Sustainable Shoes – How EMMA’s Safety Footwear protects our feet ánd the environment

They provide us comfort, protection, and support. Shoes are essential for everyday life and for some- they are éxtra essential for work-life too. For over 90 years, EMMA Safety Footwear has been providing footwear fit for the safety needs of workers around the world. But is their footwear safe for the environment too? EMMA Safety Footwear calculated the environmental footprints of their footwear. These are the results.
EMMA SF - logo

The Challenge

EMMA Safety Footwear already implements many sustainable improvements in their manufacturing processes & supply chain. But, lacked measurable environmental insights on the effectiveness of these initiatives: they wanted to calculate the environmental footprint of their shoes with Ecochain Mobius.

The Outcome

With Ecochain Mobius EMMA now (1) Gains full insights into the environmental impact of the initiatives they have already undertaken. (3) Calculates improvement scenarios of processes (e.g. recycling vs. the incineration) and alternative materials.(3) Visually presents these results to stakeholders.

Sustainable Shoes – How EMMA’s Safety Footwear protects our feet ánd the environment6 min read

Building shoes that last forever

Starting out as a safety footwear provider in the mines of South Netherlands in the 1930s- EMMA Safety Footwear (EMMA) is now a global frontrunner in providing safety footwear for any industry. 

With the motto ‘you may retire before they do’, craftsmanship, quality, and longevity are at the core of all the products they make.  

But in 2015, EMMA decided to add another core aspect to their footwear: sustainability.

The footwear industry is responsible for 1.4% of global Greenhouse gas emissions.

Raw materials for the production of footwear are running out, and the planet’s resources are being depleted. As a result, customers increasingly request carbon footprint scores.

Footwear needs to become safe for our planet too. So, EMMA wanted to show the industry exactly how that’s done.

copyrights: Emma Safety Footwear

The need for value chain insights

EMMA already made its manufacturing processes more energy-efficient and powered by solar panels. But their first sustainable step in product improvements was to replace the most hazardous materials – with more environmentally friendly ones:

  • They use soles made of 85% recycled materials, 
  • Laces from used plastic bottles, 
  • And worked even harder on extending the life of their footwear.

Still- they lacked measurable environmental insights on the impacts of their sustainability initiatives. 

Accompanied by increasing customer demand for footprint data (e.g. tenders or large firms supporting the SDG’s), EMMA wanted quantitative insights on their business operations. 

So, they reached out to Ecochain.

We see that customers increasingly ask for different sustainability criteria; this also concerns footprint information. We knew little about the impact of the various sustainability initiatives we already executed and have planned. As we didn’t yet have quantitative insights. With Ecochain’s tool Mobius we now have extensive footprint reports for three representative shoe models, clearly outlining the impact from the production to the end of life phase.

Roel Cremers – Brand Manager EMMA Safety Footwear
copyrights: Emma Safety Footwear

Methodology: What & how

EMMA chose Ecochain product footprint tool Mobius to fulfil three main goals: 

  1. Gain insights into the impact of the initiatives they have already undertaken. By measuring environmental footprints of their products and analyzing where the biggest amounts of emissions (so-called impact hotspots) in their value chain come from.
  2. Calculate improvement scenarios of processes (e.g. recycling vs. the incineration of used safety footwear) and alternatively impactful materials. To test and support the most sustainable product improvements;
  3. Visually present these results clearly to external stakeholders;

They wanted to measure the full environmental footprint of three shoes – called; Vera, Lukas & Amazone. The materials used for these shoes are mostly representative of EMMA’s 90 other shoe models.

How do you calculate environmental footprints?

EMMA performed Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) for the three products in Ecochain’s product footprint tool Mobius. All LCA’s were performed according to the PEF Methodology.

What’s a Life Cycle Assessment?

An LCA measures the environmental impact of all the life phases of a product (from raw materials to manufacturing/production, to transport, to customer use, to the end-of-life). LCA’s reveal 15+ environmental impact outcomes– these are your footprint results. 

EMMA’s LCA measurement scope included the entire lifecycle- this is also called cradle-to-grave

EMMA measured two ISO14040 compliant LCA’s for every shoe:

  1. One LCA for the shoes with the current improvements E.g. green energy, and more sustainable raw materials.
  2. One LCA for future shoes – including new improvement scenarios. E.g. their take-back system, recycling, refurbishment, etc.

The production data from EMMA’s leather supplier Viposa and their own manufacturing location were used as main input.

EMMA focuses on its carbon footprint results, as it’s their biggest impact category. 

Long lifespans & Recycling are KEY to reducing impact

Out of the three shoes, the Amazone already has the lowest environmental footprint currently. With a carbon footprint of 12.3 kg CO2-eq.

Why:

  • The Amazone has a longer lifespan (15 months instead of 12). A longer shoe life divides the environmental impact of the shoe over a longer time period. You simply need fewer shoes over the same period – as shoes with a shorter time span.

But with EMMA’s improvement scenarios (sustainable material use & recycling) modeled in Mobius scenarios feature – The future Amazone has an even higher potential for reduction opportunities. 

Why:

  • 80% of the Amazone will be recycled. In case customers hand in their used shoes for recycling – recycling the shoes into isolation material, or remelting the steel toecap, will decrease the total carbon footprint by almost 20% (!!) to a resulting carbon footprint of 8.46 kg CO2-eq (!!).

What are the main impact hotspots of work shoes?

The LCA results also show the biggest impact hotspots for the three shoes:

1. Material production 

With an average of 73%, the biggest environmental impact comes from retrieving the raw materials for production. Think of steel, leather, and the plastic materials necessary for creating the soles. However, EMMA’s use of recycled materials was proven to be beneficial for reducing impact.

2. Production processes

With an average of 22%, the second biggest environmental impact hotspot for the three shoes comes from the production processes. Think of manufacturing the steel noses and producing the non-woven soles.

3. End-of-life: 

Usually footwear is incinerated at the end-of-life. Which would account for 3% of the product’s footprint. EMMA compared the impact of incineration and recycling, which is significant:

 0.34 kg CO2-eq vs. -4.55 kg CO2-eq (!!).

EMMA already offers customers to send used footwear to the Circular Footwear Alliance for recycling. And will start a pilot phase soon of a project to recycle their own shoes in bulk. 

4. Transport

Only accounts for 2% of the total environmental impact.

Walking into the future- sustainably 

With the results from Ecochain Mobius, EMMA can now:

  • Communicate the carbon footprint of their shoes to customers;
  • Validate their sustainable improvement scenarios for the Amazone and other shoes;
  • Improve and find focus (efficiency) in their sustainability measures. 
  • Ensure credibility for their sustainable actions.

The next step: explore measuring the environmental footprint of their value chain (scope 3 emissions). 

We can’t wait to see the results.

We are convinced we need transparent numbers to support our sustainability claims now- and in the future. This also really helps in our sustainability reporting. It enables us to be more transparent about our products towards the customers.

Iris van Wanrooij, Program Manager Corporate Social Responsibility


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