IS VIVOBAREFOOT FOOTWEAR “SUSTAINABLE”? HOW WE’RE INVESTIGATING OUR IMPACT
Everything we buy as humans has an impact on the Earth. However, it was produced, whatever it is made of the products we buy leave a footprint on both people and the planet.
While we know that VivoBarefoot footwear is regenerative to foot health, it’s not the same story for the planet.
RIGHT NOW, NONE OF OUR FOOTWEAR IS SUSTAINABLE.
Creating footwear that’s regenerative for people and planet is our north star, but how far from that are we? Our sustainability scoring system, the V-Matrix, helps us assess the environmental impact of our footwear so we can figure that out. It also means we can make this information public and speak openly and honestly about where each product sits on the sliding scale of “trashing the planet” to “least harmful for the planet”.
ASSESSING THE IMPACT OF OUR FOOTWEAR
Many companies across a wide range of industries use a model called Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to assess the environmental impact of their product. LCA considers everything from sourcing the raw materials (for example leather for footwear, or cacao for chocolate), through to the production processes that take place at the factory (how the leather is dyed for example) and the transport of the finished product.
LCA was a great starting point for us at Vivo, as we looked to measure the planetary impact of our footwear. But we soon realized it didn’t give us the level of detail we needed to feel confident about the sustainability (or unsustainability) of our products.
We wanted to include factors like durability (how much rough and tumble it can handle), complexity (how many different parts of the footwear there are) and repairability (how easy it is to Revivo).
We were looking for an analysis model specific to footwear that would hold us to higher levels of accountability to people and planet. But we couldn’t find one. So we’re building it ourselves.
INTRODUCING THE V-MATRIX
The V-Matrix is a sustainability scoring system we’re developing in partnership with our impact analysis partner, Made2Flow (https://www.made2flow.com/). It includes three data points:
- Primary data from our LCA (where we can get it directly from the factory – things like type of machinery they’re using, amount of energy used to run it etc.)
- Secondary data from our LCA (where we currently have gaps in the primary data and need to rely on industry data for now – this is for things like plastics production (e.g. data from oil companies)
- Four of our own Vivo Key Performance Indicators
These combine to give one overall sustainability score: the higher the score, the less harmful the product is for the planet.
THE CRITERIA, EXPLAINED
Here are the four Vivo factors we are including:
- Specific materials: not all materials are created equal. For example, Wild Hide leather (sourced from free-roaming cattle reared by smallholder farmers) will score higher than conventionally sourced leather from mass meat production. We call these preferred and unpreferred materials.
- Complexity: this refers to the number of components the footwear has – such as laces, eyelets, reinforcements, or different parts of the upper (like mesh) – as well as how complex the design and construction process is. Often, the more diverse the materials in a style, the harder it is to repair, recycle or decompose.
- Durability: the durability of materials affects how long the product will last (the more durable a product, the less often you need to repair and eventually buy new).
- Longevity: this accounts for how easy the product is to clean and repair, which determines its lifespan through our Revivo programme.
The V-Matrix, like all our regeneration efforts, is a work in progress. We’re designing it to help us engineer and re-engineer the most planet-friendly footwear possible, recognizing we need to test and learn as we go.
The Primus Lite III will be the first style to be scored using all three data points - so it will be the most comprehensively scored footwear we've ever done.
“Just a few years back it was very difficult to convince brands to measure the environmental impact of just a handful of their styles,” says Atnyel Guedj, Chief Product Officer at Made2Flow. “One of the main challenges in the fashion industry is the inability of sustainability leaders to work with the product teams on roadmap to impact reduction. The V-Matrix is an amazing tool that helps not only to measure beyond LCA but to guide designers and product developers towards lower impact choices. More importantly it’s a tool that helps drive towards one of the main tasks we have in footwear - design for disassembly and making sure cleaning, repairing and eventually recycling the style.”
By December 2023 we want to have run four more top performing styles through the full V-Matrix (with value chain data); the Primus Trail, Primus Lite Knit, Tracker II, and Tracker Forest.
As we test and learn from these styles, the full V-Matrix will be rolled out to every single style we produce.
But it isn’t just for Vivos. Our goal is for every footwear brand to be able to use the V-Matrix for their products – whether they’re barefoot or not. Our door is wide open to friends, collaborators and even competitors who want to shrink the industry’s collective footprint.
THE V MATRIX IN ACTION
We’ve been using a basic V-Matrix since 2021, using it to make improvements to existing styles and decide which new designs make it through to production.
Our top scorer is the Addis, which is made from Wild Hide leather with a simple design that’s easy to construct and dismantle at end-of-life.
Right now, the Tracker II FG is our worst scorer, since it has 39 individual components and many different material types including virgin synthetics. This makes it tricky to manufacture and dismantle at end-of-life. However, it does score well for durability and thanks to the V-Matrix, we’ve already made improvements for its next evolution.
Right now, we’re rolling this tool out internally and introducing the model to our value chain partners. There’s still a lot of data gaps we need to fill – we have five tiers of partners in our value chain and right now, we only have transparency over Tiers 1 (product assembly factories) and 2 (material manufacturers). An example of a Tier 5 partner would be raw material sources, like the smallholder farms for Wild Hide leather.
Next, we want to evolve the method to better account for social impact across our value chain. A factory that pays living wages should score higher than one that doesn’t, for example. Ultimately, we want to push the standards — from scoring positively for sustainable practice to only scoring positively for regenerative practice. This means moving beyond sustainable materials like certified organic cotton, to certified regenerative organic cotton, which actively restores the environments it’s grown in and better supports the communities that are growing it.
We know we can’t tackle these industry challenges alone. Our goal is for the V Matrix to be easily adapted by and for other businesses, and to collaborate with others on improving it. If you represent one of these businesses, or you’re an impact geek that wants to know more, give us a shout on email@example.com.