September 14, 2021

The VIBRAM Sustainable Way” is a sustainability performance improvement plan that identifies activities and projects to undertake to ensure economic growth while respecting people and the planet. One of the priorities of this plan is to analyse the Product Life Cycle of footwear soles and to quantify its impact on the environment, a methodology called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The objectives of an LCA study are to:

  • define the eco-design impact of one type of sole over another
  • quantify improvements in the use of new materials and / or processes
  • differentiate products from the competition
  • link the duration of the product to its impact on the environment

The analysis presented in this article is conducted according to the ISO 14026/40/44/47/48/49 standards and in line with the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) methodology. The analysis takes place in the Albizzate plant and focuses on one specific product. The analysis involves the CNR Research Institute and managers from various production areas.

The production of footwear soles can have an impact on the environment in the following ways:

  • Acidification: increase in acidity of the oceans and rain with a general lowering of the PH in the water ecosystem (kg SO2 eq)
  • Eutrophication: reduction of the quantity of oxygen dissolved in the water due to the proliferation of algae and eutrophic organisms (kg PO4 eq)
  • Greenhouse effect: increase in temperature and humidity in the troposphere due to greenhouse gases (kg CO2 eq)
  • Photochemical oxidation: tropospheric emission of nitrogen compounds and creation of smog containing ozone (kg C2H4 eq)
  • Thinning of the ozone layer: reduction of the ozone layer to protect against solar radiation (kg CFC-11 eq

Based on this analytical model, the main factors of environmental impact deriving from the production of footwear soles in the Albizzate plant include (1) raw materials and their origin, (2) consumption during the manufacturing process, (3) emissions, (4) waste, (5) auxiliaries and (6) general consumption up to packaging and transport to the final customer.
This analysis makes it possible to stratify the impact of the various factors on the categories and thus identify the critical parameters.

The environmental profile of a pair of soles is then determined, as well as its potential impact on the shoe it is attached to.

The selected model and its collected data make it possible to develop a sensitivity analysis on specific product and process parameters (mix power supply, use of natural raw materials, compound modification, type of heating press moulding) to identify points of potential improvement with a quantified eco-design approach.

The key results from this analysis can be summarised as follows:

  • quantification of the environmental impact according to recognised standards in the production of a specific sole anchored in the life-cycle thinking approach
  • definition of eco-design actions aimed at products at production chain level
  • potential certification (Environmental Product Declaration) of its products with consequent competitive advantages over the competition.

May 27, 2021

We can say that in the last decade the word sustainability has become a buzz word, a word on everyone’s lips. The issues and meanings behind it are important and the fact that people are talking about it is a good thing, but the risk of it becoming an empty, meaningless word is real (Vezzoli & Manzini, 2008). Although it is a word that leaves many interpretations, the most widespread definition is that of the United Nations, which defined it as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (UNWCED, 1987).

It goes without question that in order to promote concepts of this magnitude, radical changes are required, permeating society and culture as a whole. Among these, the design culture was also immediately affected, creating philosophies and design approaches that attempted to meet these principles. It was at the beginning of the 1990s that design reached an understanding able to promote approaches such as Design for Environment (DfE), which can be compared to a large, constantly changing pot (Giudice, 2007).

At first, this was joined by green design and eco-design, defined by many as approaches capable of promoting new objects that are simply ‘less bad’ (den Hollander et al., 2017; Moreno et al., 2016; Giudice, 2007; McDonough & Braungart, 2002). Next came Sustainable Design, which also includes social issues (Moreno et al., 2016). Finally, we arrived at the modern concept of DfE alongside that of Life Cycle and Circular Economy, which already consider the sustainability of the entire process and product system at the design stage: Circular Design was thus born (Ruokamo & Casalegno, 2020). In conclusion to this very brief historical excursus, it is important to make a clarification: sustainability and the terminology associated with it are still topics under great ferment; online and in the scientific literature it is, in fact, possible to find different terms associated with similar concepts and vice versa, this does not exclude their validity, but simply puts the spotlight on different aspects in an evolving theme.

In order to translate the new knowledge about sustainability into design practice, and to make it able to guide designers in the realisation of products and services, several strategies and guidelines have been implemented. Strategies to reduce the impact of a product or service on the environment are numerous, exploring the literature it is possible to find dozens of them. Useful Life Extension, End-of-Life, Product Durability, Product Integrity, Maintenance, Recyclability, Reuse are just a few but the list could be very long (Moreno et al., 2017; den Hollander et al., 2017; Bocken et al., 2016; Allwood et al., 2011; Vezzoli & Manzini, 2008; Giudice, 2007). These strategies also vary greatly depending on the objectives, requirements and different filters that can be applied to research and design.

Navigating through the plethora of information, however, it is possible to see that although some of these strategies are repeated under different names – as mentioned above because of the turmoil in the field of sustainability – they represent and include the same objectives. In fact, many of the strategies can usually be framed, or brought back, under the umbrella of Design for X (DfX), a very common term that represents the holistic approach advocated by DfE but at the same time representative of Circular Design (Moreno et al., 2016). In Design for X, the X stands for a property, a feature, of a product that characterises it, some of the most significant strategies are Design for Repair, Design for Reuse, Design for Remanufacturing and Design for Recycling. All of these strategies are useful for the design of sustainable footwear and can be found in the SciLED project reports.

Even if some of these strategies are self-explanatory and indicate a clear direction, it is possible to go into further detail for their practical application through more specific guidelines. Authors such as Moreno, et al. (2017), Vezzoli (2014) and Giudice (2007) in their texts provide tools and long lists containing guidelines, clustered following design strategies. The footwear world has also its own guidelines, in particular, the European project GreenShoes4All, connected to SciLED, has listed some of them in its online guide. For example, in order to achieve repairable and recyclable footwear, it is recommended to design shoes that can be easily disassembled, or to promote recycling, it is useful to think about partnerships that make it easier to collect waste footwear. For a complete overview of the various strategies and guidelines, please refer to the document in question.

In conclusion, we can point out that despite the confusion in terms of vocabulary, various tools and guides have been created over time to support designers step by step in the creation of sustainable products. This text is not meant to be exhaustive, however, it aims to introduce the reader to the topics related to sustainability and to provide some basic tools and perspectives used within the SciLED Knowledge Alliance.

May 4, 2021

Environmental performance indicators (KPIs) are the primary mechanism for demonstrating how effectively a company achieves its environmental objectives.

In the current environment, companies are confronted with the constant need to adapt to new market demands.
A growing number of companies have assumed that acting in an environmentally responsible manner is more than a legal obligation, it positively affects the success of their business. Improving environmental performance has become part of corporate strategy.

The definition of strategic objectives in the environmental area must be supported by a set of indicators that allow to assess the impact of the implemented measures and to check whether the objectives are being achieved.

The definition of indicators, also known as KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), allows companies to evaluate their performance in the environmental area. On the other hand, the measurement and analysis of indicators allow the reporting of what is measured, assigning responsibilities, monitoring and evaluation, and triggering improvement actions.

We list the following best practices in defining KPIs for environmental performance evaluation:

  • KPIs must be relevant
  • KPIs must be related to strategic objectives and environmental policy
  • KPIs must be measurable

When defining KPIs, consideration should be given to the measurability, which means that the best option is to choose a quantitative indicator.  Defining qualitative indicators can lead to a subjective assessment. On the other hand, a very complex indicator or one that is difficult to measure is not appropriate, since the cost of obtaining it may make its operationalization unfeasible.

  • KPIs must be clear as to their calculation formula

The calculation formula must be defined and the sources of information for the data supporting the indicator must be identified.

  • KPIs must be comparable
  • KPIs must have environmental data in a comparable format, ensuring that performance can be evaluated over time and in comparison with other companies.
  • KPIs should be calculated and analysed with a defined frequency


The frequency with which KPIs are calculated and who is responsible for their calculation must be defined. Improvement action plans should emerge as a result of their analysis.

One of the supports used for the definition of KPIs in the area of environmental performance is the standard IS0 14031: Environmental management – Environmental performance evaluation – Guidelines.


The ISO 14031 standard distinguishes three types of environmental performance indicators:

1. Management Performance Indicators

Environmental performance indicators that provide information about management efforts to influence the environmental performance of the company.

Example of indicators:

  • % of employees with training in the environmental area
  • Degree of compliance with legislation
  • % of suppliers certified by ISO 14001
  • Return on investment in environmental improvement projects (e.g. replacement of lighting fixtures for LED)


2. Management Performance Indicators

Environmental performance indicators that provide information about the environmental performance of operations.

Example of indicators:

  • Cost of energy consumed per pair of shoes
  • VOC’s consumed per pair of shoes
  • Waste recovery rate1
  • Quantity of waste produced per pair of shoes


3. State of the Environment Indicators

These are indicators that reflect the environmental quality conditions in the area surrounding the company.

Example of indicators:

  • % concentration of selected nutrients in the soil adjacent to the company’s facilities
  • % concentration of a specific contaminant in groundwater or surface water

Concluding, we can say that environmental performance indicators (KPIs) are the main mechanism for demonstrating the effectiveness with which a company achieves its environmental objectives, so the methodology used in their definition and the accuracy used in their calculation are very important.

April 19, 2021

Industry 5.0 vs Industry 4.0

Initially launched by the German government to increase industrial competitiveness, Industry 4.0 was the theme of a 2016 study requested by the European Parliament’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE). This study aimed at highlighting interventions and establishing a set of measures to support the Member States in the transformation process required by the application of digital technologies and their connection with the goods and services offered to European citizens in their daily lives[1].

In January 2021, the European Commission published a report entitled Industry 5.0 – Towards a sustainable, human-centric and resilient European industry.[2] The pillars on which Industry 4.0 is based aim at Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to increase production flexibility and efficiency. Instead, Industry 5.0 adds social equity and sustainability to the above, emphasising humanity, the long-term progress of society, the conservation and rational exploitation of the planet’s resources.

According to the report mentioned above, Industry 5.0 goes beyond producing goods and services just for profit. Referring to the past misinterpretation of the 4th industrial revolution, Elon Musk, CEO at TESLA, said that “humans should be part of the ongoing industrial revolution“. Thus, the 5th industrial revolution should have a broader purpose and three core elements: human-centricity, sustainability and resilience.

According to Frost & Sullivan[3] the Industry 5.0 will empower humans to the companies’ shop floor. While Industry 4.0 was focused on customisation and smart products, the upcoming period is dedicated to hyper customisation and more advanced experiences through interactive products, being intensive on delivering customer experience rather than consumer goods.



Future jobs require new skills

According to the Future Jobs report prepared by the World Economic Forum, 65% of primary school children will have professions that do not exist now. In the shift transition from Industry 4.0 to Industry 5.0, the emerging technologies will create new cross-functional job profiles for which employees will need advanced technical and digital skills.[1]

If Industry 4.0 is about piloting virtual reality, Artificial Intelligence, IoT devices, cyber systems, or cognitive computing on a larger or smaller scale, Industry 5.0 will actually be the stage where these tools will be implemented at each level manufacturing company. Human employees and digital “performers” as the industrial robots are will share everyday working tasks across various manufacturing technologies. However, interpersonal communication skills and communication with intelligent machines will become essential in the new era of Industry 5.0.

Footwear companies are interested in gaining competitive advantages that allow them to use real-time information from various actors on a sustainable supply chain and streamline their production systems, business models, technologies&equipment and employees. Apart from operative digitalisation, sales on e-commerce platforms enriched with virtual try-ons powered by augmented reality and after sales services, such as the recovery of out-of-use products to reintroduce components or materials into the manufacturing process, are examples of business models to follow in a smart footwear factory.

After a very difficult 2020, the footwear industry has an opportunity to reset itself. According to the survey results recently published by World Footwear[2], the top three priorities for investment in footwear companies are digital communication, sustainability, and marketing.

A valuable study on the state of Industry 4.0 in the footwear industry was developed within the FEETIN 4.0 project[3]. According to this research, many footwear companies in Europe already recruit competent employees in mechatronics, communications, big data & analytics, interface design, robotics, 3D design, etc. Instead, there is a big gap between what the industry requires and what vocational education offers as competencies specific to Industry 4.0.  If we add to all these expectations the new needs for skills on human-centricity, sustainability and resilience required by the transition to Industry 5.0, we can say that this gap is deepening.



April 5, 2021

The fight against climate change and for sustainable practices is rapidly becoming a priority for society and all categories of stakeholders, including the European footwear industry. Governments, citizens and civil society organisations across the globe have initiated a change toward energy-efficient, decarbonised, and more circular economies. In the EU, rules and regulations are moving toward harmonization of concepts and methods that facilitate transparent information to consumers and compliance by all players. Sector-wide standards based on tangible numbers and clear labelling schemes are one example. Consumers are growing ever more concerned about the environmental impact of the products they purchase, and the market size of sustainable footwear products consequently keeps expanding, although the number of “green labels” and misused names creates some confusion. Plainly speaking, we all urgently need to speak the same language and use the same tools to identify which products are environmentally friendly, and the Product Environmental Footprint of a product can help achieve this common understanding.

Harmonisation of sustainability standards:  Product Environmental Footprint (PEF)

A Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) is a measure of the environmental performance of a good or service throughout its life-cycle that takes into account supply-chain activities (from the extraction of raw materials, through production and use, to final waste management). It is a method to model the environmental impacts of a product throughout its life-cycle.

The PEF was implemented through the adoption of the European Commission Recommendation on the use of common methods to measure and communicate the life cycle environmental performance of products and organisations and the Communication Building the Single Market for Green Products.[1]

The aim is to make it easier for consumers to recognise how environmentally friendly a product is and promote green products by making the environmental performance of products measurable and communicable according to a uniform procedure. At the moment, a company wishing to market its product as environmentally friendly in several EU Member States markets faces a confusing range of choices of methods and initiatives and this leads to additional testing costs for companies and confusion for consumers due to the many “green labels”. Simply put, the PEF allows for standardization and comparability of the environmental performance of products.

Market opportunities for sustainable companies

Recent consumer research from McKinsey & Co provides further evidence of the importance of sustainability as a market opportunity for companies and that COVID-19 has exacerbated the trend. Two-thirds of surveyed consumers state that since COVID-19 hit, it has become even more important to limit impacts on climate change.

It is also important to note that consumers are changing their behaviour accordingly: 57% of surveyed consumers have made significant changes to their lifestyles to lessen their environmental impact, and more than 60% report going out of their way to recycle and purchase products in environmentally friendly packaging.[1]

A greener footwear production, whether through waste reduction, more sustainable packaging practices, lower emissions or more transparency and traceability, is good and necessary for the planet but it represents as well a competitive advantage and a market opportunity for European footwear companies.

Eco-design principles to guide manufacturers in creating more sustainable footwear products

The partners of the EU-funded LIFE GreenShoes4All project are working on implementing a footwear PEF methodology to use in the development of green shoe footwear design products. For this purpose, they have defined an eco-design methodology and developed a public Eco-design Guide to help companies integrate environmental aspects in the design of new footwear concepts. It presents 10 different Eco-design strategies and associated practical applications that guide design strategies, material and components selection, production techniques, distribution and sale, and recycling.

Eco-design is a winning strategy for footwear SMEs. It brings economic benefits, by optimising the use of materials and energy, improves the image of the company or brand, results in more customer loyalty, and facilitates products compliance with increasingly stringent environmental legal requirements.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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