UGG released an “environmentally friendly” shoe collection, which uses innovative alternatives to UGG’s traditional energy and land-intensive materials that increases the use of recycled, repurposed, regenerated, and renewable methods. After looking more into this collection, I was pleasantly surprised by the initiatives UGG has taken to reduce the environmental impacts of their products. However, I was disappointed in how limited this collection is and how it is only advertised as an alternative to their non environmentally friendly products instead of one of their main collections. In addition, I could only find the AW21 Icon-Impact collection through a google search outside of the UGG website. It was difficult for me to find a way to buy these products through the main UGG website, so I had to follow a chain of links at the bottom of their webpage in order to find this collection. This extra hassle deters consumers from finding this collection, which makes me think that UGG does not intend to fully incorporate these environmentally friendly practices into their company.
The materials introduced by the AW21 Icon-Impact collection include SugarSole™, which is a foam that allows UGG to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels by replacing petroleum-based ethylene, TENCEL Lyocell, which is a wood-based wool alternative that is processed in a closed-loop system where 99.7% of chemicals and water are recovered and reused, and LACTAE HEVEA®, which is a natural rubber harvested from the Hevea rubber tree. Almost all (98%) of the wool that UGG uses in their traditional supply chain is not virgin wool. This means that the wool is produced as a byproduct of the meat industry. Animal agriculture is horrible for the environment on its own, mostly because of the land and water intensive processes used to raise and kill livestock. UGG is able to maximize how much of the animal is used by sourcing their wool from the animal agriculture industry; however, that still doesn't really sit well with me. It seems as though UGG is passing the blame onto the meat industry, even though they are still intentionally cooperating with such a devastating industry. UGG has made efforts to support regenerative farming by partnering with the Savory Institute, but they haven't started integrating regenerative farming into their own production. Wool alternatives often involve the use of polymers and synthetic fibers derived using coal and petroleum. They can also release micro plastics into water supplies, which can be dangerous to surrounding ecosystems. This is why natural alternatives, like TENCEL, are a great option. Traditional UGG products get the rubber for the shoe linings from petroleum, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, LACTAE HEVEA, which is used in the collection, is naturally extracted straight from the rubber tree.
On the UGG website, they provide a life cycle analysis for the material they use and their production methods. However, you have to be really careful with these because the emission reduction they claim to have is compared to the worst-case scenario. For example, the 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of the Icon Impact Collection is based on the emissions of virgin market wool fiber, the most greenhouse gas-intensive option. UGG manufacturing takes place in China and Vietnam. The sheepskin they use is sourced from tanneries in China, which sources their raw materials from Australia and the UK. This is a very unnecessary and transportation-intensive option, especially for UGG’s “commitment” to greenhouse gas emissions. UGG has no information about their labor practices on their website, which leads me to assume poor factory conditions. Asian labor wages and practices are relatively inhumane and unregulated, so a lot of large-scale companies manufacture their products in Asia to reduce labor costs. All UGG products end their life cycle in a landfill and degrade very slowly. UGG does have a repair option, UGGrenew, where consumers can mail in their old shoes and they can be restored by a professional. This extends the lifecycle of their products so fewer of them end up in landfills. UGG products come in cardboard boxes with an eco-friendly and plant-based coating (only 70% of cardboard boxes get recycled annually).
UGG is a very popular shoe company that uses sheepskin as the lining for their shoes. With this, they proposed the AW21 Icon-Impact collection, which provides eco-friendly and sustainable options for their traditional products. UGG launched this collection along with a partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), which supports fashion companies that are promoted diversity, equity, inclusion, and sustainability in their products. Although there is an obvious intent to transition towards more sustainable production, it seems like UGG doesn't take their sustainability goals seriously and is using this collection to gain “points” for sustainability instead of incorporating these environmentally friendly alternatives into their traditional supply chain. There are some major labor concerns regarding the manufacturing and production of UGG products. UGG speaks little about their labor methods within the factories; they do mention, though, that they don't use forced labor or child labor. Not using child labor or modern slavery is the bare minimum for any sustainable company. There are many other ways to violate workers rights other than these labor methods. For example, many manufacturers choose to manufacture in Asia because of the lack of regulation regarding wages and labor conditions. Many workers work on wages below 75 cents an hour. This is not livable, and many workers have to work overtime to compensate for the low wages. However, UGG is not all bad. They have a HERproject initiative, that “works to unlock the full potential of women through workplace-based interventions on health, financial inclusion, and gender equality”. However, the extent to which this is actually making a difference in their own supply chain is unclear. They also have an extensive list of Sustainable Development Goals, but the lack of followup and detail makes me doubt if they're making substantial progress.