The sportswear company and sustainability-focused Silicon Valley-based shoemaker are joining forces to create a high performance sneaker with the lowest possible carbon emissions. It’s an unusual partnership of two competitors in the fast-growing eco-friendly footwear space, with the aim of setting a new industry standard for sustainable sneakers.
“Today, the process of creating a carbon neutral performance product does not exist,” Vice President of Adidas Brand Strategy James Carnes said in an email. “We intend to combine the innovation and technology our brands have developed to determine a way to create a performance shoe with the lowest carbon footprint and push the boundaries of today’s industry standards. We are aiming for zero.”
Sustainability is a growing focus in the world of sportswear and the larger fashion industry, which is one of the biggest polluters on the planet. Competition has been heating up.
The Allbirds brand has long been rooted in sustainability — the company is known for using renewable materials in its shoes, such as wool and eucalyptus tree fibers in shoe uppers and sugarcane waste, in lieu of plastic, in soles.
In November, after a spat with Amazon (AMZN), Allbirds co-founder Joey Zwillinger called on other footwear companies to follow its lead on sustainability. He said Allbirds open-sourced its formulas for its sustainable fabric and soles, hoping other companies would follow suit, and that the benefit to the planet would outweigh any potential challenges from competitors.
Zwillinger also said that getting more companies to rely on sustainable suppliers could help bring costs down for everyone.
“If we share that openly with everyone, it’s fantastic for the planet,” Zwillinger said in a November interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “It’s also good for business … Sharing this is altruistic but also quite pragmatic.”
Getting an industry giant like Adidas on board with using such suppliers could be a major step in that direction for Allbirds.
Allbirds co-founder: Amazon’s lookalike shoe undermines our sustainability efforts
Allbirds is also largely known for everyday, “athleisure” sneakers, rather than performance sports shoes. The new partnership will combine its background in sustainability with Adidas’ expertise in performance footwear.
“Climate change is perhaps the greatest problem our world and industry has ever faced,” Allbirds co-founder Tim Brown said in an email. “The good news is that there is a path towards victory, but we can only get there if we work together and run faster.”
There’s a long road ahead to create a shoe with no carbon footprint.
Making a standard sneaker creates, on average, about 12.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, a common measurement for carbon footprint. Allbirds’ products average 7.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, according to the company’s website.
Getting that number to zero could be tricky. For one thing, footwear companies tend to have supply chains around the world, and emissions from shipping alone can be significant.
The companies say they plan to “explore innovations that span everything from manufacturing and supply chain to transportation methods as we aim to eliminate carbon emissions,” according to the release.
Adidas and Allbirds are aiming for between 2 and 3 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in the first version of their shoe collaboration, with later iterations moving toward zero emissions, Adidas’ Carnes said.
While there is no timeline for a product release from the partnership as yet, Carnes said the companies are already working together, and he hopes the partnership will encourage other companies to take similar actions.
“Hopefully this partnership inspires brands to refocus their competitive spirit toward the race against climate change and encourages a collaborative approach to finding better solutions,” Carnes said in an email.