GreenBiz Article: The Running Shoe Leading the Race to Sustainability

My latest GreenBiz article is “The Running Shoe Leading the Race to Sustainability,” on Brooks and their Green Silence shoe. Excerpt and link to full article below. (GreenBiz editor Leslie Guevarra did another fabulous layout job so the full piece is definitely worth a look.)

The Running Shoe Leading the Race to Sustainability
Melissa Schweisguth, for GreenBiz,  3/1/10

As a social responsibility professional who enjoys trail running, seeing more athletic companies pick up the pace on sustainability is a welcome trend. One business at the front of the pack is Brooks, whose modest marketing approach has left its efforts less known than peers. It’s likely that will change with the launch of the Green Silence, a shoe that exemplifies its commitment from heel to toe, bringing visibility to a successful example of sustainability leadership.

Several team members took time to discuss Brooks’ approach, product innovation and a view of what’s next — Future Concepts Manager Derek Campbell, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Stacey Gamble, Corporate Communications Manager Tamara Hills and Scott Jurek, sponsored athlete.

[Disclosure: Brooks provided the author with a free pair of its Green Silence shoes to test for this piece. The writer made a donation to environmental causes equaling the value of the shoes.]

The Play Book

Overall, Brooks’ social responsibility framework is comprehensive and principled, encompassing social and environmental issues, looking across the supply chain and guided by lifecycle analyses. It’s also grounded in frameworks such as Cradle-to-Cradle, Green Chemistry and Design for Environment.

Multiple motivations guide Brooks’ course. “We know sustainability is important to [runners],” says Hills. “They want clean air and pathways to run on. It’s also important to employees. Our culture attracts people who are looking for more sustainable ways of living and we get excited about opportunities to change products. From a business perspective, being smarter about materials, processes, and amount of materials increases business sustainability.”

The company toes its line of communications with integrity. “We’re careful not to oversell, overpromise or greenwash,” Hills says. “It’s important to be accurate and honest as we let [runners] know the good things we’re doing.” The company’s website and packaging inform and engage consumers and others around key efforts.

Game-Changing Innovation

Brooks has been working to improve its products’ environmental impact for several years, focused on packaging, reducing non-renewable materials, extending durability and optimizing end-of-life outcomes. Campbell says these comprise the largest impacts and are aspects they control, yielding the biggest near-term benefits.

Many shoes have High Performance Rubber Green (HPR Green) outsoles, made with sand rather than petroleum. Recycled materials have woven their way into laces, shoe and apparel fabrics, hangtags and packaging. The company seeks suppliers with bluesign certification, governing environmental practices in textile manufacturing.

In 2008, Brooks introduced the biodegradable BioMoGo midsole, used in a number of its shoes. An additive in the foam allows anaerobic microbes to eat the material once it hits a biologically active landfill, breaking it into nontoxic byproducts in 20 years (versus 1,000 years for a standard midsole). Brooks has put the BioMoGo additive technology into the public domain to encourage wider adoption, a refreshing act of sustainable sportsmanship. Granted, the resulting byproducts aren’t mined from dumps to rebuild soil, but Brooks sees this as a step in the right direction on an ongoing journey and offers tips to maximize footwear’s useful life and stave off landfilling.

The Green Silence, a performance racing shoe introduced in January, manifests Brooks environmental principles throughout, which Campbell terms “360 degree sustainability.” Its name reflects Brooks’ vision for a future where green is an unspoken given. The shoe has a slim eco-footprint, with half the pieces found in similar styles, improved durability and extensive use of recycled and biodegradable materials. Brooks saved the equivalent of half a liter of oil and 41 percent of the energy used to make each pair.

Overall, 75 percent of its components are made with post-consumer recycled content and 3 percent contain post-industrial content, such as multiple pieces of the upper, laces, heel counters and rubber outsoles. By weight, 52 percent of materials are post-consumer recycled and 7 percent are post-industrial recycled-yielding 60 percent total recycled content. Biodegradable components include the BioMoGo midsole, insole and collar foams. Brooks reduced volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 65 percent, using low- and non-VOC materials and inks, and water-based adhesives. The sole is HPRGreen.

Brooks put the Green Silence through extensive testing in house with external wear-testers to ensure it met the highest standards of performance. Having run in it myself on road and track surfaces, I found it stable, cushioned and supportive, more so than I would have expected given its weight, number of components and structure. The soft mesh materials also make for a customizable, comfortable fit.

Despite its name, the Green Silence sports visually loud reds and yellows. “We wanted to create something that wasn’t brown, green or gray, using strong colors to make a statement that something bold and beautiful can be sustainable,” says Hills. When wearing these, I consistently received positive comments on their look and style, inviting conversation about the potential of sustainable innovation…

Article continued at GreenBiz.com

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