Brooks is a running apparel company whose purpose is to provide shoes and gear that inspire people all around the world to find their best selves through running. Not only is Brooks my personal favorite brand to run in, it also makes me feel good knowing that this company has developed various sustainability initiatives and progressed throughout each version of their shoes to reach carbon neutrality. The Ghost 14 is Brooks’s most resource-intensive shoe, as well as the most popular style, so this is where their green initiatives begin. Brooks’s goal is to reach zero carbon emissions by 2040, and is committed to transparency and sustainability in order to protect consumers, workers, and the environment. Their transition to zero emission production includes low impact dyeing processes, renewable energy sources in factories, and purchasing offsets to compensate for emissions not yet reduced. These initiatives give Brooks a prestigious sustainable image. One aspect of this plan is flawed, however, because utilizing offsets does not solve the issue of carbon emissions and climate change; rather, they put the responsibility of Brooks carbon emissions on someone else.
The Brooks Ghost 14 is built largely with recycled materials. Starting at the top, upper textiles are made with at least 30% recycled polyester. The tongue lining, sock liner and toe box are all made of polyester as well, but they are closer to 100% recycled material. Of course, using recycled materials beats using virgin materials any day. However, most recycled polyester does not come from previously used polyester; rather, plastics--specifically polyethylene terephthalate (PET)--are recycled to create polyester. This cradle-to-grave cycle is rigorous and toxic, and leads to a disturbing ending in the ocean. Recycled polyester is less durable than its virgin counterpart, so when the final product is thrown into the landfill or ocean, the textile quickly sheds and micro plastics seep into bodies of water from landfills.
The DNA Loft foam--the shoe’s midsole--is made out of ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) for extra cushion. This is a concerning material to use in the shoe, as EVA is a synthetic polymer that does not biodegrade and is made from petroleum. Although EVA is certainly more comfortable than sustainable alternatives, it is not a responsible path to take. Brooks could learn from other sustainable shoe designs such as Reebok’s Forever Floatride Grow shoe, which uses algal bloom and castor oil rather than synthetic polymers to create a cushioned footbed.
Brooks works to maintain transparency for their customers throughout their supply chain. Their website provides information regarding their manufacturing sites, and fair wage and working condition requirements. Most factories are found in Vietnam, but there are also sites in Mexico, the US, and Taiwan. The goal for all these sites is to reach carbon neutrality and create zero manufacturing waste by 2025. Reaching carbon neutrality in the manufacturing process would consist of zero emissions from factories through renewable energy systems, compostable packaging, and green transportation of materials and outsourcing of products. These initiatives are a strong start, but Brooks does not keep their customers in the loop regarding these transitions, so it is difficult to track their progress. Brooks also leaves out the details as to where they source their materials as well from their supply chain information. Some pieces of the shoe are extracted or produced using fossil fuels. To improve on the transparency between the company and its consumers, Brooks must provide information on where and how the shoe is manufactured in its entirety.
The company overall has set clear goals to create a more inclusive, diverse work environment for all, as well as laid groundwork regarding how to maintain fair labor wages and practices. Brooks aligns their policies and standards with the Ethical Trading Initiative--an independent body which oversees fair trade and supply chains within a company--and the Fair Labor Association which creates solutions to forced labor practices around the world. Likewise, Brooks outlined a goal for 2025 stating they plan to achieve at least 50% female representation at all levels of Brooks US employees by 2025, reach at least 30% BIPOC representation at all levels of Brooks US employees by 2025, and maintain their Human Rights Campaign “Corporate Equality Index” of 100/100. The Corporate Equality Index created by the Human Rights Campaign is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies, practices and benefits pertinent to the LGBTQ community, and currently Brooks stands as a 100% inclusive workplace. This is a pathway that should not go unnoticed. These are really just numbers on a page, so to take a more humane approach to presenting labor statistics, Brooks shows their progress by including perspectives and feedback from their employees on their labor practices website. They put their words into action, and have become one of the most sustainable running apparel brands for doing so.