U Teng Long
March 10, 2014
Raw materials for Toms shoes
The Toms shoes are mainly made out of four components: canvas, rubber, dye and pig suede. It is a casual wear that is produced by lightweight and eco-friendly materials. Toms has become such a popular trend in recent years. And the invention of Toms can be track back in 2006, when Blake Mycokie first saw the Argentinean wearing a form of shoes called alpargatas. It is a simple slip on canvas shoes that is widely worn by most Argentinean, and it becomes a prototype for the classical style of Toms shoes later on. When Blake Mycokie went back to United States, he really liked the style of alpargatas shoes and he then applied the Argentinean’s idea and established the Toms Company. The Tomes shoes are simple and enduring, many people like it because it feels comfortable and it is easy to put them on. Moreover, Toms has an innovative notion that has never been done by any other shoes companies before. The “one for one” notion means that the Toms Company will give out a new pair of shoes to people in developing countries when a customer purchases a pair shoes in their retail store. This new idea certainly attracted many new customers. It makes people feel it is worthy to buy the shoes that they need, and at the same time, to help the poor to obtain a new pair of shoes. Another reason that makes people like Toms is the eco-friendly materials that are used; in terms, it creates less waste to our environment. And how did Toms become so successful by using eco-friendly materials? Lets take a look at the materials that Toms is using in its production.
Every pair of the Toms shoes is mainly covered by canvas, which is made out of cotton and post-consumer plastic waste. Cotton is a raw material that is come out from natural plants. It is a soft and fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll around the seeds of cotton plants called Gossypium. And the fiber comes out from the pure cellulose. Cotton is mostly grown in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. It is a cheap and endurable material that is widely used on our daily clothing, bed sheet, pillow and so on. The production process of turning cotton into canvas requires several important steps. First, farmers have to collect the cotton boll and extract fiber from it. Then they have to clean the fiber and extract the impurity. After that, twist the fiber into yarn, and combine the yarn into thread. Finally, weave the thread into a cloth. According to what Toms said, they are using organic cotton, which means they are creating even less environmental damage to our society. The organic cotton is grown without applying any synthetic pesticides and herbicides, in which the cotton will yield in less quantity per acre. Though, it will produce less carbon –dioxide emission to our atmosphere and less damage to the soil.
However, there is something more than cotton in the Toms canvas. Perhaps it wants to be more eco-friendly, so it adds post-consumer waste into the canvas to minimize the waste in our environment. Post- consumer wastes have been a serious concern to our society, because it is hard to find a place to fill up such gigantic waste. But Toms is willing to recycle the waste and turn it into production materials. The post-consumer waste also required several important steps to turn into polyester fiber. First, we have to collect the post-consumer waste (also known as PET waste), and then we crush it and press it into bales. In further process, we wash it and separate it into different types of plastic, because light colored plastic requires less mechanical process. After we obtained the clean PET waste, we shred the plastic into small fragments and remove the impurities, then we will get the pure PET fragments. The PET fragments will be used as a raw materials, decompose back into polyester fiber. Most of the products that we are using right now are base on the composition of polyester fiber, such as carpets, plastic container, clothing, etc. At the end, we can blend the cotton fiber and polyester fiber together and turn them into an organic canvas. In that way, we can minimize the plastic waste by recycling it into a useful material again.
The final canvas will come out as a soft and breathable textile. The interlacing of thread allows air to come in and out. And the cotton fiber combined with polyester fiber can form a strong and elastic canvas surface that is hard to break or damage. All the raw materials that are using to produce canvas are environmental friendly; this creates benefits for both the consumers and environment. At the end, through the mechanical process, we can cut and trim the canvas in the shape that we wanted. And then, use stitches to sew the pieces together into a canvas cover.
Next step of production process will be applying dye on the canvas. The dye that Toms is using is called AZO. The dye is lead free which creates less damage to both our human body and environment. AZO dyes are a large class of synthetic organic compounds that have nitrogen in it. It is produced using a derivative of naphthalene. A group of atoms called chromophore will form a dye molecule, which is largely responsible for color. And the molecule will form into compound. The compounds in the AZO dye called Aryl AZO compounds that are very stable and long lasting. It is commonly used in our daily commercial goods. It can produce many different colors including red, orange and yellow. After chosen the color that we want, we can mix the dye with water to make a dye solution, and we can put the canvas into the solution to dye in the color that we want. After the colored canvas is ready, we can add the base of the shoes combined with the canvas.
