New Allbirds x Adidas Shoe Offers Big Performance, Tiny Carbon Footprint

The Futurecraft.Footprint shoe uses 63% less carbon than a comparable runner.

Futurecraft shoe
Closeup of the Futurecraft shoe.

Allbirds x adidas

A running shoe is usually assessed for its performance, its appearance, and its price tag. But two big names in the athletic shoe world are betting big on the fact that people will start adding "carbon footprint" to that list of criteria. 

Instead of viewing each other as rivals, Adidas and Allbirds have teamed up to reimagine how running shoes can be built in a way that has the lowest possible impact on the planet. Their partnership—called FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT—has released its first prototype, a performance running shoe made from recycled and natural materials.

This shoe uses a mere 2.94kg carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to produce. This is a 63% reduction in carbon from a comparable runner, the Adizero RC 3, that has a carbon footprint of 7.86kg C02e. An Adidas spokesperson tells Treehugger: "We used the Adizero RC 3 as a starting point because its footprint is already quite a bit lower than most performance footwear. In just over a year of collaboration, we have made great progress, driving down this product's carbon footprint to 2.94kg. However, this is just the beginning; we hope this inspires others to beat personal best."

How has it achieved such a significant reduction? Through rigorous design standards and the sharing of knowledge that would normally be proprietary. Brian Grevy, executive board member of global brands at Adidas, said in a press release:

"By truly co-creating and providing each other with open access to knowledge and resources—such as Allbirds’ knowledge of carbon calculation and experience with natural materials, and adidas’ capabilities in manufacturing and performance footwear—this is a call to action for other brands, and a milestone in the sports industry achieving carbon neutrality."

The shoe's lightweight upper is made from 70% recycled polyester and 30% Tencel, a material made from wood pulp. The sole blends Allbirds' sugarcane bio-based SweetFoam with Adidas' adizero LightStrike EVA. The outsole contains natural rubber; all embroidery is done with recycled polyester thread, and the natural-colored shoe contains no dye to cut down on energy and water usage. 

"When you're being as rigorous as we were in reducing carbon emissions, every small decision matters," the Adidas spokesperson tells Treehugger. "Dyeing products does have a carbon footprint and can lead to other issues like high water usage. While dyeing by no means makes up a majority of a product's footprint (or even close to that), we had to shave off carbon wherever we could, so it was an easy decision to keep the shoe its natural color."

runner with Futurecraft shoes

Allbirds x adidas

The design team, which worked together digitally across multiple time zones for more than a year, prioritized a minimalist approach in everything they did. "With this project, less really was more," said Florence Rohart, a senior footwear designer at Adidas. "To keep minimalist not only in materials but also in construction, we went to extremes and left only what we really needed on the shoe to keep the performance properties."

Jamie McLellan, head of design for Allbirds, echoed Rohart: "Both the upper and the outside construction are inspired by the Tangram Principle, with all individual parts in their entirety achieving as little scrap as possible in production in order to reduce waste."

A project spokesperson offered further elaboration as to what the Tangram Principle means:

"[It] is a new approach to footwear manufacturing that led to considerable carbon reduction. It played an integral part in the construction of the upper, in particular: rather than stamping out one large, unwieldy piece from a sheet of fabric, we cut out small, nesting shapes to reduce waste. Since we must also account for the carbon emissions of any scraps that are created in the process of making the shoe, eliminating cut-offs as much as possible was key to pushing down the product's overall footprint. We then stitched together these smaller pieces, which helps give the upper its unique look as well."

The shoes are made in Adidas' facilities, using alternative energy sources whenever possible. Because they were designed and developed in just 12 months using only available technology, there's hope that the process will only become more efficient from here on.

Treehugger was told, "Rather than waiting for new or 'perfect' solutions, machinery, or materials, we believe it's important to make strides with what we currently have at our disposal, but are eager to continue to push the limits when it comes to reducing overall environmental impact."

It is exciting to see a product like this become a reality. Allbirds has been "laser-focused on combating the proliferation of petroleum-based materials in apparel and footwear" since its inception, and Adidas is on a similar mission to reduce plastic waste. It has set ambitious goals, such as using only recycled polyester in every product where a solution exists from 2024 onward and reducing each individual product's carbon footprint by 15% by 2025. These are solid, quantifiable goals within a challenging timeframe. 

One hundred pairs of the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT shoes are being released this month as part of a raffle to Adidas Creators Club members. A limited release of 10,000 pairs will roll out in Fall/Winter 2021, with a broader release planned for Spring/Summer 2022.