Pioneering Shoes for a Cleaner Planet with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds

September 5, 2023

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Aileen leads sustainability at Allbirds, which includes work like Project M0.0NSHOT, the toolkit for the world’s first net zero carbon shoe; and Allbirds’ Flight Plan, an ambitious strategy to cut the company’s carbon emissions in half by 2025, and to near zero by 2030. With a Masters in Environmental Engineering from Stanford, Aileen conducted climate research at Rocky Mountain Institute, worked on sustainability in the buildings sector, and was a Fellow at the Clean Energy Leadership Institute, prior to joining Allbirds in 2020.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so excited and honored to have you with us today Aileen Lerch. She’s the senior manager of sustainability at the wonderful brand Allbirds. Welcome, Aileen, to the Impact Podcast.

Aileen Lerch: Hi, John. Thanks so much for having me today.

John: Of course. And before we get talking about all the great things that you and your colleagues are doing in sustainability at Allbirds, can you please share a little bit about your background? Where’d you grow up and how’d you even get on this journey of sustainability, Aileen?

Aileen: I am here right now based in San Francisco. It’s where I’ve been living for a bit over a decade now. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Growing up in Pittsburgh was actually a really important kind of route in my sustainability journey and basically, my entire career education has been around sustainability, understanding environmental impacts, and I have to always go on a little blurb about Pittsburgh. It’s a fascinating city that really was established as this very heavy steel industry and had to reinvent itself and saw an opportunity of how to reimagine what the city could be and understand different opportunities kind of leaving behind this industrial past. And it’s something that always growing up there really sparked a lot of interest. And so, in college, studied civil environmental engineering. Very deep technical expertise in water, energy, air quality, climate change, and have now been at Allbirds for three and a half years on the sustainability team, focused on figuring out how to bring natural materials, climate solutions into the footwear and apparel space.

John: Well, you’re very humble because you glanced over your master’s in environmental engineering from Stanford University. So, you’re a cardinal. And then, before Allbirds, did you work before there? Did you have a job before Allbirds?

Aileen: So, before Allbirds, I was more focused in the building space and understanding environmental impact, how to decarbonize that area. So right before, I was at WeWork, which was a co-working space, very fast growth, thinking about how to integrate sustainability at a company that was just kind of growing at an explosive rate. And so, I was very interested in the buildings industry and then joined Allbirds, which was my first step into the footwear and apparel industry. And it’s honestly been very fascinating and exciting to be in the retail space, especially because of this opportunity to connect so deeply with customers. We’re fortunate that Allbirds is a brand that people just love and are immediately excited to tell me, oh, I have Wool Runners and the Tree Runner shoes. And so, it’s an opportunity to communicate and bring consumers along on this journey around sustainability, decarbonization. So it’s been a very fascinating lens to look at all of these areas of climate, water, et cetera.

John: So really, right out of Stanford, you went to go WeWork. WeWork is also one of the great sustainability brands. And when you talk about the shared economy, sharing office space is a great way to cut down on carbon footprint and everything else as well. So it’s been a steady journey in sustainability, it looks like. So you joined Allbirds in 2020, and what was your call to action? What was your main mission that you were given when you joined Allbirds in 2020?

Aileen: So, at Allbirds, our kind of north star, and the big focus of our sustainability strategy is around climate change and understanding how to measure and reduce the carbon footprint of our product. So right when I joined in 2020, immediately got deeply integrated into our product design and development organization, bringing that sustainability lens to how we create products. And right after I joined in 2020, we had this big announcement and launch that we’ve maintained today, which is labelling all of our products with their carbon footprint. And so, we actually, since day one at Allbirds with our very first shoe, the Wool Runner have measured the carbon footprint, the climate impact of the products. And so, we did that for a long time and internally started asking ourselves, okay, if we’re doing all this work to understand, and I’d start to identify ways to decarbonize our business, why don’t we share that with the world?

