In Episode 94, Quinn & Brian discuss: the most comfortable and sustainable shoes on the planet.
Our guest is: Hana Kajimura, who leads the development and execution of the Allbirds sustainability program and strategy and is on a personal mission to make climate science fashionable. Allbrids was founded as a B-corp back in 2016, launching the world’s first wool shoes, which have been on Quinn’s feet pretty much the entire time since then. So are we shilling? A little bit. But we’re shilling *sustainably* — for the environment, if not our wallets — and that’s important.
Hana has some fascinating insight into why the best sustainability happens when you build it into a product from the very beginning, how sustainability can be used as a competitive advantage, and how we can use storytelling to reduce fashion’s carbon footprint. And if the clothes you wear aren’t telling a story, then you’re probably just Quinn.
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Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: Why did you take that pause?
Brian: I was thinking about how you said "welcome." You always do the "welcome." It's really high, and it's inaudible and far away.
Quinn: Okay. Well, I'm just trying to spice it up at the beginning in case people have been listening to something boring.
Brian: Oh, trying to make it spicy.
Quinn: This is not boring. This is the podcast, segue, man, where we give you the tools you need to fight for a better future for who, Brian? Everyone.
Quinn: We give you the context straight from the smartest people on earth and the action steps you can take to support them. Tell them who those people are, Brian.
Brian: I mean, those people are scientists. They're doctors. They're nurses, engineers some of them, farmers a couple, politicians, astronauts, reverend ones.
Quinn: Reverend business people, the whole shebang.
Brian: Business people.
Quinn: They are fantastic, and we have a great one today. This is your friendly reminder: You can send questions, thoughts, and feedback to us on Twitter at Importantnotimp, or you can email us at FundTalk at importantnotimportant.com.
Brian: And you can join tens of thousands of other really smart people and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: That's right. On this week's episode, Brian, oh, boy.
Brian: Oh, boy.
Quinn: We're talking about the most comfortable and sustainable shoes on the planet that I know of.
Brian: Nice. We're talking about Allbirds.
Quinn: Allbirds, yeah.
Brian: Allbirds, and our guest... Who's our guest?
Quinn: Huh? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Our guest, Hana Kajimura, and she runs sustainability at one of my favorite shops, Allbirds. That's right. She's here to talk about building sustainability into product from the very start using it as a competitive moat and using storytelling to improve fashion's carbon footprint, because if the clothes we wear aren't telling a story, then I don't know what you'd... I guess if you're just me, then just either shorts, sweatpants, and a t-shirt I guess at that point.
Brian: It's that same pair of pants and a shirt, yeah.
Quinn: It's the same pair of pants all the time. They're Patagonia pants.
Brian: And Allbirds. It's always Allbirds.
Quinn: And always Allbirds. Yeah, which are shoes basically. So, anyways, great conversation, really enjoyed talking to Hana, and I think you guys will too.
Brian: She's awesome. The company's awesome. Let's listen.
Quinn: All right. Our guest today is Hana Kajimura, and together we're talking about arguably the most sustainable and comfortable shoes on Planet Earth. Hana, welcome.
Hana Kajimura: Thanks. Thanks so much for having me.
Brian: For sure. We're happy you're here. Start off, I guess just by telling everybody who you are and what you do, Hana.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, so my name is Hana, and I lead Sustainability at Allbirds. Allbirds was founded as a B Corp and a public benefit corporation back in 2016 as a footwear brand, launching the world's first wool shoes and since expanding into other products, but sustainability has always been at the heart of what we do, and I was lucky enough to join early on about two and a half years ago to be responsible for both the environmental and the social impact of our products and business.
Quinn: That's awesome. I like that you say it covers the environmental and social side because I think it's pretty crystal clear to everybody that those are pretty intertwined, or at least they need to be more so.
Brian: Or connected.
Quinn: More so.
Brian: So cool. We're proud Allbirds owners, the both of us.
Quinn: Quite a few.
