Allbirds touts world’s first net-zero carbon shoe
Allbirds is claiming that it has created the world’s first net-zero carbon shoe, without the use of offsetting.
The US-based footwear and apparel brand has not yet launched the shoe, called M0.0NSHOT, for purchase, but has provided key information on how design and material innovation have resulted in a net-zero shoe.
Some parts of the shoe’s lifecycle do emit carbon, such as transporting the components and the finished pair. However, as all of the key components are certified as carbon negative, Allbirds claims that the emissions which have been created are ‘inset’ across the lifecycle of the shoe.
The shoe’s upper is made using a carbon-negative merino wool from the New Zealand Merino Company, for example. The Company uses regenerative farming methods to enable the soil to draw down carbon. It has been certified as carbon-negative by Toitu Envirocare, a third-party carbon certification business, with carbon sequestration outweighing emissions.
Other carbon-negative elements of the shoe include bioplastic eyelets made using methane-based polymers and sugarcane-based foam midsoles. Allbirds has been using carbon-negative, sugarcane-based foam for soles since 2018 and calls this material SweetFoam. The new shoes include a next-generation version of this material, called SuperLight Foam.
Additionally, the shoes will be housed in sugarcane-derived, carbon-negative packaging which has been light-weighted to minimise emissions from transportation.
Allbirds’ co-founder and co-chief Tim Brown said: “Creating a net zero carbon shoe that is commercially viable and scalable is the culmination of our entire back catalogue of work. M0.0NSHOT isn’t a silver bullet for the climate crisis — it’s a proof-point that, when we take sustainability seriously and are laser-focused on carbon reduction, we can make incredible breakthroughs.”
The brand’s head of sustainability Hana Kajimura added: “We believe this will revolutionize the path to net zero, and act as rocket-fuel for the entire industry. We could spend decades debating the finer points of carbon sequestration, or we can innovate today with a common sense approach.”
Allbirds has not yet confirmed when the M0.0NSHOT shoes will go on sale and specifics like how many pairs will be available and the markets they will be sold in. However, it has pledged to open-source information relating to the design of the shoes and the carbon accounting methods used, in a bid to help other brands in the sector innovate to reduce emissions.
Allbirds’ director of materials innovation, Romesh Patel, was a guest on the edie podcast last year, discussing the brand’s ongoing work to scale lower-carbon and more circular materials. You can stream that episode here.
The average pair of shoes comes with a life-cycle carbon footprint of 14kg of CO2e, and more than 20 billion pairs of new shoes are manufactured globally each year. Many shoe designs bear a high carbon footprint due to their use of leather and/or synthetic, fossil-based glues, foams and materials.
This week, a new scorecard from Stand.earth assessed 43 apparel and footwear companies on their work to descarbonise their value chains. None of the brands received a top grade, and two-thirds received one of the two lowest grades.
One key focus was the use of energy in supply chains, with the conclusion being that many big-name brands, despite publicly stating net-zero ambitions, are doing little to transition suppliers off of coal and on to clean energy. Stand.earth’s methodology also covered emissions from shipping, the use of low-carbon and more durable materials, and whether brands were advocating for renewable energy policies.
Brands to have scored one of the two lowest grades include Walmart, Target, Primark, Amazon, Under Armour, Armani, Guess, Chanel, Prada, Boohoo, Shein and Uniqlo’s parent company Fast Retailing.
Allbirds only managed to secure a ‘D+ grade. It scored highly for its clean energy procurement and commitments but lost marks elsewhere. The top-scoring company overall was H&M Group, closely followed by Levi’s and Puma.
“Failure by brands to support the transition to renewables, while at the same time increasing energy consumption, will further entrench fossil fuel infrastructure in the Global South where their supply chains are focused, and lock in harmful health and climate impacts for decades to come,” warned Stand.earth campaigner Seema Joshi.
“Brands need to transition to renewable energy in their supply chains, and be more transparent about who their suppliers are and where they are located. The fashion industry has a responsibility to show progress engaging with suppliers to support a just energy transition, including through financing and training, and advocating to governments to meet the increased demand for renewable energy.”