 2.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide per metric ton of raw material. Launched last August in a line of flip-flops, the material will eventually be incorporated across the company’s entire product line.
“We always knew we wanted to find a better alternative to the typical shoe soles, which are typically made from dirty oil,” said the spokesperson, noting that SweetFoam is open source, so any brand can use it. “After over three years of working on this new material, it was incredibly fulfilling to bring it to market and it felt like another step in our journey towards making better things in a better way.”
But better hasn’t been enough. In April, Allbirds announced the launch of a Carbon Fund, an instrument for investing in better-for-the-planet initiatives like planting trees, constructing solar and wind farms and recapturing methane from landfill and livestock operations.
“Essentially it’s a self-imposed carbon tax which allows us to offset our carbon footprint while also supporting different environmental projects,” the spokesperson said. “We can hold ourselves accountable for our environmental impact while we continue to invest in new renewable materials.”
Which is to say the newly carbon-neutral company isn’t resting on its laurels. “As we’ve grown, so has our commitment to sustainability,” the spokesperson said. “There is always more that can be done to help the environment.”
In what areas has the fashion industry made the biggest strides in sustainability in the last five years?
“Five years ago, people didn’t have the same concerns about sustainability and fewer brands in the industry were working towards making products in a sustainable way. For example, the growth of recycled materials is a direct result of this newfound expectation from consumers that retail brands consider the environment when they make their products. While things are moving in the right direction, there is still so much more to do. That’s why we’re committed to finding new ways to help support the wider fashion industry as well.”