Brian: But now they do underwear apparently. Anyway, we'll get into it. A quick reminder for everybody, our goal is to provide some context for our topic at hand today, and then we'll dig into action-oriented questions and what everybody out there can do to help support.
Quinn: Awesome. That sounds great. Hana, we'd like to start with one important question to set the tone of this fiasco. Instead of saying, "Tell us your life's story," we like to ask, "Hana, why are you vital to the survival of the species?"
Hana Kajimura: Wow, what an opener.
Quinn: I encourage you to be bold. You're here for a reason, both talking into your USB microphone or your computer, but also figuratively.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence. I think if we start with that premise of I am here for a reason, I think I'm constantly searching for what that reason is and building upon that story, but for now, I would say it's to figure out ways to use business as a force in solving the climate crisis, and then probably specifically within my role now is to make climate science fashionable, which it sounds like you guys are very onboard with too.
Brian: Oh, yeah.
Quinn: To be clear, we're not fashionable. We're behind the effort, but we're definitely not unless we're wearing your shoes. That's it.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah. I think what's been interesting for me in starting this job was realizing as someone who always cared deeply about climate and thinking that solar companies and electric vehicle companies were really where I wanted to put my effort that in joining a fashion or apparel company, different industries certainly have different roles to play in solving the climate crisis, and fashion is probably not going to unlock global emissions reductions and save us from ourselves, but I think what our superpower is is bringing the conversation into the mainstream and helping our customers understand some of these more complex topics and get excited about finding solutions to them.
Quinn: Well, I love that. I mean, look, it's going to take the kitchen sink, right? It's not just about creating a nice new revolutionary fashion. It's going to take personal actions and institutional and regulatory and corporate actions and startup actions and electric... My God, coffee, come on. Come on, coffee.
Brian: It's okay. Get there.
Quinn: Electric buildings, and it's going to take regulating the hell out of combustion engines, and it's going to take fixing, like you said, fast fashion, which we'll dig into, which has some issues, but it could definitely be helpful, but it can also be cool along the way, so I'm excited to dig into that today. So, thank you for that honest response. We believe in you. That's why you're here. So, talk some context for today. Brian, what are shoes? Back in the day-
Brian: Do you want me to... Oh.
Quinn: No, I don't. No, it was rhetorical.
Brian: Got it.
Quinn: If you were lucky enough to be able to afford shoes way back, they're probably made of leather or depending on where you lived, wood maybe or canvas, but then everybody wanted shoes, and that wasn't super feasible for the local cobbler. So, we started building companies that make shoes and building them out of materials. Final stage materials like rubber and plastic or foam. So, you can bounce on them, or polyester and nylon, and now everybody gets shoes, which is great.
Quinn: There's practical shoes. There's not very practical shoes. There's sports shoes and luxury ones and heavy-duty work ones and ones that are just specifically to be comfortable and waterproof ones, and the list goes on and on. The problem is the one thing that unified all those for a long time is that they're made out of basically dinosaur bones, right? Not great. Everybody loves dinosaurs, which keep them in the earth. So, the extraction, and this is just such a common theme with so many things these days and basically anything that came out of the 20th century is the extraction and the refinement and the production of the raw materials to make your shoes, not to mention the eventual discarding and/or disposal of such items. Obviously, it's not great.
Quinn: Like our energy sources or your Tupperware or your plastic bottles and your clothing, another thing we're working on confronting, but it's past time to take a step back and go, "Yes. It's great when everyone has shoes that shoes in many places still are a measure of poverty. They're essential, but we can also make them now radically more sustainable," and we have to stop with the oil, and we got to stop turning all the oil into the stuff that never breaks down and ends up and/or either in the ocean, in the air, in our water, in our bloodstreams, whatever it might be, and we just cut down so many lovely things along the way.
