Allbirds is equipped with the correct foundations to embody the sustainable image it projects to the public, but it isn't quite there yet. The area that merits the most attention and refinement within Allbirds is its somewhat decentralized supply chain, which sources materials from third party farmers that Allbirds itself has limited surveillance over. The company also espouses its support of the ethical treatment of laborers, but it's unclear whether or not this belief is reflected in Allbirds' business practices. The company vets all of its manufacturing facilities to ensure that their compliance with labor laws in their respective countries, but such a claim can easily lose impact or credibility in nations that historically have relaxed labor laws or poor enforcement of them. Nevertheless, I was pretty impressed with some of Allbirds's current sustainable practices as well as their lofty ambitions for the future. Aside from reducing greenhouse gas emissions by way of carbon offset programs, Allbirds is also aiming to rely on renewable energy sources in the future, and to continue developing innovative new materials that are more environmentally conscious than what the current shoe market offers. The company has also committed to source 100% of its wool from regenerative sources by 2025.
The Women's Wool Runners retail for $95 and are made using wool from ZQ Natural Fibres, an on-farm standard that provides certifications to wool farmers implementing ethical and sustainable practices. To ensure complaince with the certification standards, ZQ audits farmers every three years through a third party company. That being said, ZQ's certifications do not extend past the farm, meaning they have little to no monitoring over the supply chain processes that occur in between when the wool is farmed and when it arrives at Allbirds manufacturing facilities. The company prides itself on the fact that its sheep “thrive” although this could be somewhat of a generous term to describe their living conditions. ZQ’s growing programme requires that all farmers to provide their sheep with five basic freedoms: freedom from thirst or hunger, pain or distress, injury or disease, discomfort or inadequate shelter, and freedom to display normal patterns of behavior. These conditions sound like the minimum requirements for a decent quality of life, for any living creature. The Wool Runners also feature 100% post-consumer recycled polyester, and midsoles constructed out of SweetFoam™, a Brazilian sugarcane made with the world’s first carbon negative green EVA.
Allbirds's credibility as a sustainable corporation would certainly benefit from increased transparency surrounding the company's manufacturing facilities and processes occuring within them. Their website details that the wool runners are produced in Busan, South Korea, in accordance with Allbirds's mission to “prefer manufacturing facilitates located in regions with a low carbon electricity grid”. In acknowledging that transportation and shipping can be some of the most carbon-heavy processes within a business chain, Allbirds also prioritizes shipping via the ocean versus air. Another concern I have with Allbirds is the absence of a supplier code of conduct on their website, without which it's nearly impossible for consumers to gain a firm understanding of whether or not the company's producers support the ethical treatment of their workers.
Allbirds was created by New Zealand native Tim Brown, who has longstanding experience working with merino wool. Brown saw a space within the shoe market to introduce this comfortable, sustainable, and innovative new material. He later joined forces with engineer and renewable expert Joey Zwillinger., both whom now seek to transition the shoe industry from relying on resources with extractice costs to sustainable and natural-based alternatives. Central to the Allbirds mission is the notion that better products can be created in a better manner.