The base of the Toms shoes is made of a rubber. It is base on ethylene vinyl acetate (also known as EVA). It is the copolymer. It includes ethylene and vinyl acetate in it. Vinyl acetate often contains 10-40% part of it and the remaining part will be ethylene. We then boil the rubber into liquid form, and out the liquid rubber into a mold into the size that we wanted. With the dried rubber, we then have a completely well made rubber base. Basically EVA is a synthetic compound. It is perfectly put as the base of the shoes because it has low- temperature toughness and stress-crack resistance, waterproof properties and resistance to UV radiation. Which are the ideal functions to use as foot wears in daily life. It is also comfortable and light to walk on it. Which creates less pressure to our foot unlike high heel or heavy boots. With a finished base, then we can apply adhere glue in between the canvas and rubber to assemble it together.
Moving along with a completed toms shoe framework, we will be put an insole inside of the shoes for comfortable purpose. The Toms shoes insole is made out of pig suede. It is also considered as a raw material. The pig suede manufacturing process can be divided into three sub processes: preparatory stages, tanning and crusting. The preparatory stages include preservation, soaking, liming unhairing, fleshing, spitting, reliming, deliming, bating, degreasing, frizzing, beaching, picking and depicking. The next stage is tanning; it is a process aim to remove impurities of skin with the application of chromium. It is a chemical will penetrate the hidden impurities and allow it to soak. The last stage is crusting, it is a process to retanned, thinned and lubricated the skin. After the suede is clear and finished, we can apply dye to put color on it. Also, we can soften and dry the skin by applying other chemicals. Pig suede is often used for various goods including clothing, furniture covering and so on. By applying it inside the shoes, it can absorb sweat, disperse the pressure on our foot and minimize the friction between our foot and the rubber base. Finished suede required a lot more procedures than we can imagine. Often times, the manufacturing process of animals is much more complicated and time consuming than dealing with plants. And many companies are now using synthetic leather to save the time on production and slower the cost in buying the animal skins. Now, we have all the materials that are prepared. We can cut the pig suede into the size that we wanted and put it inside the shoes. Apply adhere glue between the pig suede and the rubber base to make it stable and firm. Then we can have a pair of completely well made Toms shoes.
Additional information, Toms decides to go even more eco-friendly. It offers a vegan collection to the consumers. The difference between vegan production line and normal production line is the materials that are being used in producing the shoes. In the vegan line, the shoes canvases are made by 67% hemp and 33% post-consumer plastic waste. The usage of post-consumer plastic waste portion is larger than the normal Tomes shoes. And the pig suede will be replaced by micro fiber canvas; also the base will use recycled rubber rather than rubber EVA. Furthermore, the shoes boxes are made from 80% recycled post-consumer waste and are printed with soy ink. This additional vegan collection is a great option for the people who concern about the environment and dislike leather products from animals. If the vegan collection is successful, it may open a new trend for the shoes industries, and more shoes options will be available for the eco-friendly customers.
Nowadays, everyone talks about going green. People start to pay more attention to our environment and many of us do care about the materials that are being used to produce our clothes and ornaments. And we started to see the shoes industries starting to transform, more and more industries start to add eco-friendly materials into their production. We can see manufacture producers start to pay more attention in environmental protection. Some famous clothing producers even ban fur clothing, and consumers start anti fur movement to protect our environment. Toms, as an eco-friendly producer, certainly have an advantage in attracting more consumers. Toms committed to create more products that are better for the environment. The materials that they use are mostly environmental friendly and relatively safe than regular shoes. There are not materials are known to be toxic to our environment.
As consumers, we concern not only the price of good and it’s style. Instead, the environment impact and health issue should always act as great concerns to us. Also, Toms ‘s slogan “ one for one” is a revolutionary idea that helps their business expand outward. Since most of their materials are based on raw materials, we as a consumer feel good about buying Toms because we create less damage to our environment and we are also giving back something beneficial to other people. It is a win-win situation by creating a better society and environment. Simple shoes like Toms shoes required just a few materials in production. However, it is hard to imagine such few materials come from many different molecules and fibers, which makes it much more complicate as we see. Even it may take longer time to recycle plastic waste and produce organic cotton. But I think the benefit to pay off the loss in long term is to build a better environment. In long run, I am hoping to see more industries like Toms to start s eco-friendly production.
