The fashion industry is responsible for around 10% of global emissions, leading some brands to take stock of their disproportionate carbon footprint, according to the World Bank.
New Balance Athletics operates three factories in Maine and is committed to being net zero by 2050. The company’s factories produce thousands of sneakers every day.
An MIT life cycle assessment estimates that producing a single pair of running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s because it’s an energy-intensive process that uses petroleum-dependent cotton, leather, and polyester. It also generates a lot of waste.
John Stokes, corporate sustainability director, said New Balance aims to change that.
“Broad reduction pathways are really about energy efficiency and renewables in our own operations, but more importantly in the supply chain,” Stokes said. “That’s where a lot of our shows are, in that element of the scope 3 supply chain.”
Stokes said New Balance will use 100% renewable electricity in its domestic and global operations by 2025 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030. In Maine, four large community solar contracts coming online later this year will help the company achieve its goals.
“The state believes that we need to get to net zero as a state,” said Steve Hudson, an attorney at Preti Flaherty and a member of the state’s Industrial Innovation Task Force. “When we can, we’re reducing emissions while maintaining the kind of jobs that are important across the state, especially in our most economically disadvantaged rural areas.” It’s important to do that. »
This task force is charged with helping Maine businesses reduce their carbon footprint so the state can be carbon neutral by 2045.
Across its global operations, Stokes said each country’s unique infrastructure and regulations dictate how renewable energy goals will be met.
“The industry as a whole has this opportunity to map the entire supply chain to understand where the impact reduction hotspots are and strategically address these challenges with programs that enable energy savings and of water on a scalable basis,” said Kurt Kipka of the Apparel Impact Institute. , an organization that evaluates manufacturing processes and identifies energy and water savings.
New Balance said five of its suppliers in China and Taiwan have worked with the Apparel Impact Institute to implement energy and water programs that have resulted in greenhouse gas reductions of nearly $5,500. tonnes of carbon dioxide and fresh water savings of over 1.3 million cubic meters.
Stokes said the company will also change some of its materials to 50% recycled polyester and 100% preferred leather from chrome-free tanneries by 2025. New Balance sources its leather products from ranches of livestock in the Midwest that rely on regenerative agriculture to improve soil health. as well.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in something that creates a better condition at the end and our participation in that leads to improvement,” Stokes said. “We are leaving the environment in better shape than when it started and those opportunities are quite rare.”
Ratings of New Balance’s sustainability claims vary. The nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project rates companies on their emissions targets and performance, and assesses their commitment to environmental action and transparency. New Balance submitted its climate change plans to the CDP for the first time last year. A spokesperson for the nonprofit, Simon Fishweicker, said the company’s score was private due to its first filing status, but added that in general, to get a better score , emissions are essential.
“Digging into those emission reductions, where we really give the most credit in terms of emission reductions is when you can demonstrate that those reductions come from emission reduction activities or increased energy renewables,” Fishweicker said.
New Balance said it has implemented 35 climate change initiatives as of 2020 and reduced its annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 8,300 metric tons.
But in February, Good on You, a group of scientists, writers and developers that calls itself “the leading source for rating fashion brands,” gave New Balance a “not good enough” environmental score. The group said New Balance uses renewable energy and environmentally friendly materials, but does not use water reduction initiatives in its supply chain.
In response, Stokes said the company needs to do a better job of speaking publicly about its work to tackle climate change, including water use.
“I think New Balance is part of a group of leading brands that take these issues seriously and invest significant time and resources to understand and make changes not just for our brand, but to improve the industry in whole,” Stokes said.
New Balance recently announced that starting this spring, 19% of its shoes will meet the company’s Green Leaf Standard, which means shoe uppers are made with at least 50% of preferred materials, such as recycled polyester and chrome-free leather. Stokes said New Balance wants to appeal to younger consumers who are looking for sustainably produced products and are willing to pay a little more for them.
But whether companies like New Balance are held accountable for meeting their net-zero emissions goal is another question, said David Carlin of the United Nations Environment Programme.
“The UN has just launched an expert group that will assess and review net zero commitments,” Carlin said. “But again, the enforcement mechanism remains a mechanism that remains somewhat open.”
Carlin said that as more countries impose net zero compliance, he thinks penalties will follow for those who don’t meet the targets.
Stokes said he understands the pace may seem slow in the race against climate change, but New Balance is committed to making meaningful improvements and knows the world is watching.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.