Greenwashing Check: Is Allbirds As Sustainable As It Claims To Be?

Greenwashing Check: Is Allbirds As Sustainable As It Claims To Be?

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This page may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I have recommended. There is no additional cost to you whatsoever.

Even if the identify Allbirds doesn’t ring any bells, you’ll most likely acknowledge the model’s cozy wool sneakers. 

Founded in San Francisco in 2015 by biotech engineer and renewables professional Joey Zwillinger and former footballer Tim Brown, Allbirds has constructed its identify off sneakers comprised of wool, which it says is the extra sustainable selection. In half a decade, this Silicon Valley startup has grown to be a serious participant within the footwear {industry}. It’s been worn by tons of celebrities and garnered early funding from Leonardo DiCaprio, and has expanded to supply activewear and loungewear in equally minimalist designs and acutely aware supplies. By 2020, Allbirds was valued at $1.7 billion, and in August this 12 months, the model filed for what it’s calling a Sustainability IPO.

It’s extensively thought of a sustainable enterprise. Allbirds is a B Corp that’s recognized for inventing its personal supplies, in addition to pushing for better collaboration and transparency within the footwear {industry}. In July, the model introduced a ten step sustainability dedication referred to as the Allbirds Flight Plan which has the ambition to chop the model’s emission in half by 2025. 

But when an organization comes out with strains like “Reverse Climate Change Through Better Business,” one can’t assist however be slightly suspicious. Is Allbirds the sustainable disrupter we’re led to imagine? Let’s get into it.

allbirds sustainable sneakers trainers activewear

allbirds sustainable sneakers trainers activewear

Making Fewer But Better Sneakers… for Now

Allbirds launched with only one product, the Wool Runner, a light-weight, mechanically cleanable informal sneaker that Time journal referred to as “The World’s Most Comfortable Shoes”. Since that tremendous profitable first sneaker, the model’s providing has slowly expanded to efficiency trainers and informal footwear in a spread of muted colours. In 2019, it launched a small vary of socks, adopted by underwear in 2020, and in August this 12 months, the model launched activewear with a modest assortment of 5 womenswear items and two menswear items. By any model’s requirements, that’s a small product vary.  

“I believe their course of is the equal of sluggish vogue,” says Ken Pucker, senior lecturer at Tufts Fletcher School and advisory director of Berkshire Partners, who spent virtually 15 years because the chief working officer of footwear large Timberland. Pucker has simply co-authored a Harvard Business School case study of Allbirds. They introduce so few types yearly in comparison with large footwear corporations, they usually don’t have a product growth calendar that’s based mostly on velocity, it’s based mostly on innovation.”

Allbirds’ strategy to promoting footwear and attire is minimalist in each sense of the phrase, which is vital, contemplating the footwear {industry} historically depends on a daily roster of movie star collabs, new product drops and new ever-so-slightly-tweaked variations of their current sneakers. “I’ve tried to make us the other of Nike virtually,” Tim Brown told Glossy last year. “The preliminary thought of Allbirds was all concerning the discount of the shoe all the way down to its easiest type, which is the other of the streetwear mannequin, with small modifications and 1,000,000 completely different fashions.” 

What’s much less minimalist is the model’s ambition to scale. Allbirds’ founders have mentioned that since launching, the model has bought greater than eight million pairs of sneakers, and it’s obtained large plans to broaden bodily retail places (by 50% according to Bloomberg) and product choices. 

The query stays, can the model proceed to develop — and be a publicly-traded firm — whereas sustaining the environmental credentials which are core to its DNA?

allbirds sustainable and ethical sneakers trainers activewear

allbirds sustainable and ethical sneakers trainers activewear

Are Allbirds’ Materials Sustainable? 

Through a mixture of environmentally pleasant supplies and acutely aware manufacturing, Allbirds claims that its sneakers have a 30% smaller carbon footprint than a normal pair of sneakers in the marketplace. 

There are four main materials that Allbirds makes use of, together with Merino wool, Tencel Lyocell (a sustainable different to viscose), SweetFoam, a sugarcane-based EVA utilized in Allbirds shoe soles, and Trino, comprised of a mix of Merino wool and Lyocell. Allbirds shoelaces are comprised of recycled plastic bottles, recycled nylon will be discovered within the model’s activewear, and different items are comprised of TrinoXO – a cloth that incorporates chitosan, a compound comprised of crab shells. To perceive simply how a lot funding Allbirds put into supplies, let’s look nearer at two of its most outstanding ones.

Merino Wool

A local New Zealander, Brown has been working intently with the nation’s wool farmers to provide the hero materials for Allbirds sneakers. Allbirds works with ZQ Merino, a wool certification created by the {industry} group New Zealand Merino Company that ensures farms and suppliers meet excessive requirements of animal welfare, environmental care and social accountability. In March 2020, Allbirds and ZQ held the inaugural Regenerative Wool Summit in Christchurch, which introduced collectively 160 farmers from throughout the nation to teach them on regenerative farming practices. “Bringing carbon again into the soil by way of regenerative agriculture is likely one of the biggest alternatives to handle human and local weather well being, together with the monetary well-being of farmers throughout the globe,” states the model’s 2020 Sustainability report. Crucial to the model’s moral enlargement technique is encouraging the {industry}’s shift in direction of higher farming practices, and by 2025 it goals to supply 100% of its wool from regenerative farms. 