The Toms company is certainly a novice in the shoes industry. Since it has only been in the market for eight years, there is not much detail information about the production of Toms shoes. The online website does not tell us where their materials come from. Even when people ask their representative online, they cannot answer the question as well. Also, clothing and shoes always have a tag inside indicates the materials information, including the types and percentage of the materials, the country of origin and the washing instruction. However, when I looked through my Toms shoes and the shoes box for such information, it does not contain any information about it. I think it is fairly important to put up the information for the consumers and it is certainly something that they will need to work on in the further.
“ Coporate responsibility” Leah Borgeson. N.p., n.d. june 20, 2009 <http://www.toms.com/corporate-responsibility/l?
“TOMS and the Environment” Jin Lee. N.p., n.d. October 27, 2011 <http://jinhlee2.blogspot.com/>
“Toms case” Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative. N.p., n.d. September 4, 2012 <http://danielsethics.mgt.unm.edu/pdf/TOMS%20Case.pdf>
“The TH Interview: TOMS Shoes” Jacob Gordon. N.p., n.d. September 18, 2008 <http://www.treehugger.com/treehugger-radio/the-th-interview-toms-shoes-part-two.html>
“Toms Shoes” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d 30 January 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toms_Shoes>.
“Azo-dye-synthesis-for-schools” Society of Dyers and Colourists . N.p., n.d. August 20, 2013 <http://www.sdc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Azo-dye-synthesis-for-schools.pdf>
“One for One” Leah Borgeson. N.p., n.d. june 20, 2009 <http://www.toms.com/our-movement/l#how-toms-giveshoes>
“Ethylene-vinyl acetate”. Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. 18 February 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethylene-vinyl_acetate
“Leather” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. 10 March 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leather>
12 March 2014
Living up to the Organic name
TOMS Shoes have become the most popular vegan shoe since 2006. The creation of the “eco-friendly” TOMS began when founder, Blake Mycoskie encountered a village in Argentina where the children had no shoes to protect their feet. His company was founded in order to promote a “One for One” business model (Corporate). The purpose was to sell a pair of shoes and in return give a pair of shoes to an impoverished child. The company’s website makes it a point to state that its main focus is on the environmental and social impacts of the products and operations that go into making these canvas shoes. Not only is the company promoting this donation campaign, it is also promoting the environmentally friendly materials that go into producing these shoes. TOMS Shoes are known to represent the integration of sustainable and responsible practices (Corporate). Becoming the most eco-friendly shoes on the market, the company isn’t going to disclose any information directly related to any waste emissions that are present in the production and lifecycle. No matter how positive TOMS Shoes may seem to the environment, there is always waste present whether it is in the production process or the shipping process.
TOMS Shoes are made up of several different materials. The upper lining is made of canvas which is made from a combination of organic cotton and post-consumer plastics. In order to give the shoes color, AZO is used to dye the canvas. Shoe adhesive glue is used to glue the upper lining and base together. The insole is made of pig suede which is another form of leather and EVA, or rubber composite, is what makes up the base of the shoes (Lee). The upper lining is the least harmful to the environment. Since the shoes are known as “canvas shoes”, it is the material that is the most important in labeling TOMS as an organic shoe.
The use of canvas is the main reason why TOMS is known as such an eco-friendly company. The production of canvas does not have any adverse effects on the environment. The impact of canvas on the environment is so small that it is insignificant (Lee). It isn’t even necessary to study the environmental effects that this material has because there really are none. The canvas itself is made out of organic cotton and post-consumer plastic waste. TOMS tries to focus on using mainly recyclable materials in order to prevent a negative environmental impact. The fact that this canvas is made out of organic cotton makes it even better for the environment (Cotton). If it were made out of conventional cotton, there would be many negative environmental impacts. With organic cotton, a healthy and environmentally safe rural economy is created. Organic cotton has a smaller environmental impact in terms of pesticide use because when organically growing something, the land is supposed to be pure and clean (Cotton). It eliminates the significant chemical impact on land, in the air, and in the waters from conventional fertilizers and pesticides. TOMS shoes have the reputation of being positive for the environment because organic cotton is a crucial material used in production.
