Steven Rants about Greenwashing

– The MOVEMENT Movement with Steven Sashen Episode 122 where Steven rants about greenwashing.

Listen to this episode of The MOVEMENT Movement about the failures of greenwashing.

Here are some of the beneficial topics covered on this week’s show:

– How the fashion industry has failed to reduce its planetary impact.

– How many things you think you are recycling can end up in the landfill.

– How many recycling processes use more carbon than they save.

– How some shoe companies lie about the impact they have on the environment.

– Why it’s important for companies to be transparent about their impact on the environment.

Connect with Steven:

Website

Xeroshoes.com

Jointhemovementmovement.com

Twitter
@XeroShoes

Instagram
@xeroshoes

Facebook
facebook.com/xeroshoes

Steven Sashen:

Who doesn’t want to help the planet by using things that are recycled or recyclable or bio-based materials or other ways of being environmentally savvy? Well, we’re going to take a look into that in a little rant on today’s episode of The MOVEMENT Movement, the podcast for people who want to know the truth about what it takes to have a happy, healthy, strong body, starting feet first, because those things are your foundation.

 

We’re going the break down the propaganda, the mythology, and sometimes, the outright lies, that’s what this episode’s about, about what it takes to run, or walk, or hike, or play, or do yoga, or CrossFit, anything of those things you like to do, and to do that enjoyably and effectively and efficiently. And did I say enjoyably? I know I did. It’s a trick question, because look, if you’re not having fun, do something different till you are, because you won’t keep it up if you’re not having a good time.

 

I’m Steven Sashen, co-founder, and CEO of xeroshoes.com. I’m not wearing a Xero Shoes T-shirt, I’m just wearing our logo with cool color thing in it instead. And we call this The MOVEMENT Movement podcast because we’re creating a movement that involves you, doesn’t cost you anything, it’s really easy, about natural movement, letting your feet and the rest of your body do what bodies are made to do. And so, you can go to www.jointhemovementmovement.com. You don’t have to do anything to join. That’s just where we have all of our previous episodes, all the ways you can find this podcast, and our related ways of interacting. So, YouTube, Facebook, et cetera, et cetera. And then, the movement part that involves you is simple. Just share, like, give us a thumbs up, a review, hit the bell on YouTube if you’re watching this on YouTube so you’ll hear about future episodes. In short, if you want to be part of the tribe, please subscribe.

 

We’re going to get into a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and it’s about what we can do to help the planet. I mean, after all, our company is called Feel The World, and that’s not just because of the experience you get of connecting to the ground when you’re wearing a pair of Xero Shoes, but also because we’re aware of the environmental impact of what we’re doing, and footwear is a tricky one. Now, I’m going to… This stuff I’ve been talking about for a long time, but happily, or maybe not so happily, week or so ago, a couple weeks ago, the Harvard Business Review did a great article about what I’m going to talk about out, and I’m going to synopsize and refer to that. In fact, I’m going to put a link to it in the Show Notes or in the Description, wherever you happen to be looking at this. If you can’t find it, drop me an email, we’ll send you the link.

 

Harvard Business Review, they are no slouches when it comes to intellectualism and research. And so, in fact, I want to start this by reading just the summary of their article. Pardon me while I look down here to read. “Few industries count their sustainability credentials more forcefully than the fashion industry, but the sad truth is that despite high profile attempts at innovation, it’s failed to reduce its planetary impact in the last 25 years. Most items are still produced using non-biodegradable, petroleum-based synthetics and end up in a landfill.” That’s the important part, by the way. “So, what can be done? New ESG, environmental, sustainable strategies, such as the use of bio-based materials, recycling, and Rent the Runway concepts have failed. Instead, we must stop thinking about sustainability as existing on a spectrum. Less sustainable is not sustainable, and governments need to step in to force companies to pay for their negative impact on the planet. The idea of win-win and market-based solutions has failed even in one of the most ‘progressive’ industries.”

 

A bit of a slap in the face, and I’m going to talk to you about how we think about this and how we are addressing this. But first, I would just want to hit you with the key points. First things first, there’s a concept called greenwashing, which is using all this environmentally-friendly language to make people feel like the company is doing a good thing, so the people buying those products feel good about what they’re doing, feel like they’re saving the world. It’s a little virtue signaling when they’re walking around with something where there’re big logos and whatnot indicating the carbon friendliness or whatever they’ve bought, and a lot of companies are misrepresenting this.