Not everyone seems to be satisfied by the model’s efforts. Earlier this 12 months, a class-action lawsuit was filed towards Allbirds claiming that the corporate has greenwashed customers to imagine that the model’s sneakers are extra sustainable and moral than they really are. The go well with, filed in New York by a girl referred to as Patricia Dwyer, cites a PETA article that accuses each Allbirds and ZQ Merino of leaving out among the environmental impacts of their wool, in addition to refusing to offer PETA entry to extra details about the residing situations of sheep on the farms. The go well with additionally claims that ZQ’s audits, which occur each three years, don’t do sufficient to forestall the abuse of animals within the wool provide chain.

Further studying of the article and lawsuit means that PETA and Dwyer have a difficulty with the usage of wool altogether, not simply Allbirds and ZQ’s wool particularly. PETA points to “luxurious animal-free choices” with out going into element about what these alternate options are. 

Considering the prominence of wool in Allbird’s merchandise, in addition to wool’s distinctive promoting factors that function closely within the model’s advertising and marketing (breathable, temperature regulating, moisture-wicking), it appears unlikely that Allbirds will probably be divesting from this fiber any time quickly. 


The overwhelming majority of footwear soles are comprised of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), a rubbery foam that’s derived from petroleum. In 2018, Allbirds introduced a partnership with Brazilian petrochemical firm Braskem. Together they created a bio-based, carbon-negative EVA comprised of Brazilian sugarcane — a rainwater fed, renewable crop that removes carbon from the environment because it grows. CandyFoam, as Allbirds name it, was named certainly one of Time’s best inventions of 2018, and is now used all through their whole footwear vary. Allbirds claims that, whereas manufacturing a daily kilogram of petroleum-based EVA emits 1.8 kilograms of CO₂e, “CandyFoam materials really removes 1.2 kilograms of CO₂e per kilogram of fabric produced.”  Allbirds has not offered a third-party certificates testifying to this determine, nonetheless.

Allbirds’ Water, Energy and Carbon Footprints

Allbirds has set out bold targets for 2025 round its energy and water usage. What is unclear, nonetheless, is the model’s present utilization of those assets — the 2020 Sustainability report skims over this to concentrate on future commitments. 

Water is recognized as one of many model’s 5 foundational subjects (alongside truthful labor, chemistry, animal welfare, and traceability and transparency) within the 2020 report, however particulars on this are scarce. Allbirds prioritizes supplies which are water-efficient, like Tencel’s Lyocell — made utilizing a closed-loop process, the place 99% of the water used is recycled — and Sweetfoam, which comes from a rainfed supply crop. The model additionally says it’s dedicated to measuring and lowering water consumption inside its Tier 1 and a pair of suppliers, however doesn’t give particulars. Part of the 2025 Flight Plan technique is to persuade 100% of its clients to scrub their trainers with chilly water, though it’s not clear how this might be achieved — at present, the model provides clients with suggested care instructions.

Energy (which Allbirds defines as “electrical energy and gasoline throughout supplies processing, manufacturing, transportation, and buyer care”) makes up round three-fourths of the model’s carbon footprint, so it’s making fairly spectacular commitments to lowering its use. By 2025, it’s aiming to make use of 100% renewable vitality throughout Allbirds workplaces, retail shops, and Tier 1 suppliers, which the model says it’ll obtain by working with factories positioned in areas with cleaner grids, and dealing with suppliers on vitality effectivity measures in addition to encouraging “low carbon supplies.” The model offered no additional info on how this might be achieved. Allbirds additionally plans to make use of 95% ocean transport by 2025 (versus extra carbon-intensive air freight) which might be a rise from 80% in 2020. It must be famous that Tier 1 suppliers, which is fabrication, use a a lot smaller proportion of vitality in comparison with Tier 2, 3 and 4 suppliers: dyeing, ending, materials manufacturing, and uncooked materials extraction.

Allbirds has been carbon neutral since 2019 when it turned a founding member of Climate Neutral, a nonprofit that helps manufacturers cut back their footprint partly by offsetting their emissions by way of environmental tasks. Since becoming a member of, the model has used carbon credit to offset 100% of its emissions by funding initiatives together with the Big Smile Wind Farm, Envira Amazonia Project, Argentina Regenerative Wool and the Montana Grazing Project, among others. Allbirds’ key purpose is to cut back the model’s carbon by way of regenerative agriculture, renewable supplies, and accountable vitality. 

On the environmental facet, I believe they’re actually fairly good,” says Pucker. “I believe that they’re genuine about their claims, and I believe the plan they’ve laid out for changing into a net-zero emitter is official, aggressive and knowledgeable.”  

allbirds sustainable sneakers trainers and activewear

allbirds sustainable sneakers trainers and activewear

Open Sourcing, Collaboration & Investments

Allbirds’ funding in materials innovation isn’t only for the model’s profit. After convincing Braskem to adapt its manufacturing facility techniques with a purpose to make CandyFoam, Allbirds open-sourced the recipe in order that the remainder of the footwear {industry} may undertake inexperienced EVA too. Timberland has since embraced the fabric, renaming it GreenStride, whereas Puma’s inexperienced EVA known as Better Foam. TOMS, Dansko and different manufacturers have since included inexperienced EVA into eco capsule collections. 