The canvas is also made of post-consumer plastic waste. Recycled cotton is typically combined with recycled plastic bottles in the textiles industry (Why Organic). This combination of recycled materials is often used to make clothing and textiles, in this case canvas. Combining these materials helps create a sustainable and environmentally friendly product. This is the main reason why the canvas used in making TOMS has such a small effect on the environment. By-products of canvas production are simply cuttings and trimmings of canvas linings (Lee). This is the most easily disposed material used in the manufacturing of TOMS shoes.
The main environmental impact that organic cotton growing is known for would be the negative effects of the irrigation system. It is not stated where exactly the cotton crop for TOMS shoes is located but there is an example in which the Aral Sea has been used to irrigate millions of acres for cotton production. A lot of water is diverted to cotton fields and this has had a lasting effect on the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The Aral Sea has been reduced to 60% of its original surface area in result of water diversion (Lee). This isn’t a waste in result of the production but it is depleting natural resources that are important in the production of the shoes themselves.
Although the production of organic cotton is much safer for the environment than most materials, TOMS Shoes are dyed using AZO dyes which have a lasting effect on water resources, soil fertility, and the ecosystem. These dyes are very toxic to aquatic organisms as well as animals. The biggest environmental issue is that the dyes are not biodegradable under natural conditions and are not typically removed from waste water (Drummond). The textile industries in general discharge a large amount of waste water after completing the dying process. TOMS are famously known to have original designs painted onto them after production but the base color is typically dyed using AZO. This chemical is used because of its abundance in the environment but it causes severe contamination in rivers as well as the ground water in the vicinity of dyeing industries (Puvaneswari). AZO contamination and pollution usually causes DNA damage to the animals or plants that have ingested the water because of the high levels of toxicity. The main concern when using AZO is that the wastewater treatment plants of the textile industries have confronted problems when trying to remove the color of these compounds. These dyes are designed to resist biodegradation except this causes them to remain in the environment for a long period of time (Puvaneswari). The reason why this is such a big issues in textile production is because no matter what type of dyes are used, the final step in the dyeing process requires a bath in order to remove excess dyes not fixed to the fiber. About 10-50% of the dyes used are lost in this process and end up contaminating the environment (Drummond).
With TOMS, it is difficult to pinpoint the environmental problems directly caused by the production of the shoe itself. It is more practical to break down every material used and see the impact on the environment individually. In order to put the materials together, adhesive glue is needed. The corporation itself does not release any specific information on where their materials come from so the type of adhesive glue used is unknown. There are adhesives used in other types of shoe manufacturing, like in Timberland footwear production, which are solvent based. These typical shoe adhesives release volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere such as toluene, methyl ethyl ketone, and trichloroethane (Trichloroethane). These three VOCs are thought to cause cancer, birth defects, as well as neurological damage. According to the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, Toluene, MEK, and TCA are considered hazardous air pollutants (Timberland). TCA is also harmful to the stratospheric ozone layer. It is known to deplete this “good” ozone layer that protects Earth’s life from ultraviolet rays. The production of glue itself has such negative effects on the environment and they’re included in such a small portion of the shoe.
Out of all the materials, the most controversial is the pig suede insole. TOMS are supposed to be eco-friendly, vegan shoes. As a consumer, you have the option of being able to purchase regular TOMS or vegan TOMS because environmentalists were not pleased to find out part of the shoe was made of pig skin. The vegan TOMS are newly produced and have a canvas based insole. They also don’t have a rubber/plastic bottom, the bottoms of the vegan TOMS are made of a natural material such as hemp/twine which doesn’t have as much of an effect on the environment. The original TOMS, however, have pig suede which is another name for pig leather (Corporate). Suede is a type of leather that has gone through a process called napping which raises the fibers that are on the surface on certain kinds of cloth and it is less durable than standard leather (Wool). Leather is made up of animal skin, in this case pig skin, as well as a composition of formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and cyanide based dyes. Until the late 1800s, animal skin was air dried or salt dried and tanned with vegetable oil (Wool). It used to be so much more environmentally friendly. Animal skin is natural until it is turned into something that can no longer decompose which is even worse than creating synthetic leather. In order to do this, the leather goes through a chrome-tanning process that uses pollutants such as lime sludge, sulfides, and acids (Belay). This tanning process stabilizes the collagen, protein fibers, so the skins will stop biodegrading (Wool). This becomes a problem when trying to dispose of the shoes because the canvas may be easily disposable but the leather insole is no longer biodegradable so it takes even longer to decompose. This means that the material is sitting in landfills for years and years creating more waste than necessary.
The chrome-tanning process is an environmental hazard on its own. “Currently more than 90% of global leather production is done through the chrome-tanning process” (Belay). Tanning facilities waste about 15,000 gallons of water and produce up to 2,200 pounds of solid waste such as hair, flesh, and trimmings for every ton of hides processed. The tanneries also produce 800,000 tons of chrome shavings annually that end up in landfills (Belay). Landfills are consuming most of the leather’s waste and it just continues to add up. Once the material has been processed through a tannery, it is no longer as biodegradable as before. The waste created is considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency because it contains chromium. The liquid waste that is discharged into rivers and the sea contains large amounts of pollutants such as lime sludge, sulfides, and acids (Belay). Raising the animals in order to produce the leather creates waste and pollution as well because huge amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in livestock production. Not only is the manufacturing of the product hazardous, the processes of raising the animal in the first place can be an environmental issue.
The last material used in production that can have an effect on the environment is the rubber sole also known as EVA rubber composite. This rubber is a composition of ethylene and vinyl acetate (EVA). EVA is known as a petroleum based product and is another material that is also causing the release of VOC’s into the air. This begins to create a tropospheric ozone that is harmful to not only plant life but humans as well (EVA). The production, use and disposal of EVA are directly correlated with emissions into the air and water. Although the production is a large part in pollution, the largest impact on the environment associated with EVA would be improper disposal of this plastic good by consumers.
The production of TOMS may not have a big environmental impact but the production of each individual material has a lasting effect on the environment. Not only is there a big problem with production, there is an issue when it comes to actually transporting the product around the world. The consumers of this product are usually those who live in developed countries and can actually afford to purchase the shoes. TOMS shoes are then purchased from around the world but this mass production actually takes place in China (Corporate). The “One for One” campaign then gives shoes to the countries in need. The production of TOMS mainly takes place in Argentina and Ethiopia which are the countries that a lot of the shoes go to. It makes more sense for the production to take place in the areas that the shoes are given away in order to save more money. The environmental impact of the shoes being produced and given away in the same country is less than the shoes that are shipped because they use local materials and travel shorter distances. Blake Mycoskie states that every 2 weeks, volunteers are flown to Argentina to donate shoes (Corporate). Not only are shoes being shipped around the world, volunteers fly out of country just to personally donate the shoes. Environmentally, this causes a great deal of pollution because the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere adds up to about 8.5 pounds of carbon dioxide for each shoe donated (Lee). The main problem with transportation is the emission of ,𝐶𝑂-2.. Since there is transportation when traveling to donate the shoes as well as shipping the shoes around the world, it is estimated that this company contributes about 850 tons of the carbon dioxide each year (Lee). Even then, transportation does not have a significant carbon footprint. ,𝐶𝑂-2. emissions are present during the production of materials as well as transportation and the disposal. It totals up to about 13 pounds of carbon dioxide per shoe if the shoe is shipped (Lee) . TOMS are still considered to be one of the most eco-friendly shoes because emissions do not make a big difference in the environment.
All sectors in our society have some sort of generated waste no matter what the industry and no matter how eco-friendly a product may be. There will always be some type of waste coming out of the production or the disposal of a product. TOMS shoes is a great example of an environmentally friendly product that has its fair share of waste or pollution that occurs throughout the process. The difference between TOMS and other products is that the company itself may not even be the one creating the waste. The pollution and waste is coming from previous manufacturers who produced the materials needed to make the TOMS in the first place. There isn’t much more to it. TOMS has been living up to its organic name. The only problem would be the ,𝐶𝑂-2. released when transporting the product but this is a factor that is inevitable. The company has thought of ways to eliminate as much of this as they can and the solution is having the giveaway shoes be produced and distributed in the same countries, having a significantly less environmental effect. Overall, there is not a significant amount of waste that goes into the production or disposal so TOMS shoes has kept their promise in making an organic and environmentally friendly shoe.