And so, right when I joined in 2020, we started labelling every product with their carbon footprint really with two big motivations. One is that customers are increasingly focused on this and trying to understand what brands are doing in terms of sustainability. So creating this really helpful scorecard of the impact of our products. We think about it kind of like calories on food, the carbon footprint of the product. And the second big reason was a forcing function for us to bring that number down over time. And so, I kind of came right in, and that was the big first initiative. And it’s been amazing over the three and a half years to see how, as an organization, we’ve really adopted this as a focus and keep working and innovating and partnering to reduce our carbon footprint.

John: So, a fascinating time to join 2020. Obviously, COVID hit in March of 2020 but a lot has also changed. Some major trends have happened. A, you have the Investment Recovery Act, which has continued to highlight, and fuel and educate North America to the need to decarbonize and also the electrification of the grid in the United States. Secondarily, there’s been this real, it seems as though, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this, this sort of, we’ve passed this tipping point 19 or 20 with regards to the shift from the linear to circular economy and the need for ESG and radical transparency to actually saying what you’re going to do, but actually doing it and then reporting it in a radically transparent way. What are your thoughts with regards to those major trends that have sort of hit even since you’ve joined Allbirds?

Aileen: You’re absolutely right. That 2020 big year of transformation just in the world. And for sustainability, the whole space is continuing to evolve really quickly, gain importance. And something we say a lot internally is sustainability means 10 different things to 10 different people, right? When we’re talking about sustainability, we can mean water, chemicals, climate, social impacts. And the thing is that they’re all important.

John: Sure.

Aileen: And brands also have a lot of challenges in saying, are we doing enough in all of these areas? And how do we communicate all of it? And so, for us in 2020, it was also a critical moment. That’s when we actually kicked off our big strategy work to develop our sustainability strategy. It’s called the flight plan. At Allbirds, we love all the flight plan and play on words of birds and flying. The thing that came out of that was saying, okay, climate change is our north star, and that’s what we’re going to be communicating all the time. Really focus energy because we see a unique opportunity for us to work on that and really create change and try to galvanize our industry and others to really move quickly and focus on this.

At the same time, we also know that all of those other aspects around sustainability are critical, and brands need to be buttoned up and be working on all of those in order to then be able to lead in another space. And so, a lot of those areas are foundational commitments, water, chemistry, human rights. We need to have robust programs, but maybe we’re not always speaking really loudly about all of those efforts. And so, that is a way that we’ve kind of managed. Okay, there’s all of these expectations there. And again, they’re all important, but how do we actually manage prioritization both in actions and communication? And the one other thing I’ll say is, I think it’s a really unique opportunity and moment right now for brands working on sustainability. Scientists have been screaming about all of these problems for decades now, and releasing big 1000-page reports that are fascinating.

And I’m probably one of a handful of people that are reading these and thinking about them in detail. Brands also have a unique opportunity to embed all of this work and these ideas in culture and try to make some of these huge complex ideas more digestible and connect individuals in our society to these ideas. And so, that’s really where we’ve been intentional around climate change of how do we make this digestible, actionable, and really connect with people and culture on this critical topic.

John: Great point you make, Aileen, about culture and DNA of a company. For our listeners and viewers who aren’t familiar with Allbirds, and, by the way, you could find Aileen and her colleagues in all the great work they’re doing in sustainability at, and they have a great sustainability section. You click on the button and all the great things that you’re doing in sustainability that we’re going to be talking about today, just drop down there. And I love the tagline that you have right on the landing page of the sustainability section. Nothing is everything. I just love that. Talk a little bit about Allbirds though, in terms of how many employees, approximately how many offices, and with regards to culture and DNA and how old is the brand, and was it part of the culture and DNA was sustainability regardless of the trends and the news and CNBC and Bloomberg and Larry Finke Blackstone, in terms of the ESG movement. How much was sustainability part of the origination story of Allbirds?

