Silicon Valley’s favorite footwear brand is facing a class-action lawsuit.
In a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York earlier this summer, lead plaintiff Patricia Dwyer accused Allbirds of peddling “false, deceptive and misleading” sustainability and animal-welfare claims about its signature wool sneakers through advertisements that are “replete with eco-friendly phrases.”
Dwyer, who purchased one or more pairs this year, alleged that she wouldn’t have shelled out for the full sticker price if Allbirds hadn’t “misrepresented” attributes such as their low carbon footprint, which the lawsuit claimed is based on incomplete life-cycle assessments (LCA) and unreliable industry-sourced data.
The complaint cited animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA), which notes on its website that Alllbirds’s LCA tool only measures the carbon footprint of each product but not the environmental impact of wool production, such as land and water use. The Higg Materials Sustainability Index, it added, calculates that the carbon footprint of wool accounts for just over half of wool’s total environmental impact. “This means that Allbirds’s LCA is excluding almost half of wool’s environmental impact,” the lawsuit said.
Dwyer and company also took aim at the close-to-IPO brand’s promotion of “happy” sheep, which they said hides behind “empty welfare policies that do little to stop animal suffering.”
“If Allbirds were required to either truthfully disclose the practices which provide the wool for its shoes, or if it refrained from representing its ‘humane’ and ‘animal-friendly’ attributes, fewer people would buy the shoes,” the complaint read. It quoted PETA again, insisting that wool “comes from sheep who live horribly and are eventually killed in the wool industry.”
“Based on investigations into more than 100 large-scale wool operations, most of which had been promoted in the same terms used by Allbirds—as ‘sustainable’ and ‘responsible’—‘workers beat, stomped on, cut open the skin of, and slit the throats of conscious, struggling sheep,’” it added.
The plaintiffs charged the latest activewear entrant of both “stonewall[ing]” any inquiries into its wool sourcing and “pass[ing] the buck” about its wool sourcing to the New Zealand Merino Company, whose ZQ Merino wool Allbirds touts and with which the brand is promoting regenerative agricultural practices. “ZQ Marino’s [sic] website reveals serious gaps in its ability to ensure that ‘sheep live the good life,’” the complaint said, claiming that “slaughter and transportation—during which much abuse occurs—are not necessarily covered under the ZQ certification.”
But shoes aren‘t the complaint‘s only target. Dwyer et. al. further took issue with the certified B Corp’s use of discarded crab shells for some of its cotton-free T-shirts, which they averred isn’t “better for the planet.”
“This is because Allbirds purchases ‘shells from the Canadian snow crab industry, which is an inherently harmful industry,’ where ‘endangered whales are being caught in snow crab fishing gear, and climate change is threatening the population of snow crabs themselves,’ the lawsuit said, drawing on PETA’s previous statements once more.
Allbirds, the lawsuit continued, “obtained benefits and monies” because their shoes and other products were not “represented and expected, to the detriment and impoverishment of plaintiff and class members, who seek restitution and disgorgement of inequitably obtained profits,” along with legal costs.
In a motion to dismiss Dwyer’s case, Allbirds said it discloses its methodology “in minute detail” and that “there is no law or regulation that requires Allbirds to use the alternative calculation Dwyer prefers.” The brand said it stands “firmly behind” its commitment to sustainability and animal welfare and it “invests significant resources” to reduce its carbon footprint and prioritize natural materials such as ZQ-certified wool.
“While Allbirds touts these measures on its website, the complaint does not identify—and Allbirds does not make—any advertising statement that is misleading or measurably false. If Dwyer has decided since her alleged purchase that she is opposed to wool harvesting, she is entitled to refrain from buying wool-based goods, or to advocate against their sale,” the company said. “But she cannot leverage the [General Business Law] or New York common law to impose liability on Allbirds for making truthful statements that are neither false nor deceptive.”
Speaking to Sourcing Journal, Allbirds said the case lacks merit.
“Since day one, reducing our environmental impact and caring for the planet’s well-being have underpinned everything we do,” a spokesperson said. “We have numerous initiatives in place to reach carbon neutrality, ensure animal welfare in our sourcing and uphold the promises we make to our customers—developed with recognized third-party partners, who hold us accountable.”