Dr Martens have a lot of information on their website in terms of their future plans, with a designated sustainability section and report highlighting their aims and how they relate to the SDGs, as well as emission levels and carbon dioxide equivalents, although these sections are brief and lack specifics on the areas of data collection. These are hopeful goals which I think they will mainly achieve, however, there may be areas which they complete just before or just after their target time periods. They also don’t provide much information about their suppliers and their specific certifications which means I don’t completely trust them - if they had nothing to hide surely they would tell us, their customers, who makes the shoes we love to wear?
The materials used to create these iconic shoes are particularly bad for the environment as they contain or produce toxic, cancer-causing chemicals, are derived from fossil fuels and contain animal products which brings the overall score down massively. Also, at £149 these shoes are not accessible to everyone and are on the higher end of the average shoe price so whether they are ‘sustainable’ is debatable.
However, if you can afford them and feel their morals match yours then they are very comfy and good quality shoes that can be worn with anything. I would suggest looking for alternatives first but if not, these are a solid 2nd choice!
This section has been scored so low because Dr Martens are made primarily of leather, polyester, and an alloy of PVC (a synthetic plastic polymer), which are all highly unsustainable and detrimental to the environment. For example, PVC is created from fossil fuels and is not biodegradable (which helps the shoes withstand wear and tear making the shoes longer lasting but means it will not break down naturally) and can be hard to recycle meaning few facilities accept it. However, Dr Martens have ‘started incorporating 50% post-consumer recycled plastic in our Airwair heel loop’ and are using recycled pre-consumer waste PVC in the moulding process of the shoe to help reduce waste. PVC can also be incredibly toxic as it uses lots of chlorine and Dioxin and Greenpeace lists it as one of the ‘single most environmentally damaging type of plastic’.
The leather used is a ‘by-product of the food industry’ and they report that ‘more than 98% of leather is sourced from Leather Working Group medal rated tanneries and they are aiming for ‘100% leather traceability by 2024’ for which they are 78% complete. However, the tanning process uses huge amounts of energy and often causes exposure to toxic chemicals, which has been linked to the development of cancer by those working in or near the tanneries which is terrible.
The company recognises that one of the main areas they could improve in is sourcing more sustainable materials, so they are ‘committed to researching and developing more sustainable materials for the future, such as biosynthetic and biodegradable alternatives’ and are ‘currently testing cushioning components made from sugarcane bioplastic and a vegan-friendly alternative upper material made from mushrooms’
In terms of the packaging of the products the standard shoebox is ‘fully recyclable, made from 95% recycled paper and printed with soy ink’ which reduces the use of virgin materials and waste. By 2028 they aim to have 100% of packaging will be made from recycled or other sustainably sourced material’
For these 1460 ankle boots approximately ‘70% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the lifecycle comes from producing the materials, such as leather and packaging’, (with the proportion of other causes in the picture below although no specific numbers are given) which is not sustainable and can produce a lot of waste.
So, they have many aims and targets to source materials more sustainably, reduce waste and the effects of their production. For example:
By 2035: ‘a target of zero deforestation across our value chain’
By 2028: ‘reduce our waste and eliminate landfill waste across our value chain’
By 2030: ‘to be net zero’, ‘remove fossil-based chemicals from our products’’
By 2040: ‘sourcing 100% of the natural materials we use in our products from regenerative agriculture’
Tier 1 suppliers are required to have a formal waste management plan to ‘minimise waste at the source, and where it isn’t possible to reuse or recycle it’ and by 2025 an ISO 14001 or equivalent (a type of certification standard to help companies minimise the negative impacts of their procedures).
It looks as though they are making good efforts to improve their product life cycle and minimize its effect but, there is a lack of information outlining specific data relating to the impacts of individuals shoes or their brand meaning it’s hard to get the true picture of how sustainable the shoe making process is which is reflected in the overall score.
Dr Martens are sourced from the United Kingdom, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, USA, Portugal and Taiwan and are manufactured in 13 factories across 7 countries in Asia although Dr Martens do have a Made In England (MIE) range. However, this means most products have a long transport distance, which releases huge amounts of pollutants and gas in the process. Although there are no known reports of abuse or poor conditions in these factories, these countries often have high risks of it, so it is likely that it does happen, and due to the lack of information Dr Martens website provides, we can’t rule it out.
Tier 1 suppliers are those suppliers who assemble the shoes whereas tier 2 suppliers are the providers of components (e.g., laces) to tier one suppliers. The tier 1 suppliers are published on the website for ‘transparency’ and are required to declare where the products will be manufactured to reduce likelihood of subcontracting, however it’s been found that a proportion of their suppliers do not have certification to protect against it. The suppliers must also agree to many policies that promise the fair treatment of employees and suitable working conditions and regular checks are carried out to ensure this is happening.