Crocs – the previously loathed shoe company that became a fashion success story during the pandemic – are radically changing the clogs’ ingredients and will be entirely bio-based by 2022.
The shoe, named one of Time magazine’s worst inventions in 2010, will be remade using a natural mix. The new material, called Ecolibrium, is built from hydrocarbons extracted from renewable resources and waste products such as palm oil and pulp paper. The company call the new production process “carbon negative”.
The chief executive, Andrew Rees, called out other companies for “greenwashing”, making a distinction between those who actively attempt to reduce their carbon gas emissions and those who attempt to reach zero carbon through offset initiatives such as upcycling old items. “Our net zero includes the whole footprint, not just how we operate the company, but also all of our products,” he said.
The brand has been transparent about its carbon footprint: about 3.94kg of CO2 a pair –already low for the fashion industry – and say that they are not only attempting to bring this figure down but to be totally carbon neutral by the year 2030.
However, Greenpeace UK criticised Crocs use of palm oil in the new ingredients. “Substituting palm oil will not solve Crocs’ contribution to climate change,” said Anna Jones, head of forests. “It is ignoring that land use expansion for palm oil plantations is a driver of deforestation that has direct consequences fuelling the climate crisis.”
She added that the palm oil industry was not transparent and “extremely complicated”. Jones said that the supply chains were poorly monitored and regulations designed to preserve forests were badly implemented and contain a series of loopholes that allow companies to largely ignore them. “Securing a dependable supply of sustainably produced palm oil in the current market is next to impossible, and until the industry is properly regulated, and increasing demand for palm oil reduces, any claims about ‘sustainable palm oil’ are most likely to be snake oil,” she said.
There will be no price hike for the new Crocs, unlike other shoe brands such as Nike and Converse who produce more environmentally friendly ranges of their existing shoes (Space Hippie and Renew, respectively) and sell them for a higher price in part because renewable ingredients are more expensive. “Most companies do that so they can charge a premium,” Rees told Fast Company. “We like to use the line, ‘green comes in every colour’.”
After being mocked for years, Crocs have become a pop culture phenomenon, beloved by celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj, as well as gaining popularity during the pandemic as people flocked to “comfort wear”. The company has said its projected revenue will be £4.2bn ($5bn) by 2026.
The fashion industry continues its attempts to improve its sustainability record. In October it was estimated that New York fashion week had caused between 40-48,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a report from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Boston Consulting Group. Six areas of improvement were outlined by the report, including increases in on-site recycling and a reduction in transportation, which were implemented during the NYFW which took place at the weekend.
In response to the use of palm oil, a Crocs company spokesperson told the Guardian: “Crocs has worked in collaboration with Dow, a global materials science company, to incorporate new Ecolibrium technology that transforms sustainably sourced waste and byproducts into a shoe that has all the comfort you expect from Crocs, but with less emissions. Dow ensures that all of the bio residues and by-products it sources can be obtained in a sustainable and certified manner. Additionally, they only use byproducts that do not compete with the food chain, and by finding a use for material that would otherwise go to waste, they are able to ensure these products become part of the circular economy.”