Guide Developed by the Industry
This guide was developed with feedback from suppliers and dozens of shoe companies. It provides a clear threshold or baseline of where companies should be for their shoe EPMs. The thresholds are very attainable as they are already commercially available. As companies continue their sustainable journey, they should work to push their materials above these thresholds in a short period of time. Likewise they should align their larger goals to the targets set by industry veterans so the industry improves as a whole.
Guide Produced by
The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America is the footwear industry’s business and trade association with over 700 brands and retailers as members. FDRA has a robust and active sustainability program and working group. More than 100 shoe companies join FDRA monthly events and calls to learn best practices and discuss how companies work together to reduce environmental footprints across a range of issues from materials to production. Learn how to get involved at FDRA.org
Special Thanks to
FDRA thanks the dozens of leaders who worked on this guide - in particular, Dan Friedman, Chief Sourcing Officer, and Andee Burton, Senior Manager of Sustainability, at Caleres. Caleres developed its own guide that served as a basis for this guide. Their guidance and support made this guide a reality to help other companies and our industry. We also thank our annual partners whose financial support allow us to continue our work for the industry on a range of sustainability issues like this guide.
Why This Guide is Needed
There is a lot of noise on sustainability, a lot of "you should" over "how to," and a lot of overwhelming new complicated sustainability measurements and KPIs causing confusion and paralyzing decision by those just starting out. In fact, most companies in our industry have not yet really started on their journey, making this guide vital to them. That is in addition to the lack of broader knowledge by shoe professionals on newer, sustainable, materials around development, and execution to what make them actually sustainable. For those who are building up sustainability programs and culture, there is also a lack of benchmarking to measure their own progress against the industry. There is also no real direction to align the industry in a way that help direct all efforts of shoe companies holistically, truly increasing sustainability across our industry while decreasing costs. This basic guide aims to change that through simplicity and clarity. Other reasons:
Apparel Standards Don't Work for Shoes
Some shoe companies are being asked to adopt apparel sustainability standards, which are not helpful to shoe sustainability. Clothing and shoes are two totally different products due to performance, construction and material types. One cannot set EPMs for clothing and expect them to apply to a performance based product like shoes. It creates unrealistic targets that do not apply to our industry’s sustainability journey and hurts efforts.
Benchmarking & Easier/ Better Choices
It can be difficult to know, for a performance based product like shoes, what percents of recycled or bio-based materials or components are feasible to hit over traditional materials. LCAs are needed, but can be costly to many and that may be a barrier to actual progress. So this guide aims to help provide basic EPM thresholds to help companies make better, easier and faster choices. It also creates benchmarking so brands know if they are exceeding industry averages, or where to work harder.
Green North Stars to Align the Industry
It is often difficult for companies to know where to set longer-term goals and targets for sustainable materials due to lack of benchmarking. To help align an industry direction towards “Green” North Stars, this guide will provide direction on specific materials. These EPM targets are already being hit by some companies, but generally are higher stretch targets companies can use to see where they should be shooting towards.
A More Sustainable Industry
Ultimately, the hope is if shoe companies use this document to guide their efforts and share it with their suppliers, we will see a tide lifting up the industry towards better more sustainable materials and products. To help suppliers better transition to higher EPMs, companies need to align on targets, creating increased demand for better EPMs. Over time, if the industry aligns, costs should stabilize reducing risk to suppliers and establishing economies of scale.
EPMs are based on the average shoe
Everyone has a different product, price point, channel and customer. With that in mind, we developed this guide to cover an average shoe, knowing some shoes will be much further advanced with EPMs than others. Establishing an average shoe is important to ensure we assist those just now starting their sustainability journey or those who started but still need some guidance on the path forward. As the industry progresses, we will work to update this inaugural guide with higher percentages and targets.
Not a substitute for sustainable due diligence: exploring material LCAs and other sustainable aspects
Companies need to continue to understand and be wise to shoe material decisions. There are many factors in understanding if a material or component is truly more sustainable than another – for example one biomaterial may be seen as an EPM but producing this material could have required more water, generated more emissions or waste than a traditional material. [ASTM and USDA in this guide will verify the fact that the material has bio-content but it doesn’t look at whether that content is more sustainable or not, e.g., it could be palm oil.]
This guide does not delve into LCAs or production issues around materials or components – over time you will need to understand, for example, what the bio content is, if its food chain related and where its coming from – this guide is a simple way to help you make better decisions now and help you push your progress upward as you start out and learn more about sustainable materials.
All Materials must be certified or have an LCA to comply with the guide
Materials and components listed in this guide must be certified or have Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) docs at the percents listed. Learn more here on certification organizations and standards, as well as the definitions, that correspond to this guide. 3rd party labs listed in the guide refer to establish testing labs like Bureau Veritas, SGS, Eurofins, TUV SUD who are FDRA members.
Percents are by Weight
Weight is the traditional measurement by governmental bodies as well as 3rd parties who verify content. Percents listed below are by weight.
This is only on materials, not processes or chemical issues
Simplified, FDRA defines sustainability as ACTING & ENACTING BETTER – thinking consciously to make better material choices, use better processes, develop better policies and sell better shoes in order to shrink your environmental footprint more than conventional business practices. This guide only focuses on materials in order to zero in on this area, simplify and solve challenges here. It does not cover processes or chemicals to reduce complexity for those starting out. Those areas are being worked on by FDRA and its members separately to be combined as a whole later. For those wishing to focus on better chemical management as part of sustainability, we refer you to FDRA's industry developed RSL for shoes here.
Not a marketing tool but an operational guide
These guides should not be considered marketing guidance - your teams must do legal due diligence on your material sustainability claims per the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Green Guides. This guide is intended to help operations teams – designers, development and sourcing professionals – as well as retail merchants better understand what is and is not a footwear EPM and make better choices/make better requirements.
Benchmark yourself – Push up your EPMs above the threshold
This guide was developed with feedback from suppliers and dozens of shoe companies. It provides a clear threshold or baseline of where companies should be for their shoe EPMs. The thresholds are very attainable, and typically do not greatly increase costs. As companies continue their sustainable journey, they should work to push their materials above these thresholds in a short period of time.
Adopt these Green North Star targets
Companies already reaching these targets are trailblazers and provide encouragement to the industry that progress can be made. There are major challenges around product types and prices across the industry – not everyone is in the same boat. However, please use these standards where you can in your products to help make your processes and products more sustainable. These targets are not to overwhelm but to be guide posts along the journey – do what you can when you can as you keep moving up the mountain. Baby steps are still steps forward.
Footwear Environmentally Preferred Materials (EPM) Guide
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