Thursday, May 19, 2011

You will never hear a guy say "let’s talk about shoes," but that's exactly what I'm going to say.

I’m an avid runner. I’ve been told by my old Army boss, COL Brown, to get new running shoes every three to six months. It seems a bit over the top but I have chronic back and knee problems, so I gladly follow his advice. (He happens to be a sports medicine doctor as well, more authority to what he says about the subject.) But I try to only buy new shoes when my knees start to hurt from running, a sure sign that the support in my shoes have collapsed.

Growing up, my shoes lasted a lot longer than three to six months. We didn’t have fancy designer shoes either. China in the 80s and 90s rocked cloth shoes or rubber military style “sports” shoes. The cloth shoes were mostly made by old women or small operations in the city. The rubber sports shoes were a leftover from China’s attempt at building up military surplus. They were cheap, costing about 5 to 10 Yuan (equivalent of $1 at the time); but still my mother would only buy a pair for me when the last had holes. It was normal to have holes in your shoes. It was almost a badge of honor amongst my friends. It had the same cool factor of having an old beat-up bike, it meant you weren’t rich and you didn’t care. That was important back then, Beijing was attempting to tell China to “get rich” but still maintain communist principles. The government spent a lot of man hours teaching us about that kind of old shoe old bike “cool.”
I saw my first pair of designer running shoes on my tenth birthday, 1989, when my grand uncle and aunt came to visit us in Beijing and brought me a pair of Nike knock offs from the eastern coast. The shoes looked puffy and unnatural to me, making my feet appear out of place. I gladly wore them anyway because it looked foreign. Things foreign would give me instant celebrity status in the sixth grade. I still remember how strange it was to have so much on my feet, but twenty-two years later I can’t live without them.

But I’m not here to tell you not to buy shoes. I still try to buy a new pair of running shoes a year, a lot more consumption than my rocking-rubber-green-shoe days. I see it as necessary, a carbon footprint I find hard to reduce.

That is why I was excited to see Puma’s name appear in my news aggregate below this blog’s Post section. It appears that Puma

“is the first company in the world to put a value on the ecosystem services it uses to produce its sports shoes and clothes . . . and has published an economic valuation of the environmental impacts caused by greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and water consumption along its entire supply chain. It plans to become even more ambitious by integrating both its social and economic impacts.”

 - the Triple Pundit. 

I’m not here to sell you Puma shoes. I want to sell you the idea. What if Congress passed a bill that required most, if not all, of the producers to include such things as GHGs and water consumptions on the labels? I have been studying up for my LEED exam and I see this voluntarily adopted in construction and building design. Puma is smart to kick off this type of thinking in its business strategy and it won’t be the last. It’s not the majority of the marker that I am worried about because I think a lot more companies will follow. I trust the free market will shape this initially.

It’s the companies that has something to hide and will refuse to label their products this way who worries me. Those are the companies probably making the worst impacts on our consumers and our environment.

So if we should just depend on the free market to drive this kind of responsible corporate culture, we may fall short of curing our problems. Should we depend on legislatures remains an important question we have to answer. Until then, let’s give Puma a pat on the back and say thank you for your transparency.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great piece Jin. I agree with you that most shoes companies do fewer efforts regarding the environment. I command Puma’s efforts and I think a lot more like those are needed. I think shoes companies and maybe even most companies are tackling this issue the wrong. Even though FORUS Athletics is new, we made an effort to be environmentally conscious. We have 1 shoe (SHADOWCAM 9.49) that has its sole made of fully recycled materials. We also chose a packaging system for our shoes that allows our customers to reuse them. I think others brands could make cost effective changes that would tremendously help the environment. To me, it is first about the WILL to do it and second, the INGENUITY to find ways to do them in a sound business matter! Great article!