Fast Company/ Elizabeth Segran/ June 25, 2019

In 2005, a decade before he would launch the sustainable sneaker brand Allbirds, Joey Zwillinger realized that climate change was the existential threat facing humanity. As a recent college graduate, Zwillinger wanted to work in the clean energy sector, which forced him to come face-to-face with the data about how poorly humans would fare in an overheated planet. “This was the most important generational problem that we were going to face,” he says.

After six years of working in a biotech startup that created fuel out of algae, Zwillinger decided to turn his attention to finding solutions for the highly polluting fashion industry, and particularly the footwear sector. He had read that 20 billion shoes are produced around the world annually, most of which are made from toxic chemicals and plastic foam. A McKinsey report assessed that fashion and apparel are responsible for more than 8% of the world’s carbon footprint. On top of the greenhouse gases emitted during the manufacturing process, shipping parts around the world in a complex global supply chain precipitates even more air pollution. And then, plastic-based products release greenhouse gases when they break down in landfills. All of this convinced Zwillinger to join forces with his friend Tim Brown on a new venture called Allbirds, which debuted its first wool sneaker in 2016.

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