Aileen: Allbirds was really a relatively young brand. We’re under 10 years old, and sometimes people find that hard to believe. They’re like, oh, I feel like you’ve been around forever. But it’s been a relatively short amount of time but with some impressive growth. And something that’s unique about Allbirds is, from the start, we were actually a B Corp. And so, I don’t know if you’re that familiar with the B Corp movement, but it’s really meant to show prioritization of shareholders, but also other stakeholders, including the environment, your customers, your employees, your supply chain, your broader community. We’ve been in B Corp from the start. And so, that really demonstrates, again, that breadth of sustainability topics that have been embedded in the company.

And B Corp, there’s a really rigorous assessment you have to go through every three years. And so, it’s always looking at how can you have continuous improvement in embedding these topics in your business. And so, in some ways, it is unique that Allbirds has started with this focus and this priority to show that profit and purpose can coexist. However, big legacy companies also have a lot of resources and typically have a lot of money. And so, there are different opportunities of whether you’re a small brand that can embed a lot of this from the start and just move quickly and prioritize different aspects around environmental social impacts.

But then, I look at big companies in our industry and others who also have a lot of opportunity to do great work from a financial perspective, from number of employees perspective. And so, it’s a very interesting space to be in to acknowledge that Allbirds, yes, we were founded with this purpose. Also, everybody has a role to play in these movements and figuring out what that unique opportunity is no matter the type of company you are, industry, how long you’ve been around, et cetera.

John: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. For a relatively new brand, 10 years or less, it’s inspiring and fun to make that part of your DNA and your culture. But, as you said, when Walmart makes a move in sustainability, man, the needle moves. When Allbirds does, the great news about Allbirds is that it’s a ubiquitous brand now in so many ways, and everyone digs it, and really, like you said, get very attached to the brand because whatever you’re wearing on your feet, you sort of get attached to.

It does also effectuate change, but in a different way than of Walmart or some other huge BMF of a brand, makes a move in sustainability and linear economy to circular economy behavior and things of that such. So where are you now on this journey? In the journey of 2025, in 2030 in terms of trying to decarbonize and cutting your carbon footprint in half by 2025 and almost getting to virtually zero by 2030. How is that going? And explain some of the hurdles and also some of the wins that you’ve gotten along the way so far.

Aileen: So, back 2020, 2021, we released these ambitious targets of, like you said, reduce our per unit emissions in half by 2025, near zero by 2030. We set in 2030, a 1.5-degree science-based target. And so, there’s been a moment now for, I would say, the last five years or so, maybe longer, that companies have been making far-off commitments and far-off very ambitious commitments. We did that too, but we also found that it was important to set interim near-term targets that we can actively work towards on a year-by-year basis and continuously report out how are we doing, what’s working well, where are we making progress, where do we need help, where are we falling short. And so, looking at that, that’s something that we think the industry just really needs enough.

Yes, far-off commitments are important, but we need to keep working and talking about the near term because that’s how we ladder up. And so, we just recently relaunched around Earth Day of this year, our 2022, it’s called Flight Status Report. So, update on our flight plan, our sustainability strategy. And that was actually the largest in-year reduction. We’d experienced yet a 19% reduction to our per-unit emissions from the previous year. So, we’re more than on track for our interim 2025 targets. And it’s been a very interesting exercise, really for two main reasons. One is that these big reductions that we get to celebrate, it requires so many different work streams and internal initiatives that we’ve been really trying to figure out how do we celebrate this and make it an interesting story that consumers can kind of latch onto.

In 2022, we had 27 key initiatives that led to that 19% reduction. So it’s a massive cross-functional work stream and initiative at the company that’s also deeply embedded in how we work. And so, that’s one part of it is doing the work. How do you actually integrate into cross-functional teams at the company and make those reductions happen? The second piece that we’ve been very much experimenting with and trying to find the ways to get people excited is by communicating this. And so, a lot of times you see sustainability reports, there are these like 400-page documents that, again, nobody is really reading. And so, what we’ve tried to do with this annual flight status report is make it very digestible and keep reporting to the same exact things that we said we were going to do, show the same format and make it very digestible, bring people along on the journey. Yes.

