This article is sponsored by Amazon.
Last year, Climate Pledge signatory Brooks Running introduced its first carbon neutral running shoe. Sally Fouts, Amazon’s global leader of The Climate Pledge, sat down with David Kemp, Brooks’ senior manager of corporate responsibility, to learn about that product development, plans for more carbon neutral innovations and his advice for other textile and apparel companies curious about pivoting their product materials and company operations to prioritize the planet.
Sally Fouts: The Ghost 14 shoe — Brooks’ first net-zero carbon product — is exemplary of the fact that sustainability doesn’t have to sacrifice style. Tell us how your team was able to lower the carbon footprint of the Ghost 14 and make it carbon neutral.
David Kemp: Our efforts to make the Ghost 14 carbon neutral started with reducing its carbon emissions. The focus on reducing emissions for the Ghost 14 was on incorporating more recycled materials in the shoe's upper. Almost all upper textiles have now been converted to contain a minimum of 30 percent recycled polyester, and many are 100 percent recycled polyester — including the sockliner top cloth, tongue lining [and] toe box reinforcement. These efforts resulted in 59 percent of the upper textile raw material inputs being recycled in the Ghost 14. These are all significant improvements over previous versions of the Ghost. Some additional highlights include: vamp mesh made from material that is 45 percent recycled polyester, tongue mesh made from material that is 33 percent recycled polyester, and heel mesh made from material that is 86 percent recycled nylon.
We then compensate for the remaining carbon emissions we have not yet been able to reduce with carbon offsets to make an immediate impact to help address climate change. As you can imagine, this was a collaborative effort across our Footwear and Corporate Responsibility teams. The Footwear team was responsible for helping to reduce the carbon emissions of the Ghost 14 by selecting materials with recycled content. The Corporate Responsibility team then took on the task of the Life Cycle Assessment to calculate the carbon emissions of the Ghost 14 across its entire lifecycle.
We worked closely with our Carbon Offset partner, ClimateCare, to select high-quality carbon offsets credits from projects that meet leading international standards within the voluntary carbon offset market (Verra, Gold Standard, ACR and others) which ensures the credits are additional, permanent, quantifiable and verifiable. We carefully selected ClimateCare as our carbon offset partner, as they go the extra mile by undertaking additional due diligence beyond these standards to manage potential risks and maintain quality. Finally, we prioritize projects that align with climate science and lead to clear social and environmental impact, such as improving air quality, and health and well-being.
Fouts: How was the product received by customers?
Kemp: The Ghost 14 continues to be the brand’s highest volume-selling shoe — with the carbon neutral design allowing Brooks to make a meaningful difference that addresses climate change now, and helping us reach our goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
Fouts: Are other Brooks products using recycled materials or on a path to carbon neutrality?
Kemp: Yes, our Planet commitments apply to our entire product line, not just one product type or style. Achieving our Scope 3 carbon emissions target will require efforts that span our entire product portfolio. That means that when we’re focused on converting polyester to recycled polyester, we’re applying this to almost all of our footwear and apparel styles. For example, the textile reinforcements used in our footwear uppers were converted from polyester to 100 percent recycled polyester and this was applied to all our footwear styles, not just the Ghost 14. One of our Sustainable Consumption commitments is to source only materials with a minimum of 50 percent recycled or bio-based content by 2030, and to use only recycled polyester by 2023 for footwear and by 2025 for apparel.
Fouts: Following up to the Ghost 14, are there more climate-conscious product innovations in development that we can look forward to seeing in 2022?
Kemp: Our commitment is ongoing, so when the Ghost 15 (launching later in 2022), 16 and beyond hit stores, we’ll continue to make the Ghost a carbon-neutral shoe through efforts to reduce our emissions and carbon offsetting.
We also plan to incrementally expand this approach to other footwear styles and our apparel between now and 2040 as we work towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions. In 2022, runners will see the recycled content in our products increase from years prior, we’ll continue our development of a product take-back program and will continue diverting our product from landfills through Soles 4 Souls and other nonprofit partnerships — and more efforts to further reduce our carbon emissions, and bringing us closer to a fully circular product. Looking further ahead, our product teams are hard at work on a number of other initiatives focused on further carbon emissions reductions, including low impact textile dyeing processes.
Fouts: Incredible. Anything else you want to share with us?
Kemp: Our efforts to reduce the carbon emissions of our product and create carbon neutral products is a part of our wider People and Planet path, which keeps us focused on making sure everyone who wants to run is welcome to run, and everyone who runs has a place to do it.
Under Planet, we are committed to address our contribution to climate change and overconsumption. We’ve committed to reduce carbon emissions (scopes 1, 2 and 3) in line with climate science, transition the materials in our product to recycled and bio-based alternatives, and to develop fully circular performance running product.
Under People, we champion the run for all and are pursuing practices that will achieve equity in our business and our sport — so everyone feels a sense of belonging as their own, authentic selves. Our responsible sourcing program ensures our global supply chain shares our values and our commitments to respect human rights, advance worker well-being and ensure sustainable manufacturing. You can learn more about our People and Planet path here.
Fouts: What’s your advice for other textile and apparel companies who are curious about pivoting their product materials and company operations to be planet-first?
Kemp: A good place to start is better understanding the environmental impacts associated with your product and operations. In the case of carbon emissions, understanding the largest contributors of carbon emissions can help to focus and prioritize reduction efforts. For Brooks, this critical work provided the foundation of our climate roadmap and helped us to identify meaningful strategies that will help us to achieve our carbon emission reductions targets.