Consumers worried about their carbon footprints might want to take a look at, well, their footprints. The footwear industry is already aware of the climate impacts linked to materials and production, and working on solutions.
Now new luxury brand AERA has hit the streets with a shoe collection designers say is carbon-negative. The AERA line is a concept developed by prominent fashion executive Tina Bhojwani, an industry veteran of Donna Karan and Dolce & Gabbana, along with footwear designer Jean-Michel Cazabat and entrepreneur Alvertos Revach. They teamed up to deliver what they’re calling “vegan shoes” while offsetting the carbon and water inputs of footwear.
“We are working to set a new normal, one in which style, design and quality are analogous with sustainability,” said CEO Bhojwani. “I’m thrilled to announce that we have reached our number one objective – to become carbon negative.”
The company says it’s doing that through investment in reforestation projects that offset the carbon footprint by 110 percent, and water restoration certificates purchased through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to achieve the same level of offsets on consumption. “And we’re not stopping there,” Bhojwani said. “Our next objective is to find ways to offset other key impacts.”
The shoes are made in the Veneto region of Italy in partnership with two families that have operated shoe factories for years, with just 20 and six employees respectively; the AERA team says that’s a conscious decision to support artisanal craftsmanship and corporate stewardship. AERA is also committed to living wages across its supply chain and is sourcing 95 percent of its materials from Italy too. The shoes are sold to consumers online.
A life-cycle assessment and impact verification for all AERA products was completed by SCS Global Services (SCS) to evaluate the environmental impacts of the materials, manufacturing process, transport and ultimate end-of-life for the shoes. Keith Killpack, the technical director for SCS, says the work “sets an important precedent for this industry given our current global climate challenge.”
The value of offsets and credits in the climate change fight can be controversial, as illustrated by a recent Pro Publica report on carbon credits and deforestation, but the AERA launch is a well-heeled step in the right direction for an industry that is looking for solutions to its outsize footprint.
A 2018 report from Qantis International looked at the impacts of synthetic, leather and textile-based shoes produced globally – more than half are synthetic – and found that footwear accounts for between 16 and 32 percent of the fashion industry’s total pollution though in different ways. Leather requires more raw materials and processing, often with toxic chemicals; textile-based shoes use a lot of water, and synthetics a lot of plastic.
Far too often all of them end up in a landfill, which is a problem reuse and recycling advocates like ShoeAid in the UK are trying to change.
Some shoe companies are turning to new materials like eucalyptus tree pulp or recaptured ocean plastic. Adidas hopes to make all of its running shoes from recycled plastic, beginning with marine waste. The company is a co-sponsor with nonprofit Parley of the Run for the Oceans, which kicks off on World Oceans Day on June 8.