We also include all of the other detailed reporting things and some of our more official reporting documents. We’re a public company, so we have annual and quarterly cadences of releasing that. But looking at our annual sustainability report to say this is a moment to communicate differently and celebrate near-term progress in a moment when a lot of people, I think, are frankly tired of far-off commitments that they’re not seeing any action around, they’re not seeing any critical change. And so, that’s something that I get really excited about of how can we do this in a different way and start speaking to it in a different way?

John: I love what you just said because it’s so funny you say that. Just from my own personal experience, a pet peeve of mine is about four or five months ago, and I’m not going to mention the brand’s name. I got an email from someone that is an acquaintance that I know and I do some business with. And on the bottom of his signature block, it said the fact that the company that he worked for was going to be net zero by 2050. And I thought to myself, man, I’m happy that they’re thinking about it, but 2050 is really just kicking the can down the road. It doesn’t really get me that excited, and I don’t think it’s really going to get anybody else.

And this is a huge publicly traded company, and I’m thinking to myself, why even put that on the bottom of your signature block? Because that’s just such a far-out goal. And so many things could go right or wrong on that journey. It just didn’t make any sense for me. So I totally applaud what you’ve decided to do, in terms of showing up 2022, having the 2025 goal, and then having the 2030 goals. Because that way, everybody gets excited along the way in the journey. But you’ve also been very clear with regards to the marking when you’re really going to hit your bigger goals as in 2025 and 2030. That makes a lot of sense. I assume your client base and your investor base and constituents are very happy with the progress today.

Aileen: Yes. I think there’s a lot of excitement and applause. Frankly, I think a lot of people are also still early on in the journey, right? Of understanding. And even when we think about our customers, there’s a range of people that are maybe just starting to get into the topic of climate change and trying to figure out how to digest information. Some people are probably looking very detailed and applauding it. And so, I have a lot of respect for the creativity of a lot of our brand and marketing team of working. We work really closely of, how do we translate some of this technical information so people can look at it in great detail? And if you’re new to it, you can start learning and getting takeaways and bringing them along on the journey. Yeah, I think there’s excitement and there’s constant learning and education even on our side, right? Where we’re the first to say, hey, we’re learning too, and we really welcome feedback, collaboration. We’re all on this journey together.

John: How big is Allbirds? How many offices do you have? And where do you actually manufacture your products?

Aileen: So we’re over 1000 people. That’s including both corporate and retail. So we have retail locations all over the world. And then, San Francisco is our main headquarters. We have an office in Portland that has a lot of designers, developers. We have an office in Vietnam. So a lot of our production is in Vietnam, but some other global locations as well. And so, from my point of view, it’s a very interesting opportunity to think about these environmental impacts, think about climate across a global region. And when you look towards our material sourcing, for example, we’re getting a lot of our wool from New Zealand. And we get to really think about all the different sectors that play a role in carbon emissions, as well as the opportunity to decarbonize or sequester emissions, and really at the global scale. So it’s, from my point of view, a very interesting opportunity to work on many topics.

John: For our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Aileen Lerch with us. She’s the senior manager of sustainability at Allbirds. To find Aileen and all her colleagues and the important work they’re doing at sustainability, please go to and you click on the sustainability button at the top of the page. And there’s a lot of great information there. Aileen, you just recently unveiled the design of the world’s first net zero carbon shoe called Project Moonshot. Can you share with our listeners and viewers what Project Moonshot is and why is this so important?

