Allbirds unveiled its net-zero carbon M0.0NSHOT sneaker on Tuesday.
The shoe’s 0 kg carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO₂e, footprint compares with the industry average of 14kg CO₂e. Carbon dioxide equivalent factors in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
“This one has been our dream for a long time,” Jad Finck, Allbirds’ vice president of innovation and sustainability, told Sourcing Journal of the shoe, which will retail starting in 2024. While the company has long used carbon offsets to zero-out any emissions generated by materials and production, this time it went back to the drawing board to “reimagine” the way it makes shoes. “Reversing climate change through better business is the Allbirds mission, and when it comes to that, it’s all about carbon, carbon, carbon,” Finck said.
The project builds on what Allbirds learned from the Futurecraft.Footprint runner it released with Adidas, which at the time was the lowest net emissions sneaker available. “Our Adidas project was our biggest step in this direction, which involved moving a running shoe to under 3kg CO₂e for the full lifecycle of a pair of shoes,” Finck said. “We got to 2.94kg CO₂e, and thought, ‘Ok, what’s our moonshot? How do we get to 0.0?’”
Allbirds has strengthened its bio-materials lineup and revamped its supply chain to reach the M0.0NSHOT’s net-zero emissions goal. Of the five phases of carbon accounting, including materials, manufacturing, transportation, use an end of life, “the lion’s share of that is usually the first two—the materials the manufacturing,” Finck said.
Known for its washable merino wool uppers, Allbirds has invested in cultivating partnerships with the New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) and regenerative growers at Lake Hawea Station (LHS) in New Zealand. “Sheep generally come with a lot of land, and that land can be an amazing carbon sink—it absorbs carbon through trees, woody biomass, bushes, ground cover, and it also gets absorbed into the soil,” Finck said. Regenerative farming practices can enhance that absorption using techniques like rotational grazing. “It’s a beautiful kind of symbiosis because you’re actually helping the farmers, your partners, restore the health of their soil,” he added.
Alongside NZM, which pioneered the ZQ Regenerative Index (ZQRX) platform, Allbirds is spearheading a novel method of quantifying a product’s carbon footprint, which accounts for materials and lifecycle processes that both capture and emit carbon. The holistic assessment tool will be open-sourced across the industry. “We believe this will revolutionize the path to net zero, and act as rocket-fuel for the entire industry,” Allbirds head of sustainability Hana Kajimura said.
The approach “supports growers in their efforts to maintain, enhance, and increase carbon sequestration by giving them credit for land management that draws down carbon,” NZM regenerative transformation manager Donna Chan said, describing it as “a necessary step if we are to incentivize a shift towards regeneration and support changes being made on farms today.” Finck said Allbirds plans to source wool exclusively from regenerative farms by 2025.
Carbon-negative sugarcane-based foam midsole
Allbirds’ SuperLight updates the SweetFoam carbon-negative sugarcane-based midsole it developed in 2018. The new and improved version has higher bio-content (80 percent) and uses a special foaming process.
Unlike traditional injection-molded foams, which use chemical reactions to create the tiny bubbles that creates the material’s airy lightness, SuperLight is made by infusing gas with pressure. “It doesn’t rely on a chemical reaction, so there’s less ingredients, and you can include more of this magical element”—the carbon-negative sugarcane EVA that powers the SweetFoam technology, Finck said. “We’re able to get a lower carbon footprint from the resulting midsole,” which is also the brand’s lightest to date.
Allbirds is moving into the realm of bioplastics through a new partnership with material innovator Mango Materials. The California company’s organic process converts methane—a gas emitted through farming and industrial operations, that is 30 times more impactful than CO2 in driving global warming—into polymer that can be molded into plastic pieces such as eyelets.
The technology is driven by “a microorganism that is able to metabolize methane as its feedstock,” Finck said. “The beautiful part is the contrast to what has powered the performance footwear market for many decades—petroleum, fossil fuel, dirty oil and gas”—the resources that make up the plastic inputs, fabrics and foams in the vast majority of shoes.
“Instead, we can start with a renewable bio-source,” and allow it to feed upon harmful emissions, capturing carbon that would normally be released into the atmosphere, he said. “And it’s not just sequestering [carbon] somewhere inert—it’s putting it to use in something that has value to consumers.”
The resulting polymer “can be used in many ways,” Finck added. While Allbirds is starting with a relatively small shoe component—the eyelets—the technology offers additional applications.
Packaging and transport
Allbirds has developed a more carbon-efficient packaging solution that reduces the space and weight required for transport, made with a sugarcane-derived, carbon-negative polyethylene. It has also invested in biofuel-powered ocean shipping and electric trucking from port to warehouse.
“Creating a net zero carbon shoe that is commercially viable and scalable is the culmination of our entire back-catalog of work,” Allbirds co-founder and co-CEO Tim Brown said. “M0.0NSHOT isn’t a silver bullet for the climate crisis—it’s a proof-point that, when we take sustainability seriously, and are laser focused on carbon reduction, we can make incredible breakthroughs.”
M0.0NSHOT will be revealed at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen on June 27.