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 THOUSAND FELL
Thousand Fell has clearly put a lot of thought into minimizing – and in some cases eliminating – the impacts of its shoes. For a younger brand, it has strong sustainability commitments, primarily uses natural or recycled materials, and has a circularity program in place (shoe recycling). It is also in the process of applying to become a Certified B Corp. These are some of the major elements of a strong brand sustainability program.
I would like to see more information (and especially data) on its production practices, as well as third-party certification to substantiate its claims. Also, it would be valuable to see an impact report from the company.
WHAT TO ASK OF THOUSAND FELL
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. Would you consider getting third-party certifications to confirm the sustainability of the materials you use in your shoes, as well as your ethical production practices?
2. Can you please produce an impact report that describes Thousand Fell’s sourcing and production practices, complete with data about your supply chain, materials, and other practices?
Here’s their contact information:
• Email: email@example.com
Do you know something I didn’t find? Tell me and I’ll update this.
Details of Thousand Fell'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: Thousand Fell is pending a B Corp Certification
Sustainability executives: Founders and at least one consultant work on sustainability at Thousand Fell.
Claim: “We’re dedicated to push circularity and responsible design mainstream. Our team has more than 5 decades of combined experience at the cutting edge of the footwear industry.”
Claim: “Every pair of Thousand Fell is backed by our commitment to building a better future and is always ready to recycle. When you’re done with yours, we’ll be here to take them back and keep them out of a landfill, whether by refurbishing them and donating them to someone in need or by ensuring that their raw materials are reused.” // Analysis: I am glad to see they have a take-back program; the details are outlined below.
Claim: “Sourcing materials with lower energy, water and carbon footprints. Sourcing materials as close as possible to our factory. Incorporating previously recycled materials and naturally regenerative materials into new products. Designing out waste and pollution across the manufacturing process.” // Analysis: As commitments, these are some of the strongest in the industry. However, words are meaningless without actions, so my detailed analysis in the materials section is most relevant.
Claim: “Design into materials that can either easily, safely and quickly biodegrade or that can be reclaimed for recycling. Design into products that can be taken apart for recycling.” // Analysis: same as above.
Claim: “Creating sneakers takes resources. Our circular system means replenishing what we use and leaving the planet better than how we found it. One way we do this is through carbon and water offsets - taking carbon out of the air to account for the carbon we contribute and replenishing the water we use. We are also a member of 1% For The Planet where we will be funding projects and non profits that give back to the environment.” // Analysis: Carbon offsets are not rare, but certainly not uncommon. Water offsets are much more unique among brands’ sustainability efforts. However, the details are not described on Thousand Fell’s website, so without third-party certification, it is difficult to know the value of these offsets.
Claim: “We aim to establish a new standard for sourcing and design that challenges the industry. We believe that, go forward, all design should begin with end of life and product circularity in mind.”
Sustainability collaboration: Several partnerships are described elsewhere in this analysis.
Design: “We have purposefully designed into specific materials for Thousand Fell sneakers that can easily be taken apart and that can all have a second life - partially within our own supply chain and partially upcycled into new projects here in the US.” // Analysis: This is a leadership activity amongst the footwear industry. Most shoes are designed with blended materials that cannot easily be separated and recycled.
Collection: Thousand Fell has a shoe collection program and a $20 incentive for people who send their used shoes in. They refurbish them and donate them through Soles4Soles, or recycle their component parts into new shoes if possible. // Analysis: I’m glad to see they have an program that incentivizes customers to return their used shoes for recycling.
02 SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS
Claim: “We always select materials that are responsibly sourced. We also only source materials that can either be biodegraded, recycled to make new shoes, or upcycled into materials for new projects.” // Analysis: This is a great commitment for more sustainable materials. The specific materials in their shoes are analyzed below.
Aloe vera: Claim: “We’ve coated our soft touch mesh sock liner with aloe vera - a natural and sustainable way to combat bacteria and keep your sneakers fresh!” // Analysis: I haven’t found much information about the environmental impacts of aloe vera, but it looks to be a plant that requires little water and few agricultural inputs, as it grows naturally in desert climates.
Natural & recycled rubber: Claim: “Pure, plant-based, and sustainable. Stronger & more elastic than synthetics. We worked closely with a net zero emissions natural rubber supplier to develop a clean and abrasion resistant outsole. For our insole we have partnered with a recycled rubber supplier to have you standing on a yoga mat.” // Analysis: It would be valuable for Thousand Fell to share more details about the origins of its natural rubber (including any third-party certifications), and also the percent of recycled versus virgin rubber in its shoes.