Aileen: Moonshot is really a culmination of all of our work at Allbirds since day one. So, like I mentioned, we’ve been focused on climate change, trying to measure and reduce the emissions that are throughout our business on this goal to net zero. And along the way, there’s been a lot of important milestones, like I mentioned in 2020, starting to label all of our products with their carbon footprint. And just as an overview for that carbon footprint, it captures what we call cradle-to-grave emissions. So it’s looking at five lifecycle phases of the product materials. What are the materials you’re using in manufacturing? What are the energy or resources used in manufacturing it, transportation, moving all these goods around the world, the use phase? So our shoes are machine washable, so consumers actually create some emissions related to the use phase, and then end of life, what happens to the products emissions as it is done with its usable life.

And so we’ve been looking at all those emissions meticulously over the years. And in 2021, we also had this great project where we partnershipped with Adidas. And it’s pretty unique for two footwear companies to really come together like this with the goal to create the lowest carbon footprint shoe possible. And so, at that time, we were able to hit this carbon footprint of 2.94, which we were, to kind of give you an idea of kind of average emissions, our calculations for what a standard sneaker would be is around 14. So significantly less at 2.94. And with that partnership with Adidas, it was a great moment. People loved the shoe, loved the story behind it. And immediately, our teams, our designers, our developers, sustainability, we’re asking ourselves, what’s next? How low can we go? Can we achieve zero? Is that even possible? Could we do it today? And about a year ago, we became kind of extra hyper-focused on this project that became Moonshot. And how we achieved Moonshot, this net zero carbon footprint shoe is reducing emissions across manufacturing, transportation, use, end of life as much as possible.

So that’s through things like low-energy manufacturing process, renewables, prioritizing ocean shipping with biofuels. But to hit zero, you can’t just reduce, you actually need something that’s also negative. And so, with Moonshot, we were able to incorporate three hero materials, two of which are really embedded in a lot of our product creation. And that’s carbon-negative regenerative wool, a high bio-content sugar cane-based midsole. So that’s like the bottom unit of the shoe. And then, we also have this, there’s a little smiley face logo on it that’s actually a methane capture, so a different greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. A methane capture bioplastic. So all these nerdy details of materials, but it’s really materials are what gets us really excited in terms of climate solutions. And we were able to hit and achieve this net zero carbon footprint shoe that we just unveiled. I just got back from Copenhagen two weeks ago where we unveiled it at the Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen.

And all of this is exciting, and we’re so happy to show the shoe, gets us excited. For me though and how we think about what’s next is we have a history of open-sourcing solutions, whether it’s a carbon footprint calculator tool, our sugar cane-based foam. And with Moonshot, we also open sourced, we’re calling it our recipe book that explains how we achieved this, the partners that we used, the focus areas, open questions that we still have. And so, that’s been one of the most exciting pieces for me, is not just the shoe, but also open sourcing the ideas, collaborating with others, kind of making a call to action of does anyone want to partner with us and push this forward? Because ultimately, this is something that is exciting right now, but we need every product in the future to look like this. We need these solutions to scale. And so, in some ways, we announced the project and we launched it, but in many ways, it feels like it’s just the start too.

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John: Well, talk about this issue of open sourcing. I cheer you on for doing that. So the theory is to democratize sustainable leisure wear, footwear and beyond by open-sourcing that. But isn’t that also from just a strict business perspective we hold in suspended animation, the idea of the importance of decarbonization, the importance of the shift from the linear to circular economy, the importance of sustainability, ESG, and all the other great transit are upon us now? From a strict business 101 perspective, isn’t that a little bit like Coke giving away their recipe, their secret sauce?

Aileen: It’s interesting you mentioned that because it actually gets us even more excited because, for many people, this seems counterintuitive to business.

John: Right. Yeah.

Aileen: You’re exactly right. And I’ll give a few examples-

John: Go ahead. Yeah.

Aileen: …of our past open sourcing and how, actually it’s not counterintuitive in these cases. So our first big example of open sourcing was in 2018. So traditionally, the bottom unit of shoes, the midsoles are made from what’s called EVA and it’s petroleum-based, fossil fuel-based foam. And as we focused on natural materials for the start on our upper, we used wool from New Zealand, a tree-based fiber called tensile ISL. We were looking at the rest of the shoe and saying, okay, there has to be a solution for the midsole. And so, we partnered with a supplier from Brazil, and we used this sugarcane-based foam that’s a byproduct of the sugar cane industry that actually draws down more carbon than an emits. So an amazing solution. When we were partnering with them, though, we realize that it’s like there’s investment on their end, right? They have to build systems. They have to scale this up. Ultimately, our goal here is we want this to be a scalable solution.