 

For example, I wish I could remember the name of the company, so if someone knows, I’d be happy to hear it. There was a company that was touting that they were making their products out of recycled water bottles. What they didn’t say is they were making water bottles to then recycle the water bottles. That’s the most egregious example of greenwashing that I’ve ever found, but there are a lot of them. And if you look up greenwashing, just look for a definition, you’ll hear, it’s basically using the idea of greenness, of eco-friendliness, for marketing purposes in a way that’s disingenuous. That’s the gist of it. I have notes that I’ve got to look at for this, so pardon me for looking down and back. Let’s talk about one of the first ones that really years ago this became somewhat popular and aggravated the crap out of me.

 

The concept of recyclable. Let’s just start with the simple thing. It’s ridiculous. The whole idea of something recyclable… There was actually companies that used to sell bags that you could put their products in to then bring somewhere or send somewhere to have the products recycled. Two problems. One, no one ever used them. I mean, simply, it was just a hassle. No one ever bothered. Two, where people now do bother, so there are some stores that will say, “Hey, our stuff is recyclable, so bring things back, put them in this bin, and we’ll recycle them,” makes people feel great. The problem is A, only 10% of that material actually gets recycled. The rest of it goes into a landfill. And out of that 10% that’s recycled, for many of the components, it costs more from a carbon perspective to recycle it than to start from scratch. So, recyclable in general complete hand-waving, greenwashing nonsense. All right, let’s move on to the other issues.

 

The biggest one is simply this. Many of the processes for recycling stuff use more carbon or energy than they save. Sometimes, because of just the sheer cost, the mechanical cost, or the technological cost of heating something up to turn something solid into a gas, for example, sometimes, the transportation costs… For people who are talking about pulling things out of the ocean, the amount of carbon that it takes, the amount of energy that it takes, I think I’m going to use the energy instead of carbon for the rest of this conversation when I can. The amount of energy it takes to go out into the ocean, grab the stuff from the ocean, bring it back, put it on a truck, take it to somewhere, process it, take it to somewhere else and get it used, is often not creating an energetic benefit. I should have said carbon benefit there, but you get the point. Sometimes, a lot of times, these things are using more energy than they are saving.

 

Now, in the Harvard Business Review article, it mentioned using petroleum-based products and that can be problematic. And I’m going to address that in a bit too, but let me move on. Because these new recycled materials or new materials are new and the infrastructure is not built out the way it has for the existing technologies, including the petroleum-based products, and because they’re not used widely enough where we would see a cost savings from the economy of scale, the problem is a lot of the products made with these materials cost more. And so, what does that mean? It means only rich people tend to buy this stuff, which is, again, a form of not greenwashing but kind of virtues signaling. People feel better, but it’s a tiny, tiny, tiny percentage of people who are actually using and able to afford these products.

 

In fact, I was at a trade show a few years ago on a panel discussion about environmental sustainability. And there was two shoe companies talking about how they were changing the world because their products were made with, I don’t even remember if it was recycled or recyclable, but suffice it to say they were talking about how they were changing the world. And I, rude pointer out of truth that I sometimes tend to be, in fact, at that event, I decided that I wasn’t going to try and make friends. I was just going to tell the truth no matter what. And this was the first place I did that, on a stage in front of hundreds of people. I said, “How many shoes are you guys going to sell in the course of a year?” And it was, I don’t know, maybe a hundred thousand.

 

There’s like 400,000 tons of stuff dumped into the ocean every year, I think, by the United States alone. So, the number of shoes you’re making is not making a dent, in a dent, in a dent. So, stop patting yourself on the back for doing basically nothing. I’m not saying don’t do it, but don’t over hype it. So, more expensive. The other thing, a lot of these materials, not as durable. Even if they are energy efficient, if they use less energy to make with whatever the new material or new technology is than using the existing methodology, that’s fine. But if the product doesn’t last as long, you’re going through more of it. And if it’s a product where it’s not 100% recycled or genuinely recyclable, then you’re actually putting more stuff in the landfill because of the turnover. And this is something that the Harvard Business Review talks about as well.

 

Some fast fashion stores, they pride themselves on new, new, new, new, new, so people were buying more, more, more, more, more, and again most of the stuff that they recycled doesn’t end up recycled. Ends up in the landfill, or the ocean, or worse. There’s that. And wait, what is my note here? Oh, one of the other problems for companies like ours is that you can’t even track everything. And for consumers too. It’s literally not possible to track in most situations the entire history of the supply chain to find out exactly what’s going on from an energy or carbon perspective. The transparency doesn’t exist right now, which means that it makes it easier for companies to just say things to make customers feel better that aren’t necessarily true, especially given the reasons that I already stated.

