Skip to content

☁️ "How Footwear Startup Allbirds is Decarbonizing Fashion"

Climate Rising

Photo by Omar Prestwich / Unsplash

Host: Brian Kenny
Guests: Joey Zwillinger | Co-Founder & Co-CEO | Allbirds &
Prof. Michael Toffel | Professor | Harvard Business School
Category: ☁️ Carbon Reduction | Decarbonizing Fashion

Subscribe now

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[5:16] MT: “Two of the main ways that footwear has an environmental impact, especially when we're thinking about casual shoes, is there's often fossil fuel derived products, so polyester in the soles […]. And then an alternative when you think about natural materials for footwear, often you're thinking about leather. While it is a natural material, the tanning of leather, the dyeing of leather, all of that involves often toxic materials, which has water pollution concerns. And then of course, there's the shipping. Products are shipped globally, so that creates a whole other fossil fuel based environmental impact.”

[6:54] JZ: “At our fundamental core, we actually think about ourselves as a material innovation company. And the reason we start there is because we know that the vast majority of the impact of carbon pollution and the effects of global warming from consumption is born in the materials that we source to make the products that we love. […] But at the core material innovation, we happen to be selling shoes and apparel. And we do this in the effort to make better things in a better way. That's our mission as a company.”

[8:07] JZ: “It's through sustainability that we unlock incredible comfort and incredible performance. And so it's the mechanism or the means with how we get to make better products. We want to play a role in contributing to the reversal of climate change. And our volume of material and our impact on carbon pollution is going to be small. But I think the leadership opportunity and what that can cascade into consumer products inside the footwear industry, outside of the footwear industry, rippling across lots of different industries can be seen really broad. And I think that's what excites me most about the mission that we're on.”

[18:34] JZ: “We've created a tool that can track down to the gram, what is the carbon emission for the entire lifecycle, from farm to foot, and to end of life of that shoe and any products that we make. And we actually label that carbon footprint on every single product that we make, either product or packaging.”

[20:13] MT: “I think what's really interesting here is to look at the innovation processes that Allbirds has engaged in. So some of the innovation is with their own employees on design and on choices of material. But they're working hard with existing suppliers who have scale in the technology to create, for example, what they call sweet foam, which is the substitute for a fossil fuel based product that sits between your foot and the outer sole. […] When they did that they could have tried to create that in a proprietary basis. But in fact, they're working with their supplier trying to get others to adopt that material as well, as a way to drive down its cost, to increase economies of scale.”

[22:21] JZ: “We knew that the entire industry used […] petroleum or natural gas to derive this foam called EVA. […] There's 20 billion pairs of shoes sold around the world every year and so there's a huge impact that EVA is having as a component. It's probably number one or number two in terms of its ubiquity in the footwear industry from a component perspective. We went down to Brazil, and linked up with a bio chemicals company that could produce at scale, an EVA equivalent utilizing the waste stream from sugarcane production. And when doing that, it becomes a carbon negative material.

[25:49] JZ: “Deforestation in the Amazon [happens due to] leather production in Brazil. All the big companies in our industry are using this leather […]. What we're doing instead of that is investing in US innovation to use naturally derived oils that can replace leather in a plant based alternative. That is a 98% reduction in carbon emissions. […] That's the way to unlock magic through nature. That's the way to combat this.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 33 min | 🗓️ 05/04/2022
✅ Time saved: 31 min

Additional Links:
Case Study: “Allbirds: Decarbonizing Fashion” (Harvard Business School, 2021)

Subscribe now