Yes, we’ve scaled it to our business and we want it from a climate solution, but also their costs will come down, right? If everyone adopts this and there’s increased demand, there’s increased scalability, it actually benefits us as well to have these costs come down and to have everyone using this sustainable solution. And so, that’s an interesting example where you would think that we’d keep this innovation like a proprietary material, but it actually is helpful and in price and scalability for us if everyone is using it, and everyone’s adopting it aside, of course, from the climate benefits. Another example was in 2021. Like I mentioned, 2020, we started labelling all of our products with their carbon footprint. And one of the first kind of responses we get is, I don’t know how to make sense of that number, right? Like, how does that compare to other actions, other products in my life? And if you compare it to calories, if there was only one granola bar brand that was labelling with calories, it’s not incredibly meaningful to you, right? You have trouble understanding how it compares or how it fits into your life.

John: Right.

Aileen: We actually have the desire for everybody to label their products with their carbon footprint. And we think this would create a very healthy environment of everyone trying to reduce and focusing on technologies and solutions that can further decarbonize their businesses. And so, when we first launched it, there was kind of this question thrown around, if we put our numbers out there, what if somebody else comes out and has a lower carbon footprint shoe? We thought about it and we’re like, that’s actually a best-case scenario. We want that. Because then we can be the first people to go and ask, oh, how did you do that? How can we adopt those solutions? Should we partner and collaborate? And so, that’s another example where there’s actually increased meaning and increased motivation to decarbonize businesses when everyone is labelling with the carbon footprint. And so, those are just two examples, but are meaningful in showing it’s not fully this altruistic thing. It’s really about creating scalable solutions that will also help us as a business.

John: As you said earlier, at the top of the show, you can make an impact and make a profit, and they go hand in hand and actually cross-pollinate each other along the way. When you talk about the sustainability goals, you gave five main data points. Is there one or two of them that’s a higher hurdle? Is it harder to source or is it harder to recycle, or is it harder to manage your scope two and three issues with regards to transportation? When you’re thinking of level of detail and hurdles that your sustainability goals are in front of you, which ones keep you up at night the most, or which one, if there’s just one?

Aileen: So, yeah. When we think about the product carbon footprint, the five phases, materials, manufacturing, transformation, use, end-of-life materials, definitely materials is the one that is the most challenging. Presents the most exciting opportunity from an innovation standpoint, keeps me up in terms of scalability. It’s all there. That’s where we’re hyper-focused on materials. And it’s interesting because it is one of the biggest challenges, right? When you think actually about a lot of footwear and apparel companies or any companies that make things, it’s actually rare that they even know where their materials are coming from.

Supply chains are very opaque. And it’s hard for a lot of people to even understand that. Again, at Allbirds, as a relatively young company that’s focused on this from the start, we actually have really good traceability of understanding where our materials come from. But that’s one where, like I mentioned, the New Zealand wool, the sugarcane-based foam, it’s where we see a lot of opportunity for innovation and reducing or drawing down more carbon than the products in min. So a good example of this is we use wool that’s predominantly from New Zealand. We have amazing suppliers. They’re called New Zealand Merino. And actually, my first month at Allbirds in 2020, right before the pandemic really shut the world down, I actually immediately went to New Zealand and we showed up at these handful of wool farms with soil scientists, local regulators actual farmers.