Similarly, in April, Allbirds shared its proprietary carbon footprint calculator, a life cycle evaluation software that helps a model perceive its carbon footprint, in addition to its carbon labelling template, with the {industry}. “Our nice hope is that this may catalyze different individuals to share the science [behind their products], and it’s going to take a while,” Brown told Vogue last year. The LCA was created to fill a spot within the {industry} for auditing instruments, believes Pucker. “I believe Allbirds was daring to give you their very own product [the LCA system] and be keen to share it,” he says. While Pucker doesn’t disagree that an goal third-party group must be creating and overseeing these evaluation instruments, “They’re not saying they received’t take part in an industry-standard,” he says. “But the absence of one thing led them to say: ‘we’re not going to attend.’”

Allbirds has additionally teamed up with Adidas on a shoe collaboration referred to as FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT, set to be launched in 2022. (Turns out the “reverse of Nike” is Adidas.) The partnership, introduced final 12 months, has the ambition to create a shoe with a carbon output of lower than 2 kg (round 5 kg lower than the output of an Allbirds shoe).

Allbirds is not any stranger to in search of funding, however the firm has additionally invested in 5 different corporations, together with Natural Fiber Welding, which creates a plant-based leather-based substitute that Allbirds seems set to introduce into its vary this December.

allbirds sustainable sneakers trainers and activewear

allbirds sustainable sneakers trainers and activewear

Lack of Labor Transparency

As a B Corp enterprise, Allbirds is required to have a “triple bottom line” that values individuals, the planet and revenue — this consists of paying residing wages, guaranteeing secure and truthful working situations, and offering alternatives for progress and growth to its staff all through the availability chain. The minimal rating a model must qualify as a B Corp is a rating of 80/150, and at present, Allbirds scrapes in at 89.4, however B Corp doesn’t present any info on how this rating is damaged down. 

One space the place Allbirds shares little or no info is on the garment staff that make its merchandise in nations together with the U.S, Peru and Indonesia. In 2020, Allbirds labored with solely nine Tier 1 factories, nonetheless, there’s no info obtainable on manufacturing facility names, the outcomes of manufacturing facility audits, or areas for enchancment. In truth, in its 42-page sustainability report, solely two pages of data is given to manufacturing companions. As is changing into {industry} normal, Allbirds has a publicly obtainable provider Code of Conduct coverage in addition to a quick doc on its factory auditing process.

As of September, Good On You gave Allbirds a “not ok” rating for its labor transparency (and an total “it’s a begin” mark), whereas Remake gave the model 28/100 points in its affect evaluation. Workers wellbeing doesn’t come into any of the model’s 10 quantitative commitments for 2025, though truthful labor is printed within the 2020 report. The model’s initiatives round truthful labor embody conducting a wage evaluation of Tier 1 suppliers, and supporting staff in areas affected by local weather change, though the small print of those initiatives are unspecific. This shortage of data doesn’t essentially point out that the model’s manufacturing companions aren’t as much as scratch, however contemplating transparency is such a sizzling matter (and given the model’s open and collaborative actions elsewhere within the enterprise) it’s value asking why there’s a lack of detailed info the place Allbirds’ garment staff are involved.

allbirds sustainable sneakers trainers and activewear

allbirds sustainable sneakers trainers and activewear

Our Conclusion

We reached out to Allbirds for extra info, however they declined to remark citing the SEC-mandated quiet interval after submitting for an IPO. 

So is Allbirds an ideal firm? No.  We want they’d do extra to again up a few of their claims with third-party certifications. But it’s truthful to say it’s a younger model that’s made large strides to enhance the footwear {industry}, not only for its personal sake, however for its rivals too. From open-sourcing info to investing in and inventing new supplies, it’s ambitiously difficult the established order of the {industry} by wanting on the larger image (the local weather emergency) to tell its technique. 

Industry veterans like Pucker can’t price them extremely sufficient. Their strategy to supplies growth and innovation is spectacular,” he says. “I believe their transparency about their footprint and their intentions for net-zero is admittedly good, and their concentrate on collaborations — like a partnership with Adidas — ostensibly a competitor, is superior. They’re in search of to affect the {industry}.” 

Materials are clearly the model’s largest focus, but it surely’s onerous to disregard that there’s a obvious omission in its reporting: staff’ rights and security, which function solely briefly in its future technique. Overall, Allbirds is making tangible commitments to changing into as sustainable as potential, with a various portfolio of tasks that might assist it obtain these targets. If you’re available in the market for a sneaker that’s extra sustainably made, you would do worse than Allbirds. 

Let’s simply cross our fingers that there are not any labor scandals lurking in its provide chain.

allbirds sustainable and ethical sneakers trainers

allbirds sustainable and ethical sneakers trainers