 

Transparency is a big issue. I’m not going to mention this company by name. I’ve done it before, but I’m going to be a nice guy and not mention them by name. Although, I will say it’s a company, it’s a footwear brand, and they’re currently being sued for being misleading, I think I’m being nice when I say misleading, about their environmental impact. They use materials… A lot, let’s say, a bunch of the materials in the shoes they make are naturally sourced, but then they were flying those materials from one side of the globe to the other side of the globe to have the materials turned into a component for the shoe, and then flying to the other side of the world to have those materials added to another component to make a shoe, and then using the most energy wasting box in the history of footwear to then ship that to the other side of the world again for distribution. That part is not the egregious part, although it is.

 

The egregious part is that when they were printing and publishing their sustainability story, they explicitly said they were leaving transportation out of the equation. What? Transportation seems to be the majority of the equation in that case. In fact, I watched something, where did I see this? Just the other day. It was probably on YouTube. A guy in California, he’s originally from Netherlands, who is just doing everything he can think of to reduce his carbon footprint. By the way, carbon footprint is a term that was coined by the energy industry to make people feel like they were more responsible than the big companies, the energy-producing companies, the petroleum-producing companies, for what’s happening on the planet. They were trying to shift the burden and shift the mentality from what they’re doing at a giant scale to what you’re doing at a tiny, tiny, tiny, personal scale.

 

Anyway, so he had solar panels on the roof. I think he was putting energy back into the grid maybe. He was riding his bike everywhere, instead of driving a car. They were eating nothing but plant-based foods because they use less energy than meat. When their carbon footprint was analyzed, it wasn’t better. It wasn’t carbon negative. It wasn’t energy negative. He wasn’t using less energy than he was consuming. Why? Because, once a year, he and his wife took an airplane trip back to Netherlands. And that one airplane trip alone used more carbon for them than everything they were saving by doing everything else, which is crazy. This transparency thing is really an issue.

 

Now, what to do about it and what are we doing about it? Well, the biggest thing we’re doing about it is trying to keep things out of landfills by keeping them on your feet by using materials that are more durable. Our shoes, our soles, have a 5000-mile sole warranty, versus the modern athletic shoe, which they say you need to replace every 300-500 miles, even less, for this super max seamless shoes with tons and tons of foam built into them. A, we’re trying to keep things on your feet longer by keeping them on your feet longer, by having more durable materials, keeping them out of landfills.

 

Secondly, we haven’t been lying about what we’re doing or trying to exaggerate what we’re doing. We have our one shoe, our Knit Phoenix, casual flat for women, that’s made with some materials that have, what’s the word I’m looking for? Reused, come on, I can do this, coffee grinds. It’s a cool thing. It definitely reduces the amount of polyester or whatever the other synthetic material we’re using is. But look, I’m the first one to say, not buy a ton. We want to let you know what we’re doing, but it’s not like we’re saving the world by doing this. We’re doing whatever we can whenever we can that as legitimate as we can track. And when I say that, we’ve been approached by a number of companies who want us to use their world-saving materials. And if it seems like there’s some hand waving and don’t look behind the curtain kind of conversation going on, if they don’t let us see the entire chain of where things are going and all their analysis, then we won’t do it. That’s thing one.

 

Thing number two though is something that’s coming out in, I don’t know, when you’re watching this, but coming out roughly around March 1st is our first product where we’re using almost entirely recycled or biodegradable materials. And we are really, really happy that we’re doing this in part because we want to see how it works so that we can start using more of these materials in the rest of our products. And we’re going to have more and more data about the recycled components and about the biodegradableness of our components, so that when something does end up in a landfill, it doesn’t last forever in a landfill.

 

Fundamentally, the biggest thing we’re trying to do, keep things on your feet and be as transparent as we can while not trying to make this some pat on the back, virtue signaling thing about look, how great we are. We’re going to do the best we can. The comment from the Harvard Business Review thing of less sustainable is not sustainable, agreed. And what that means is, in general, the fact that they’re making a little bit of a difference overall, on the footwear and apparel industry, is not changing the world. But for us, in terms of less sustainable or more sustainable or whatever, less unsustainable is not sustainable, we get it. We’re trying to become less unsustainable, and we know that’s not going to change the world, but we just want to do the best we can given the reality of the circumstances and hopefully things will change over time.

 

I hope you found this interesting and provocative, and maybe eye-opening. I’d love to hear what you think so you can leave a comment on all the places you can leave comments. You can drop me an email at move, M-O-V-E, @jointhemovementmovement.com. And speaking of which, go to jointhemovementmovement.com again to find previous episodes that are not just me ranting, although there’s some of those, but interviews with really interesting people about how to have a happier, healthier, stronger body feet first, or breathing first, or mind first. If you have any other questions, comments, people that you think should be on the show, you can use that same email, [email protected] But most importantly, go out, have fun, and live life feet first.

 

 

 

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