And I did a two-to-three-day soil carbon workshop and looked at all these wool farms and their potential to draw down carbon through soil, through vegetation, trees. And it was this big light bulb moment for many of us there. And coming out of that, we actually co-developed with our supplier, New Zealand Marino, as well as other brands like North Face, VF, Smart Wool, Icebreaker. It’s called a regenerative wool platform called ZQRX. And it’s a unique example of brands, not just having traceability to their farm level, but saying, we want to support you on your journey to shifting to more regenerative practices. This isn’t something that we’re just excited about one year for one marketing moment, this is a journey that we’re all on together, and we know that this requires investment and focus. And so, this is just a deep dive on one of our materials, but it’s where we feel motivated and see the biggest opportunity for brands to connect with their supply chains, with where the materials are coming from, and is the hardest, but also the most exciting.

John: How do you encourage or inspire your user base to, is the right word in this situation recycle their old or repurpose their old shoes, or how does that work when they come to their natural end of life?

Aileen: Yeah, circularity, I think is another one of these words that is almost like sustainability. It means a lot of different things, and usually, people’s minds will jump to a few specific areas. But I actually always go to, this is like a little bit on the nerdy sustainability end, but Ellen MacArthur Foundation as this famous butterfly diagram. Thinking about circularity where. On the left-hand side of it, you actually have to think about what inputs are going in.

So that’s where we’re really focused on the materials. Are they sourced from regenerative sources? Reducing the amount of chemicals used. And then, on the right-hand side, it has these different rungs of what is the order that you need to think about circularity? And one of the first ones is durability. Are you making a product that lasts? Because the last thing you want is to create a product that just after a few wears falls apart. And so, we actually have commitments around durability, working to extend how long the products can last and the consumer can continue to use them. Our products are washable too. So that adds another layer of extending the individual life.

Then after that, you want to think about how can we keep these products in circulation. So we have a program called Rerun, which is where you can buy secondhand Allbirds or Senders and exchange them for others. And so, that’s another way to extend the life beyond yourself. As you get to the outer rungs, it gets really challenging to your point of, how does this get disassembled or recycled or used into something new? And frankly, this is one of those areas where we’re very open of saying we don’t have all the answers. And it’s actually a topic that as an industry, we need to really come together and say, how do we think about the disassembly of products? And how does this happen at scale? Which materials does it make sense to potentially transport back somewhere far reprocess, turn into something new? And so, I think this is one of those big topics where there’s huge potential for it as a climate solution, but we also need to think critically at the systems level, how does this get rolled out? And it requires all of us to collaborate. This isn’t necessarily an area where Allbirds can solve it alone.

John: Or anybody can solve it alone.

Aileen: Or anybody, yeah.

John: Anybody. Talk a little bit about the trend. You briefly touched on it earlier, the trend for OEM brands in any industry beyond shoes, we could talk about electronics as well, and other industries. Having now divisions that never existed five, maybe 10 years ago, fold, designed for sustainability. What does that mean to Allbirds? How has that evolved over your tenure there?

Aileen: At Allbirds, again, we have this amazing opportunity and focus that everyone here is just really rallied around climate change and figuring out how to decarbonize our products. And so, at a lot of brands, you’ll see that there’s kind of like capsule collections that are sustainable, or they’re celebrating one-off products. And here, we’re actually just deeply ingrained in the design and development process. And so, as we go from initial product ideation through prototypes, materials sourcing, all of it, I’m actually deeply embedded in that process. And so, it’s kind of this unique example where it’s not some special team that’s just doing this for some of the products. We’re really focused on how do we do this at scale for our whole business, all of our product lines.

And it’s been an interesting journey that we don’t always get right. I’ve had a lot of quick iterations of learning, oh, I made this comment or suggestion way too long, too late in the design and development process. I need to say this upfront. Or what are the key collaboration moments that we have? What are the key tools that we need to calculate different impact areas or model different opportunities to reduce the impact? And so, the whole journey and my time at Allbirds has been this interesting opportunity to deeply integrate in the design and development process for all of our products and all of the business cross-functional teams. And I think tends to be quite unique when some of the standard of what you might see at bigger companies is one-off teams that are working on certain products. And here, it’s deeply ingrained in the creation of every product.