Belay, Alebel. "Impacts of Chromium from Tannery Effluent and Evaluation of Alternative Treatment Options." Journal of Environmental Protection 1 (2010): 53-58.
"Corporate Responsibility at TOMS." TOMS. N.p., 2006. Web. 11 Mar. 2014. <http://www.toms.com/corporate-responsibility/l>.
"Cotton Recycling." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton_recycling>.
Drummond, Farah. "Textile Dyes: Dyeing Process and Environmental Impact." Intech. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://www.intechopen.com/books/eco-friendly-textile-dyeing-and-finishing/textile-dyes-dyeing-process-and-environmental-impact>.
"EVA and Rubber." Polymers for Industry. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://www.polymers-eva-rubber.com/about.htm>.
Lee, Jinh. "What's in a TOMS Shoe?" N.p., 15 Oct. 2011. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://jinhlee2.blogspot.com/2011/10/whats-in-toms-shoe.html>.
Puvaneswari, N. "Toxicity Assessment and Microbial Degradation of Azo Dyes." Journal of Experimental Biology 44 (2006): 618-26. Print.
"TOMS: Selling Their Soul to Sell Their insoles." The Veganomaly. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://theveganomaly.com/2012/04/13/toms-selling-their-soul-to-sell-their-insoles/>.
"Volatile Organic Compounds." Timberland Responsibility. Timberland, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://responsibility.timberland.com/product/product_vocs/>.
"Why Organic Cotton Is Better." EcoMall. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://www.ecomall.com/greenshopping/pannacotton.htm>.
"Wool, Fur, and Leather: Hazardous to the Environment." PETA. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/animals-used-clothing-factsheets/wool-fur-leather-hazardous-environment/>.
"1,1,1-Trichloroethane." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1%2C1%2C1-Trichloroethane>
Design 40A W2014
March 13, 2014
TOM’S Shoes: Are they really “eco-friendly”? (Embodied Energy)
TOM’S shoes is known for their “One for One” philanthropy, where you buy one shoe, and one shoe is given to a child in need. They are also known to have environmentally friendly shoes, but they are not entirely eco-friendly. Many people have a misconception that TOM’S goal is to have shoes that are eco-friendly, but their main goal is to give shoes to children in countries to prevent cuts, infections, and diseases.
While I was doing my research, I noticed many articles and blogs about how TOM’S shoes were not eco-friendly and many of them were angry. They may use materials and manufacturing processes that are not as harmful to the environment but their focus is on philanthropy. In an interview, Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOM’S shoes, stated
“Sustainable, to me, means that we are able to sell shoes and have enough profit built in to give a pair away and hire the best people to help grow the message and the mission. So that's what sustainable is in terms of our business.” (TH interview).
In the interview, he makes it clear that he has a different view of what “sustainable” is, which also clears the misconception of their “eco-friendly” shoes.
The materials used in a TOM’s classic shoe are organic cotton and post consumer plastic (both make the canvas), EVA foam sole, pig suede insole, AZO dyes, and an adhesive glue. The shoe itself is very simple because there are not many materials used, so what makes it non “eco-friendly”? Although the materials used in TOM’S shoes are more safe for the environment, the energy used to receive and process the raw materials used are energy intensive. Other factors that add to the energy consumption of these materials is running the machines, building, and transportation.
The biggest part of the shoe is the canvas, which is made from organic cotton and post consumer recycled plastic. Cotton is very energy intensive because cotton fields need a lot of water, which requires an irrigation system that is energy intensive. According to the life cycle assessment and inventory of cotton fiber and fabric on Cotton Inc.’s website, “the primary energy impacts for cotton in the agricultural phase, are due to fertilizer production, irrigation, and post harvest.” You can see in figure 1 the data they collected on the energy and environmental impacts of producing cotton. Since TOM’S shoes canvas are made of organic cotton, that eliminates the production of nitrogen synthetic fertilizers. In figure 1, the production of fertilizers is the most energy consumptive. Even though organic cotton eliminates the production of harmful fertilizers, there is still the irrigation system and ginning, which most likely need a lot of energy to run these systems.
