John Stokes, Head of Global Sustainability at New Balance, has some bold declarations about what his shoe company will be doing to help the environment: namely, a near-term commitment to 100% renewable energy and a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions for the American, Boston-based company. Green living is, of course, of tantamount importance to all of us, but runners especially seem to be simpatico with Mother Earth. At iRun, we’ve looked deeply into the issue with stories on how races can go green, and this sustainability survey, which we encourage everyone to complete. Here, Ben Kaplan, editor of iRun, talks frankly with Stokes, from New Balance.
Ben Kaplan: As leaders in the running market, do you think good health, running and environmentalism enjoy a special relationship?
John Stokes: Access to a healthy environment is essential for running and enabling active lifestyles in general, which we know is critical to overall human health, both physical and mental. Whether you are a runner or an environmentalist, or not, we all fundamentally need a healthy planet. This connection is at the root of our new 1% for the Planet partnership – based on the idea that runners have a vested interest in protecting the places we love to run. That’s why we’re giving a portion of sales from the Fresh Foam Hierro v6 to benefit nonprofit organizations that are working so hard to activate the outdoor community around climate change and protecting public land.
BK: You get at this with your last answer, but I want to emphasize the point: why, as a company, is sustainability important to new balance?
JS: New Balance has been around for over 100 years, and we see sustainability as essential if we’re going to be around for another 100. New Balance stands for something bigger than sneakers and apparel. Doing right by people and the planet is a core part of our mission to create a brand that people are proud to wear and communities are proud to host wherever we operate around the world.
BK: Your commitment to 100% renewable electricity for owned operations by 2025 sounds ultra-impressive. How long has that been in the works for and what, specifically, does that mean?
JS: This goal means that we will source renewable electricity for all of the electricity we use globally across all of our offices, owned retail stores, distribution centres that we own or operate, and our “Made” factories that we proudly own and operate in the U.S. and U.K. New Balance joined RE100 to formalize this goal in 2019, but we’ve been at it for much longer. Our first solar array was installed and began generating renewable energy at our Flimby UK factory in 2013.
BK: If New Balance achieves 30% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, what will that bring the number down to—from what to what?
JS: While the RE100 goal is incredibly important, this 2030 goal is much broader and addresses our largest impacts. Over 95% of our carbon footprint comes from what is called “Scope 3 emissions,” most of which are driven by our supply chain and the materials we use to make products. That is why we’re super focused on decarbonizing our materials, finding ways to increase renewable energy use across our supply chain, and emphasizing product longevity, repair, and more circular resource systems.
BK: Let’s speak broadly here and blue sky our future. Hypothetically, if competitive brands like Nike, Under Armour, Brooks and Asics all committed to the same New Balance green ethos, how much CO2 emissions could be reduced?
JS: I can’t speak to specific emission reduction levels at those other brands, but you bring up a great point. The entire industry needs to be taking action, and it isn’t about competition. Our success will depend on collaboration, sharing ideas and tools, and working together toward common goals. The good news is this is happening across a number of really impactful industry groups, and New Balance continues to lead where we can and is always learning from others.