Quinn: So, I want to talk today with Hana about building the most sustainable shoes on Planet Earth. I'm very excited about this. So, Hana, fashion and I guess in particular this whole fast fashion thing, the Zaras of the world and such. They're one of these building blocks of the climate crisis that we're increasingly aware of but haven't exactly measured, much less really taken on as emphatically as we are some of these other verticals, right? Like the things I couldn't pronounce earlier like electrification and transportation and agriculture, right?
Quinn: So, in doing some research on your company and yourself, I've heard you talk about fashion leading the climate fight through storytelling. What do you mean by that and why does it matter to orient yourself that way?
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, so as you mentioned, there's still a lot of debate about the exact science and numbers and what percent of global emissions is our industry, but best guess from a couple of different studies is that it's somewhere between five and 10% of global emissions comes from apparel and footwear, which is-
Hana Kajimura: Single-digit percentage points might not sound like a 10, but when you think about the universe of emissions, that's actually quite substantial for one industry to be responsible for all of that-
Hana Kajimura: ... and the reason why both it's so hard to measure but also so significant is because it touches all of those other industries that you just listed. We source materials from agriculture. We're connected unfortunately to the petrochemical industry. We manufacture in factories and use electricity. We ship things. We sell them in retail stores. So, we're picking up emissions across each step of that value chain, and it is hard to measure, but we know our impact is pretty significant. The flip side of that is that making meaningful reductions is really difficult because you're picking off emissions from each of those phases once again, and I do think those emissions reductions are enabled by advances in other industries like electric vehicles, like ocean liners run on biofuels, like solar panels at factories.
Hana Kajimura: So, ultimately, those technologies are going to be the ones that dig us out of the climate crisis, and we need to keep pushing those technologies, but they're not going to be the ones that change the narrative and bring the public into consciousness about caring about these issues. A solar company is never going to be the storyteller, I don't think. I could be proven wrong whereas fashion in our industry has this, particularly our business, which has a direct relationship to customers, has this direct line to tell those really emotional stories and help people understand really complex topics like carbon emissions and climate change, and I really think that's the place that fashion and apparel is going to have impact.
Quinn: Well, people already use... I mean, they have forever used fashion to tell a story about who they are and I guess their status and maybe a little bit about their personality. How flashy is it? How muted is it? How practical is it? Things like that. If you were lucky enough to be able to afford a fashion per se or to have a variety of options, and that goes all the way down to, in some cases, your underwear, but certainly your shoes. So, like you said, it would be great if a solar company was able to really nail down storytelling and make that part of the reason to become popular and effective and competitive, but until then it seems like fashion has this built-in crutch they can use, which is to turn that around and tell a slightly different story, I guess.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, it's wild how emotional our clothing is and the kind of relationship that we have with the brands that we purchase from because it's so tied to our individual identity. I mean, you just think about how hard it is to get someone to stop on the street to talk about Greenpeace, for example, or donating a cause like that, but I'll have people stop me on the street all the time and say, "Oh my God. I love your shoes. I have a pair. They're the best thing ever," I think, and that's, as odd as it is, is like a really important superpower to have and to use wisely.
Quinn: Well, it's interesting because you guys had to... You had to nail good-looking and comfortable shoes along with sustainable, right? I mean, we see this all the time.
Brian: That's a lot of pieces.
Quinn: I mean, I stopped eating dairy nine years ago, and the first few years of dairy-free cheese was the darkness. I mean, this stuff, it's awful, and now there's some really great alternatives, tree vine, a few others. I mean, they're fantastic. You've got ripple milk, all these things, but at the beginning, oh my God, it was so bad, but you guys clearly decided and stuck with and really worked hard on... I mean, I remember I couldn't have ordered a original pair of wool runners earlier than I did, and how often I walked around, and people having no idea what they were made of probably just assumed out of dinosaurs, and they'd look at them and go, "What the hell are those? Where do I get those?" I'd be like, "Oh my God. They're so comfortable."