Castor bean: Claim: “We worked with a sustainable mattress company to develop a breathable castor bean oil based foam for footwear.” // Analysis: While it is natural, it is not necessarily environmentally-friendly to produce (see http://www.linnaeus.net/problem_with_castor.htm)
Recycled bottles: Claim: “We’ve worked across our supply chain with recycled plastics - that can then be used again. Our bio-leather is made from recycled plastic bottles and is coated with a bio based resin made from corn waste.” // Analysis: This is a good material to use, as it keeps plastics out of landfills, increases the demand for plastics recycling, and is the preferable alternative to virgin plastic.
Palm leaf fibers: Claim: “We use locally sourced palm leaf fibers from food waste in Brazil to replace many of the plastic component parts commonly found in footwear.” // Analysis: Palm production (primarily for palm oil) is fueling deforestation of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. I assume Thousand Fell’s palm leaves are a by-product of that industry, so it would be valuable to have a third-party certification on the sustainability of the palm cultivation.
Coconut husk: Claim: “We use locally sourced coconut husk fibers from food waste in Brazil to replace many of the plastic component parts commonly found in footwear.” // Analysis: It would be valuable to have a third-party certification on the sustainability of the coconut production, even if the husks are a by-product.
Sugar cane: Claim: “We use locally sourced sugar cane fibers from food waste in Brazil to replace many of the plastic component parts commonly found in footwear.” // Analysis: It would be valuable to have a third-party certification on the sustainability of the sugar cane production.
Quartz: Claim: “Durability is the first step to sustainability. We’ve coated our shoes with a natural quartz barrier to make them stain and water resistant. Keep your white shoes white longer!” // Analysis: Unfortunately I cannot find much information on the sustainability of using quartz in apparel or footwear products. It would be valuable for Thousand Fell to provide more information in this regard.
Leather alternatives: Claim: “And while yes, many synthetic leather options used to be bad for the environment because they were PVC based — and many still are — there has been so much great material innovation over the past decade. Now we can use recycled plastics and food waste to create leather substitutes — that we know are better than leather! Our current bio leather has been through a lifecycle analysis to track the full environmental cost and has a 24x lower environmental cost than the average leather.” // Analysis: PVC based leathers do have a poor environmental footprint, and the alternative leathers that Thousand Fell describes are generally thought to be better. I’m glad to see they have performed a lifecycle analysis, which is the most definite method for determining environmentally preferable materials.
Packaging: Claim: “we have eliminated all tissue paper and single use plastics from our packaging…we have partnered with Justa Trama a nonprofit in Brazil to wrap your sneakers in an organic cotton tote bag, please repurpose and reuse! …We are also delivering your sneakers in a shoe box that doubles as a shipping box to cut down on cardboard. All cardboard is recyclable, FSC certified, traceable, and manufactured in a facility that is carbon, water, and energy neutral. Even our tapes and our stickers meet these standards!” // Analysis: Cotton tote bags have a high footprint (since it takes significant energy and water to cultivate cotton), but its lifecycle impacts are reduced if you use it many times. As for the cardboard, using FSC certified is the industry leading option, and its especially beneficial to cut down on material use when items are shipped in one box rather than a box-within-a-box.
03 SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION
Regions of production: “Our shoes are made down the road from sugar cane fields and coffee farms in Franca, Brazil…They are crafted in a family owned factory with three decades of high end shoemaking experience. By working in a smaller factory we are able to keep excess inventory low and quality high.”
Ethical practices: No information provided.
Chemical usage: No information provided.
Production processes: No information provided.
Shipping: “Shipping has an environmental impact and one of the biggest contributors is the “last mile” where packages travel from the local shipping center to your front door. In order to solve part of this problem, we are using bike messengers and local micro warehouses to deliver sneakers to our customers in NYC.” // Analysis: Few younger brands are considering the impacts of shipping, so it’s good to see that Thousand Fell has some innovative strategies to address it.
04 SUSTAINABLE QUALITY
Claim: “Our products are made to last–and built to recycle.” // Analysis: Share any information you know about the quality of Thousand Fell’s products. 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: Details provided about their sustainable practices and material use. Data on their energy and water consumption, carbon emissions generated, volumes of material used and wasted, and other production data would be valuable.
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