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Adidas and Allbirds race towards ultra-sustainable future in new sports shoe JV

May 28, 2020
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Sports giant Adidas and niche footwear disruptor Allbirds are teaming upto push the boundaries of what’s possible in sustainability by setting out to accomplish something that has never been done before: to develop a sports performance shoe with the lowest ever carbon footprint”.

Adidas is moving as fast as it can with Allbirds to make sports shoes more sustainable

The two brands said they will “explore innovations across their entire supply chains with the aim of developing a product to launch in 2021”.

It’s an interesting move that puts sustainability back centre stage as global lockdowns are eased and also important for the intention that sets out rather than the specific development that has already happened.

The companies said “their ultimate benchmark for success” will also be to have a wider influence and “create an industry shift in how brands globally develop and manufacture products with the ambition to accelerate the critical race to achieve carbon-neutrality”.

The collaborative project wants to “accelerate solutions to reduce the 700m metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by the footwear industry annually”. And it will focus on all aspects of footwear production from manufacturing to the supply chain, exploring renewable material resources. Currently, the average running shoe has a carbon footprint of approximately 13.6 kg CO2, the two firms said. 

And they also emphasised that they wouldn't compromise on performance, a sensible move given that a sustainable shoe that really sells needs to be one that both athletes and other consumers can wear in the same way they would less sustainable options. It accepts that consumers won’t necessarily buy something that is very planet-friendly but doesn’t do the job as well as a more polluting product does.

As part of all this, both of them will “open the doors to each other’s suite of sustainable innovations and unlock the opportunity to set a new industry standard in the fight against climate change”.

And that’s a fight that’s likely to have an even higher profile in the months and years ahead. The world's attention has been focused on the coronavirus crisis for several months now, but one thing has also come out of much what's been talked about during this time, and that’s numerous governments’, businesses’ and consumers’ determination to boost sustainability post-pandemic.

“Our brands don’t want to just participate in the sustainability conversation, we want to continue being catalysts and creators of substantial improvement,” said James Carnes, VP of Adidas Brand Strategy. “The recent progress that our brands have made in the name of sustainable innovation has created the perfect momentum for this partnership to influence industry practices forever.

And Allbirds co-CEO Tim Brown added: “There is an urgent need to reduce our global carbon number, and this mission is bigger than just Allbirds or Adidas, Whether we realise it or not, this is a race that we are all running together as a planet and it is one that trumps the day-to-day competition of individual companies. I am hopeful that this partnership will be an example for others to follow as we pursue a more sustainable, net zero carbon future.”

They’ll analyse their output using Allbirds’ life cycle assessment tool, which measures the end-to-end carbon emissions and said the “great hope is that this partnership will catalyse other people to share both their best ideas and research so that we can work together in the fight to live more sustainably. This is a problem that won't be solved by one company alone.”

This sentiment also echoes others that have been heard during the crisis period with a wide range of competitive businesses having worked together to achieve certain community goals.

Adidas has already committed to a 30% reduction in its carbon footprint by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 as part of its End Plastic Waste initiative. Allbirds, meanwhile, is focused on being a 100% carbon-neutral business.

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