Quinn: Also, it's made from... This is false, but wool from virgin sheep somewhere that have never been yelled at. It's amazing. So, it's fantastic that you guys have been able to tell both sides of that story, I guess.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, and I think that's something that our founders realized really early on is that we're not going to have the impact we want to have if our product is not amazing. If nobody buys our shoes, even if they're the most sustainable shoes on the planet, our impact is zero. So, they really led with product first, and even interestingly, I think in the early days, we talked about leading with product and letting sustainability explicitly take the back seat because again, we knew our impact was in people actually buying our shoe instead of another more traditionally made shoe.
Hana Kajimura: So, we wanted them to buy that shoe, and that was key to our impact, and we're worried that if we led too much with sustainability, it would get confusing. It might turn them off, and I think that perspective has evolved over time both as we've, I think, seen a real shift in both consumer awareness and sentiment towards sustainability, but also as we've accepted responsibility for this microphone and platform that we have that even right now, if people don't really understand something like a carbon footprint, and it's not necessarily grabbing people and pulling them in that we still have that responsibility to help them understand and keep talking about it until they understand.
Quinn: For sure, and you have to empathize with people who are interested in this stuff, but aren't necessarily, for whatever reason, maybe because there's so much going on in the world, aren't necessarily schooled in it. Again, whether they've elected to or not, and by the way, maybe they've tried to, but I mean, try looking up carbon credits for your flights and what you should do and go down that internet rabbit hole. It's a nightmare, and there's some wonderful companies like TerraPass and some other ones, but every three months, it's like the question of like, "Should I take a vitamin?" Every three months, they're like, "Vitamin E could make you live 10 years longer," and then the next day someone's like, "Actually, vitamin E will kill you today," and it's confusing, and it's hard, and there's disinformation and misinformation and also stuff we haven't figured out yet.
Quinn: So, it's certainly commendable to try to define that for people as well as fighting on all these other fronts.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, it's a total bridge of the art and the science, which I think is something that the climate change discussion needs help with sometimes. To your point, it's hard to even google annual emissions for the globe and figure out who you can trust on something so fundamental.
Quinn: Yeah, absolutely. It's Wild West out there.
Brian: The Wild West. Hana, you said the founders led with product first. So, how now is sustainability built into Allbirds' actual business processes?
Hana Kajimura: We really started understanding, first of all, how important product was going to be and just intuitively in order to have impact, but then we wanted to put numbers behind that to back that up. So, we started conducting what's called a lifecycle assessment of our product, which is a way to measure all of the emissions created from the farm all the way through to when a customer disposes of the shoe at its end of life.
Brian: Oh, cool.
Hana Kajimura: You tally up all of those carbon emissions, and one of our key first findings was just that, one, the vast, vast majority of our emissions come from our product. So, you hear companies talk about renewable energy for their offices or retail stores, but in reality, if that company is making a product, 95-plus percent of their footprint comes from their product, and it's easy to dismiss that the product is made somewhere else. So, we're not responsible for what goes into it, but that is where your impact lies if you just look at the numbers, and then secondly that within that product, raw materials make up the majority of emissions because you're raising sheep to produce wool. In the case of the rest of the industry, you're drilling oil out of the ground.
Hana Kajimura: So, that was really the core pillar of our sustainability program was material innovation and making sure that we were not just choosing the best materials off the shelf like wool, but really going deep to make sure that the farms that we were sourcing from followed the best-in-class standards and certifications. So, diligence on materials, I would say, is the primary way that we've built in this sustainability muscle, but then more recently I think, as we said, "Okay, we're looking at our impacts, and we're measuring them. We're tracking them, and of course, we're trying to reduce them," but in the meantime, shouldn't we be accountable to those emissions? The fact that all of us can pollute and not pay for any of it is why we're in this.
Quinn: It seems a little ridiculous.
Brian: Seems off.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, and of course, we're good-intentioned, and our customers trust us, and we're going to keep trying to drive our footprint to zero over time, but it's going to take time, and in the meantime, the very least we can do is be accountable to our footprint. Last year, we committed to being a carbon neutral business from 2019 forward, which I think is a little bit different than what you hear from big corporations and governments who talk about 2050 or 2030 if we're lucky, and we do that through an internal carbon tax.
