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Flower Power: Cole Haan Turns Dandelions Into Sustainable Sneaker Outsoles

Cole Haan has added dandelion rubber to the footwear industry’s growing roster of plant-based alternative materials.

Released Thursday, the Generation Zerogrand II is the American lifestyle brand’s first sneaker to feature its patent-pending FlowerFoam. The lightweight material, utilized in the shoe’s outsole, is made from a minimum of 25 percent natural dandelion rubber, Cole Haan said.

The company’s “first-ever sustainable shoe” features a range of other eco-friendly materials as well. Its upper includes vegan microfiber suede made from 21 percent recycled content and reconstituted felt fabric made with 85 percent recycled plastic bottles (rPET). The laces are 100 percent rPET. The OrthoLite footbed is made with 5 percent recycled rubber and 15 percent production waste foam.

In addition to introducing FlowerFoam, the Generation Zerogrand II also kicked off Cole Haan’s new Change Forward initiative. The sustainability-centered push “represents the company’s intention to better themselves and the world around them” and will see it incorporate naturally derived and recycled materials “for many of its product components,” Cole Haan said. The initiative will also extend work it has undertaken in the past several years to reduce waste in its supply chain, including by using recycled materials in packaging and shipping cartons.

Cole Haan's Generation Zerogrand II introduces its dandelion-based FlowerFoam outsole

Moving forward, Cole Haan products labeled “Sustainable” will include a minimum of 25 percent naturally derived or recycled content by weight, the brand said. Though the company said it will “undoubtedly” develop measurement and reporting mechanisms to share its progress, it hasn’t yet unveiled any formal sustainability roadmap.

“We have been redefining footwear for nearly a century and we’ve always sought to bring innovative products to our consumers,” brand president David Maddocks said in a statement. “Today, and tomorrow, we’re now innovating for their environment through our Change Forward initiative. Our entire company is excited to bring this product to market and transform our product line through this initiative.”

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The Generation Zerogrand II dropped Thursday on Cole Haan’s website and at its stores. The men’s and women’s sizes come in a broad range of colors and retail for $130, with further colorways to arrive in the upcoming months. Additional sustainable styles—including others that utilize its dandelion-based innovation—are coming “soon,” the brand said.Cole Haan's Generation Zerogrand II introduces its dandelion-based FlowerFoam outsole

“We believe we all need to do our part to protect our planet,” CEO Jack Boys said in a statement. “More than ever, saving Mother Earth requires a sense of urgency. While we know our sustainable Generation Zerogrand II product delivers the all-day performance our customers have come to expect, we also urge everyone to choose sustainable products in all aspects of their lives, regardless of the brand or retailer.”

As Boys acknowledged, Cole Haan is far from the only brand targeting the Earth-conscious consumer. Ugg and Allbirds, for example, have both rolled out sugarcane-derived outsoles. The green technology company Algix, meanwhile, has brought its algae-based Bloom materials to dozens of sneaker brands, including Adidas, Puma and Reebok. Timberland, too, is designing footwear for disassembly and exploring bio-based materials.