To End ‘Decision Paralysis,’ FDRA Launches New Guide Outlining Sustainable Materials Benchmarks & Targets

While countless footwear companies are making strides toward more sustainable practices, real progress will depend on industry-wide efforts. To understand the best choices to make and targets to pursue, companies need to know how they measure up to their competitors — both average performers and those at the forefront of innovation.

The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America’s new shoe sustainability guide tackles one essential area of shoe manufacturing — environmentally preferred materials (EPMs) — to provide industry leaders with benchmarks and goals to aid in their efforts to reduce their companies’ environmental impacts. The trade association worked with sourcing and sustainability experts at companies including Caleres, Allbirds, Nike and Material Exchange to develop the guide. (Caleres’ inaugural environmental, social and governance report this year served as a model.)

The guide is intended to be a reference for the industry and “help end the decision and strategy paralysis some shoe companies have around sustainability and get them moving in a positive direction,” Andy Polk, SVP at FDRA, said in a release.

“As more and more brands adopt and use the guide, a real ROI will come as more sustainable material development costs reduce and we get better, more value-add materials in footwear for consumers,” said Polk. “This is just the start to the work we are doing to bring companies together to increase impact.”

In other words: by working together toward sustainability targets, shoe companies can benefit from lower costs and increased impacts.

The FDRA will update the guide to reflect materials innovations, Life Cycle Assessments and progress throughout the industry. It also encourages companies to evaluate their efforts so far against the current benchmarks and act quickly to push their materials beyond them.

Along with baseline EPMs — a minimum of Leather Working Group Bronze Level certification for leathers, for example — the guide outlines Green North Star EPMs — Gold Level certification, in this case — as targets for companies to pursue.

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