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Allbirds Debuts the First-Ever Net-Zero Sneaker: Everything You Need to Know

Set to drop in June 2023, the eco-friendly Mo.oNSHOT sets a new standard for the footwear industry.


According to Allbirds, there are four pillars to designing a good shoe: "What it looks like, the utility and the cost... and carbon," Tim Brown, co-founder and co-CEO, says. The final consideration stems from internal discussions about how net-zero, Allbirds's ultimate goal, would be achieved. Its designers would collaborate with its sustainability experts to build a shoe that emits carbon but also captures it, evening its carbon emission at zero.

Now, the first shoe to fit the bill is (almost) here.

Allbirds's First-Ever Net-Zero Sneaker, the Mo.oNSHOT

The Mo.oNSHOT is a high-top sneaker set to debut in June 2023. (For now, teasers suggest they're high-tops, with sock-like uppers.)

"Creating a net zero carbon shoe that is commercially viable and scalable is the culmination of our entire back-catalog of work," Brown says. "M0.0NSHOT isn’t a silver bullet for the climate crisis — it’s a proof-point that, when we take sustainability seriously, and are laser-focused on carbon reduction, we can make incredible breakthroughs."

There are no official photos of the sneaker yet, which means we’re forced to decode this design board instead.

Allbirds uses different steps of the production process to nullify its footprint. It's switching to carbon-negative regenerative uppers, which are made from merino wool grown on Lake Hawea Station in New Zealand. It's mainlining its carbon-negative sugarcane-based foam midsoles, which have been implemented by brands like Timberland. It's introducing carbon-negative bioplastic eyelets developed by Mango Materials. It's also opting for more environmentally friendly packaging and cleaner delivery systems.

“We believe this will revolutionize the path to net zero, and act as rocket-fuel for the entire industry," Hana Kajimura, head of sustainability at Allbirds, says. "We could spend decades debating the finer points of carbon sequestration, or we can innovate today with a common sense approach. It’s about progress, not perfection."

And this is certainly progress. While carbon neutral products are only so because their emissions were offset, not eliminated, net-zero products take full responsibility for the carbon they release. But will sustainability sell? For Allbirds, it has to.

What will the Allbirds Mo.oNSHOT look like?

Since labeling the carbon footprint right on its products, Allbirds hasn't done so hot. The brand's reported underwhelming revenue, missed goals and a deviation from its broad brick-and-mortar expansion. Its transparency isn't the problem, though.

"As we made those adjacent product development decisions, we unfortunately lost a bit of sight of what our core consumer fell in love with us for in the first place and what they continue to want from us," co-founder Joey Zwillinger told CNBC.

These adjacent products include the popular Tree Flyers, a performance running shoe, and the Trail Runners SWT, a trail running silhouette. These two marked Allbirds most ambitious designs since its collaborative sneaker with Adidas, The Adizero x Allbirds 2.94 kg CO2e. That was a decent-looking shoe. And while it came out in a few colorways over the course of a couple months, it's sold out now, suggesting sustainability can be scaled... but slower than expected.

As for what the customers "fell in love with first," as Zwillinger said, it's likely the bare minimum designs from the brand's earlier days: the Tree Runners and Wool Runners, which look like the simplified versions of sneakers you buy kids because they're easy to take on and off (and can be washed like socks).

Will the Allbirds Mo.oNSHOT be a success?

I might be the minority here — though I'm probably not, based on Allbirds stock — but the brand doesn't make good-looking shoes, which means they're going to have work twice as hard to convince shoppers to buy shoes that are better for the planet but not necessarily better-looking.

Even Brown knows this, but he's hellbent on trying still: "I think people want ice cream in this moment. They want easy answers," he says. That's fast fashion, which is affordable and fulfills our need for something new but does a number on the environment.

In a press conference debuting the Mo.oNSHOT concept, but not the actual shoe, Allbirds execs made moving to net-zero sound like hard work — and it surely is, with hoops and hurdles aplenty, which have long deterred footwear brands like Nike or Vans from moving in a similar direction. (They have sustainability goals, sure, but becoming net-zero is far harder at their size.)

Their optimism, though, was infectious, even if I have doubts about how the final product will look. Here's to hoping I'm wrong, that it's a hit and that loads of other brands follow suit. (So far, a number of major brands have inquired about Allbirds's regenerative materials.)

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