Allbirds Wants Fashion Industry to Embrace Carbon Footprint Labels

Its proprietary carbon footprint calculator is now open-source to spur uptake.

carbon labels


Over the past few years, shoe company Allbirds has made a name for itself in the fashion industry as an eco-minded innovator that's not afraid to share its own trade secrets. After developing a sugarcane-based EVA foam and making it open-source in 2018, the foam has since been adopted by more than 100 companies, including Reebok, Timberland, and UGG. 

Now, in the spirit of Earth Day, Allbirds is releasing its proprietary Carbon Footprint Calculator to the world, in hopes that other shoe and clothing companies will adopt its own practice of adding a carbon label to the products it makes. The idea behind this is to guide customers toward more sustainable purchasing decisions, enabling them to compare pieces and to help companies figure out where they can make improvements by giving them solid data. After all, you can't fix what you do not measure.

Joey Zwillinger, co-founder and co-CEO of Allbirds, explained in a press release: "For too long, many brands have focused on marketing sustainability rather than actually implementing holistic, high-impact solutions — and to an extent, it’s worked. If we want to continue pushing fashion toward a more sustainable future, we need brands to take responsibility for what they share with consumers. Having a key, universal identifier like Carbon Footprint to evaluate sustainability claims and force accountability from businesses is critical to drowning out the noise."

Allbirds storefront
Allbirds storefront.


The Carbon Footprint Calculator, which Allbirds describes as "basically a nutrition label for your closet," is the result of extensive research, investment, and help from consultants. It is a third-party verified life cycle assessment (LCA) tool the likes of which Allbirds says it wished it had access to when it embarked on its own carbon-measuring journey. 

In addition, Allbirds has created a petition calling on the fashion industry to add carbon footprint labels across the board. It writes:

"The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters, responsible for 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. If we do nothing, that will grow to 26% by 2050... We need carbon labels to show how much carbon emission went into creating each product, from materials, to manufacturing, to transportation and end of life."

By giving companies the tools with which to adopt this practice, Allbirds' request is not unrealistic — and will doubtless appeal to the 88% of consumers who want brands "to help them shop more sustainably." 

Allbirds poster


Carbon numbers on their own don't mean much to the average consumer. It's hard to translate them into meaningful information unless more companies start doing it, which then allows comparisons to be made. On its website Allbirds offers some perspective, saying that a standard sneaker emits 12.5 kg CO2e, and that the average carbon footprint of all its own products is 7.6 kg CO2e (so obviously Allbirds' ranks better). If you want to understand how much 7.6 kg CO2e is, it's about the same as what's emitted by driving 19 miles in a car or running five loads of laundry in the dryer. 

This is an intriguing initiative that can only help the fashion industry — and it will certainly benefit Allbirds if it can stay at the front of the pack in terms of sustainable design. Carbon labeling, though, isn't the only thing that matters. It would be great for Allbirds (and other fashion companies) to prioritize repair, rental, and circular/deconstructable design, as well. This, said Tamsin Lejeune of the Ethical Fashion Forum to Vogue, is "the blue-sky thinking in sustainable fashion," and it would be great to see Allbirds "taking a lead on that."

Across-the-board carbon labeling is a good start, nonetheless, and it will be interesting to see how others in the fashion industry respond to this campaign. You can add your name to the petition here.