PUMA costs out environmental ‘calories’ of its products

PUMA has scaled up its environmental profit and loss (EP&L) reporting to a product level, effectively putting a carbon 'price tag' on the shoes and clothing it produces.

The analysis has enabled the company to identify and compare the environmental impacts of selected products across the whole lifecycle, from raw material sourcing right through to the consumer life phase.

The modelling not only measures impacts caused by greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), waste and air pollution, but also quantifies the natural resources used along the entire value chain such as embodied water and land use.

Importantly, it also takes into account consumer behaviour such as the washing, drying and ironing of products and ultimately, their final disposal route.

It found for instance that 31 refuse vehicles were required to dispose of the waste generated by 100,000 pairs of PUMA conventional trainers, but that only 12 such trucks were needed to deal with the same number of trainers made from biodegradable material.

This is because while conventional suede is likely to be disposed of in landfill or incineration once it reaches end-of-life, the biodegradable material can be composted, resulting in significantly lower GHG emissions.

PUMA came up with the statistical data by applying the EP&L model to two of its conventional products – a pair of retro suede shoes and a cotton t-shirt – as well as two more sustainable versions made from biodegradable materials which it will shortly be launching to market under its InCycle range.

On average, the InCycle products resulted in 31% less carbon impact than their conventional counterparts – these impacts were also costed out in the form of a price tag (in euros and cents). A conventional PUMA t-shirt carries an environmental cost of €3.42 compared to €2.36 for an InCycle t-shirt.

Speaking to edie, PUMA’s chairman Jochen Zeitz said that framing the EP&L model in this context serves as a powerful assessment tool for comparing the sustainability of different products.

“I felt we needed a more complete picture on defining our environmental impacts – not only as a business, but also in the products we produce as we outsource much of our production. We wanted to lessen our impacts and move away from qualitative discussion to something more tangible.”

He said the research threw up some surprising results, such as the fact that 57% of the company’s footprint happens at the furthest tiers of its supply chain – addressing those challenges will be key for PUMA going forward, he added.

“We want to draw attention of the impact of materials we use so we will be developing tools to inform our designers and developers of what will be most sustainable in terms of materials use. Whenever we develop new products, we have to evaluate what the impacts will be.”

Using such a model also demonstrates transparency to the consumer, allowing them to make informed judgements when it comes to purchasing decisions.

“For the first time we can be objective about our impacts – it’s a great message,” said Zeitz. “Long-term, we need to standardise these type of tools around ‘carbon calories’ so that customers can see how much of nature they are using up when buying a product.”

According to Trucost chief executive Dr Richard Mattison, who has fed into the EP&L process, environmental impacts traditionally carry different units of measurement, making overall comparisons between products difficult.

“This can be confusing for consumers. One may have a high water impact, another may be more carbon intensive or cause more pollution,” he argued.

Mattison said that the EP&L model allows company managers to embed sustainability within everyday product design and procurement decisions – meaning consumers can be provided with clear information and also challenged on their purchasing habits.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie