Vibram’s sustainable way: Life Cycle Analysis, a tool for improving footwear sustainability

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.
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