John: It’s actually part of the RD and innovation of everything you’re doing there.

Aileen: Yeah. And the design and development, marketing. It’s through the whole product process.

John: Well, Aileen, you’re brilliant, obviously, and very young, and you’re at a very young company with lots of runway in front of you, personally, and the company. What gets you so excited now about the months and years to come at Allbirds?

Aileen: There are really two things that get me excited, both at Allbirds, and I would say just generally in the sustainability space at Allbirds, very excited. We’re still coming off of this excitement around Moonshot, but this continued commitment to open-sourcing, collaborating, recognizing that this is like solving issues related to climate change, thinking about broader environmental social impacts at our businesses, this is something that requires deep focus, collaboration, partnership, the sharing of ideas of progress. And so, that’s something that it just as soon as we unveiled the design of Moonshot, the net zero carbon footprint shoe, it was like, okay, what’s next? Who can we collaborate with? What’s the next iteration of that?

And so, we’re never done and we’re going to always keep pushing. And that’s very exciting. In terms of the broader industry and sustainability space, something that I feel excited, and just deeply inspired by. Depending on groups that you’re in or who you’re listening to, there can be a lot of doom and gloom. I also think there’s been amazing work done, and it’s an incredible moment where people also recognize the opportunity to implement solutions. We have all the solutions that we need. It’s about scaling them, it’s about implementing them, re-imagining some of the ways that our society works. And that optimism and hope and just solutions-oriented attitude is something that’s incredibly inspiring to me. And we can do this, right? I think there’s unanimous agreement that we can do this. It’s just about getting serious, implementing, working through challenges but that hope and optimism is very exciting to me, and rooted in being very realistic. And that’s something that keeps me excited day after day.

John: So glad you said that. Really and articulated it so well, better than I could say it. The reason I started this show back in ’07 was because of the doom and gloom, because as you’ve learned, and I’ve learned along the way, Aileen, doom and gloom sells soap. That’s what the media is out there selling. They’re not covering these great stories, so to speak. They’re not covering the impact brands, the impact people that are really making a difference. And like you said, together, you kept going back to the word collaboration throughout this interview, and that’s really the way to go. No one’s going to singularly be the silver bullet to cure the ills of the environment around the world today. But in a collaboration with one another, we can both pull and push each other towards a greater and better environment and also inspire each other to get there as well. And I think you’re so right. You’re right on the money. I want to understand one thing about Moonshot. The show you unveiled in Copenhagen, the design, is the shoe actually in production yet?

Aileen: The shoe will be available for purchase in 2024, so early next year. So I don’t even have a pair yet. So we’re all in this together.

John: So here’s the deal we’re going to make before we say goodbye, I have to say goodbye today. Brands come on over and over again multiple times on this show because as you and I know, there’s no finish line in sustainability. It’s a journey and we’re on this journey together. When you are ready when the shoe comes out, I want you to come back on this show with the shoe, and I want you to walk us through it. And as soon as it’s available, and we’ll plan a whole episode around the shoe and your explanation of what’s going on there so our listeners and viewers could really get a first look at this amazing new shoe that you’re putting out there for everybody to enjoy.

Aileen: That sounds great. And it sounds like we’re going to have to get you a pair too. Don’t worry. It sounds like-

John: I’ll give you my credit card number and I’m all in. I’ll wear those shoes the day we take that episode. I’ll promise you that right now, okay? But also you’re always welcome back here. Aileen, thank you for spending time with us today. And like I said, I really do want you to come back on with the shoe and talk about it. And I will buy a pair. And for our listeners and viewers, to find Aileen and all of her colleagues at Allbirds and all the important and great work they’re doing in sustainability, please go to Aileen Lerch, thank you for being a guest today. Thank you for making the world a better place.

Aileen: Thanks so much for sharing these stories too. Such important work.

John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform, revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States, and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit