Footwear Ecology Question 1

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Does the brand (company) have a policy to substitute leather and synthetic rubber with environmentally friendlier materials?

Dutch version: Heeft het merk (bedrijf) een beleid om meer milieuvriendelijke alternatieven voor leer en synthetisch rubber te gebruiken?
German version: Setzt der Markenhersteller Maßnahmen um, um Leder und synthetischen Gummi / Kautschuk durch umweltfreundliche Alternativen zu ersetzen?


In the footwear sector, leather and synthetic rubber are the most used base material groups. The question refers to 'a policy' to substitute these base materials. With this question we do not consider policy in terms of quantity, only in terms of concreteness: there should be at least a short description of goals, actions and outcomes. The follwing question however does consider quantity in terms of percentage of total use of materials used for the production of footwear.

LCA's indicate that leather has a high environmental impact, apart from animal welfare issues. The energy use and consequent CO2 emissions are high, compared to other possible shoe materials (see this summary LCA, p.25). The use of water and chemicals throughout production, from animal feed to livestock to leather tanning are considerable, as indicated by companies like Nike and Timberland. Also the loss of biodiversity in tropical area's like Brazil, where rainforest is cleared for livestock and soy plantations for animal feed, is an issue of high concern; see also the separate Footwear Ecology Question 5. A robust way to reduce the environmental impact of footwear production is to substitute leather by lower impact materials like cotton canvas.

The rubber that is used in the soles of shoes also has environmental concerns. Virgin synthetic rubber production is known for high carbon and VOC emissions and high amounts of waste during production [1]. Also, as e.g. indicated by Nike, conventional rubber formulations contain toxic chemicals that pollute the environment.

Fortunately, there are environmentally friendlier rubber alternatives available for footwear manufacturers:
• Natural rubber (jungle rubber, or latex rubber). As indicated and promoted by Greenpeace, jungle rubber is natural, and not damaging the forest as it does not require the tree to be cut down in order for the latex to be extracted. Jungle rubber also helps families to earn a living from rubber tapping, e.g. in extractive reserves in the Amazon forest.
• Recycled rubber, as promoted by Timberland and Simple Shoes.
• Rubber formulations with lower toxic chemical (such as zinc) content, as promoted by Nike.

Answering Guidelines

• [Brand] reports to use environmentally 'preferred' alternatives to substitute [leather / rubber] such as [cotton canvas/ other/ natural rubber/recycled rubber] (see link/page).

• [Brand] states explicitly not to substitute [leather / rubber] by environmentally friendlier alternatives (see link/page).

• [Brand] mentions environmentally 'preferred' alternatives, but does not mention a concrete policy or results [..] (see link/page).
• [Brand] does not communicate a policy for substituting leather and synthetic rubber with environmentally friendlier alternatives. Sustainability information should be easily accessible for consumers to make responsible choices.
• [Brand] does not communicate any environmental policy for the materials used in the footwear. Sustainability information should be easily accessible for consumers to make responsible choices.