The other part of the canvas is recycled post consumer plastic and it also goes through an energy intensive process. There are two main types of recycled plastics, and they are HDPE and PET. I was unable to find exactly which goes into the canvas of the shoe, but the two types have about the same process. First, people have to take their bottles and cans to recycling center and from there, they must sort the recyclables. Separation can either be by manual labor or by machine, and then the separated recyclables are sent to reclamation centers for processing into HDPE/PET pellets or flakes. Most of the energy used is electricity to run the building and machines for processing. Transportation also has a big impact in the energy use because the recyclables are being sent to multiple places for collection, separation, production, and distribution of the new product. Recycling is great, but there is a lot of energy put into it as well for something that is meant to help with the environment.
The next major part of the TOM’S shoe is the sole which is made of EVA foam, a copolymer of ethylene and vinyl acetate. Oil and natural gases are used to produce the EVA foam pellets. According to ECRM Marketgate, the production of EVA foam consumes 91 megajoules of energy per kilogram of EVA pellets and 37 megajoules of fossil fuels used for process and transportation per kilogram of EVA pellets. I watched a video of a factory in China producing the EVA foam and it looks like it is a very energy intensive process because they have to produce the foam, which comes out as a big, black, chunk of material. Then they must roll out the foam into flat pieces a few times and cut it into smaller pieces, which are still big. The next step looked like the foam has to go through some cleaning process since I saw steam from the machine. After that, it is cut into smaller pieces and dyed into different colors.
Another important part of the shoe is the insole, which is made of pig suede. Turning animal skin into wearable leather is highly energy intensive because it requires many steps which you can see in figure 2. The pigs have to be raised, then slaughtered, then their skin has to be tanned, crusted and then cut. Each phase requires high energy, especially the tanning and crusting phase because of the machines that are runned and the chemicals that are used.
The last two components of the TOM’S shoe are the AZO dyes and the glue. These last two I could not find a lot of details for because there is not information on what type of dye or glue is used. In general, the AZO dyes are not very energy intensive because the chemical reactions can be done at or below room temperature, which cuts the cost of electricity used to maintain a certain temperature. As for the glue, I imagine that the process of making an adhesive that can resist daily wears and tears is energy intensive because of the chemical bonding they are trying to make to get the product just right.
As I was doing my research, I wasn’t surprised that the materials in the TOM’S shoe were energy intensive, I was more surprised at the energy they used to produce the shoe and distribute them. TOM’s has five factories around the world, including Argentina, China, Ethiopia, India, and Kenya. Tons of fossil fuels go into providing electricity for these factories, especially in China, where the shoes for retail and giving are made. In figure 3, you can see the average energy consumption of a textile factory ( I included a textile factory because the canvas has to be sewn together and I assume they have similar energy consumptions).
TOM’S is currently selling their products in eight different countries and “Giving” in 60+ countries--that means a lot of fuel for air, freight, rail, and ship travel. You can see in figure 4, that the average freight truck uses 23,240 Btu per vehicle mile, 14,990 btu per rail freight car mile, and 571 btu per ton mile for ships. What I found shocking is that all of the “Giving” shoes are made in China, and not where they are most needed or most “given”, like India and Ethiopia. Currently, TOM’S is partnered with a multitude of organizations who do “shoe-drops” to children in need. That means the shoes are shipped from China to the United States, then transported to the location of the organization. From there, the people with the shoes travel via plane to other countries to deliver the shoes to children.
Once again, TOM’S has a higher priority on their philanthropy, that’s why they do not mind all of the energy they are using to “Give.” A much more energy efficient way to deliver the shoes is to have the shoes made in that country to reduce fuel usage in transportation. They could also use local charitable organizations to keep the philanthropy alive but also save on travel. But apparently, TOM’S is planning to produce one-third of their “giving shoes” in countries where they give by 2015.
TOM’S shoes are not the ideal of “eco-friendly” shoes because of their philanthropy practices. Since their motto is “One for One”, they have to make enough profit to run their factories and be able to give to children in need. Unfortunately, environmentally safe resources and materials are expensive but they are trying to be more “green” with what they already use. Most of the materials are harmless, with the exception of the pig suede insole. They cannot really control how their raw materials for the shoes are produced, because there will always be some process that is energy intensive. This is what I have learned from researching, no matter how “green” something is, there is always some missing or hiding information that shows there is much more energy consumed than what is led on.
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