ARE THEY GREENWASHING OR NOT?
REVIEWING BRANDS' SUSTAINABILITY CLAIMS
We use our expertise and digital sleuthing to analyze brands' sustainability claims and determine if they are greenwashing.
SUMMARY OF OUR OPINION ON ALLBIRDS
Given that it was only founded six years ago in 2014, I’m impressed with its sustainability practices. But like every brand, it could be doing more. It exhibits strong sustainability leadership (as a Certified B Corp) with at least three people in the company responsible for sustainability and commitments to remain carbon neutral through offsets. The main thrust of its efforts is finding more sustainable materials for its products by developing innovative, low-impact materials; however, they need to validate their claims with third-party certifications.
I would like to see them be more transparent about their production practices (they don’t describe those at all, so I have no idea how they produce products), and sustainability issues beyond climate change. Leading companies will typically produce a more comprehensive sustainability report every 1-2 years, but I didn’t see that for Allbirds.
WHAT TO ASK OF ALLBIRDS
We know that brands respond when they hear from their customers. So, we always recommend you contact brands' sales or support lines to share your interest in their sustainability practices. And if you want to see them improve, ask them:
1. Thank you for your industry-leading sustainability efforts. With that in mind, it would be helpful to see more details about your materials’ lifecycle impacts and third-party certifications. Can you share anything on that?
2. I’m so glad to see you’re carbon neutral. But I’d love to learn more about other elements of your supply chain like the factory production processes. What chemicals are used to treat the materials and adhesives to bond the materials?
Here’s their contact information:
• Customer support: 888-963-8944
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Text message: 814-251-9966
Details of Allbird's sustainability efforts
I focus on five elements of a leading sustainability program: (1) Sustainable leadership, (2), Sustainable materials, (3) Sustainable production, (4) Sustainable quality, and (5) Sustainable transparency. In each category, I post their claims, as well as the substantiation (proof) if any is provided. In some cases, I also include a brief analysis of my own.
01 SUSTAINABLE LEADERSHIP
Certified B Corporation: B Impact Score of 89.4 (https://bcorporation.net/directory/allbirds-inc)
Sustainability executives: Three employees focus on sustainability according to Linkedin.
Claim: “we’re going carbon neutral for our entire supply chain.” // Substantiation: “All of our projects are independently certified to internationally recognized standards” (does not specify the third-party).
Claim: “As Allbirds invests in regenerative agriculture, particularly in the areas where it sources its own raw materials—like eucalyptus and wool—it will be able to reduce the carbon footprint of every shoe it produces.” (https://www.fastcompany.com/90449243/exclusive-allbirds-plans-a-big-step-toward-radical-sustainability-in-the-age-of-climate-change) // Substantiation: None specified.
Claim: “Allbirds open-sourced the recipe for this foam and has so far introduced more than 100 shoe brands to Braskem [foam for the soles of shoes made from sugarcane], and at least 20 will be releasing shoes in 2020 with this sugar-based foam.” (https://www.fastcompany.com/90449243/exclusive-allbirds-plans-a-big-step-toward-radical-sustainability-in-the-age-of-climate-change) // Substantiation: None specified.
No participation: Textile Exchange’s Material Change Index
Claim: “When a customer returns a pair of lightly worn Allbirds that we can’t resell, we donate it to our partner organization Soles4Souls.” // Substantiation: No details provided.
02 SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS
Claim: “Our process uses 60% less energy than materials used in typical synthetic shoes.” // Substantiation: “ZQ Certified Merino Wool” // Analysis: ZQ does not have much public information about its certification, but I see it is aligned with the Responsible Wool Standard, so it looks credible.
Castor bean oil:
Claim: “Castor bean oil helps us increase the natural content in our insoles.” // Analysis: While it is natural, it is not necessarily environmentally-friendly to produce (see http://www.linnaeus.net/problem_with_castor.htm)
Claim: “Sourced from South African farms that minimize fertilizer and rely on rainfall, not irrigation. Compared to traditional materials like cotton, it uses 95% less water and cuts our carbon footprint in half.” // Substantiation: FSC® Certification. // Analysis: This is produced from eucalyptus or bamboo and is typically considered more sustainable when from an FSC Certified source.
Claim: "The sugarcane used to make SweetFoam™ is sourced from southern Brazil, where it relies on rainwater, not irrigation. It’s a fully renewable resource that grows quickly, removing carbon from the atmosphere in the process.” // Substantiation: Proforest audited by a third party. // Analysis: Does not define the third-party.
Claim: “We reimagined shoe packaging, using 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard that serves as a shoebox, shopping bag, and mailer all in one.” // Substantiation: None provided.
03 SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION
I couldn’t find anything about their production processes, chemical usage, etc.
Claim: “maximize ocean shipping rather than air shipping, increase energy efficiency, and purchase renewable energy” // Analysis: These are good practices, but no details were provided.
04 SUSTAINABLE QUALITY
We need to understand how long their products last – the higher-quality and longer-lasting, the better its sustainability profile.
05 SUSTAINABLE TRANSPARENCY
Sustainability report: None provided.
Website: Basic information is easily accessible on its website about the materials it uses, but not about its production processes.
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