Hana Kajimura: So, for every pair of shoes we produce, we calculate the carbon footprint of those shoes and put an associated tax into a fund and then at the end of the year, we use that fund to purchase carbon credits from projects around the world that help to reduce or draw down carbon emissions. So, that is a fundamental way that we try to incentivize internally better decisions that help to minimize our footprint and not just are we going to compensate. Carbon tax doesn't just help us to compensate and offset our impact, but it also is an incentive structure to help us drive towards zero emissions over time.
Quinn: I love it. I mean, it's-
Brian: That's so rad.
Quinn: We're big fans of... I mean, to an extent obviously, but the extent goes further and further these days as we're dealing with so many things at once, but the ends justify the means in some ways, and we can't hold things and companies and people to a perfect standard, but we do need to see both incremental and radical progress. So, to have a goal of radical progress and to be public and publicly accountable to that and internally accountable to it in the way that you're making incremental progress along the way and finding ways to, for lack of a better phrase, make up for what you cannot do is a great standard. I mean, you look at companies that have been inspirational on that front for a long time.
Quinn: Obviously, I think of places like Patagonia who are like, "Don't buy any more of our clothes." It's helpful, and hopefully that can be a model for other places going forward.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, and I think you said it earlier when you were talking about that we need to throw the kitchen sink at this and that companies and governments and individuals and all different types of organizations have a important role to play. I think we've got somehow stuck in this false hierarchy of like, "We need to reduce as much as possible first, and then for whatever is left we will offset or neutralize," and that's what these net-neutral-by-2050 commitments mean, and I think coming at it with a fresh pair of eyes, we thought, "Well, if we're all acknowledging that we're going to have to buy some sort of credit to net out our footprint in 30 years, shouldn't we just do that today and actually use it as a tool to drive our footprint down over time?"
Hana Kajimura: In my opinion, the only reason why you wouldn't do that is because it costs money today, but if we acknowledge climate change is a problem because we're allowed to externalize our environmental impact, then it just seems like not a good enough answer.
Quinn: Sure. I mean, we can do that. No one's... I mean, of course, perfect would be perfect, but that's just not going to happen. So, please just do better.
Brian: Do better.
Quinn: Aim higher, do better.
Brian: Hana, did you how do you guys get your shoes to be water resistant and not be just a toxic nightmare?
Quinn: That's a very good question. The number of times I've worn my original, lovely light blue wool runners on the long day-
Brian: They're so great. They're so comfortable.
Quinn: I would love to, yeah, hear that.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah. Well, I think are you saying that your light blue wool runners have gotten destroyed, or they've actually held up pretty well?
Quinn: No. I mean, they've Patagonia held up well, considering they're just wool. I mean, one would think they should be destroyed.
Brian: Right. I don't understand.
Quinn: But at the same time, I've obviously thought like, "At some point, they're going to try to figure out making these water resistant," and then my next thought was like, "How do you do that when you make everything out of trees and sheep?" I don't understand. I literally wouldn't understand how to begin that. So, I empathize with you, but I'm so curious about it. Then we can get back to how to save the world, but this is important.
Hana Kajimura: This is important too. I think our thought process has been exactly the same. We started with choosing merino wool in the first place, which I think to the... We didn't talk a ton about, but your intro about how shoes have evolved over time from materials found in nature to being predominantly fossil fuel derived. We challenge ourselves to think back to simpler times before the advent of cheap plastics and think about what amazing properties natural materials have on their own. So, wool on its own is anti-odor. It dries really quickly and is hydrophobic. So, meaning it hates water. So naturally-
Brian: Hates water?
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, is a great material for something like shoes that is on your foot. It's normally pretty stinky, regulates temperature, and keeps water out. So, naturally, we're at an advantage there, but then we also knew especially as we started to launch and grow the business in Europe and particularly the UK that gets a lot of rain. We were hearing from customers all the time that the natural property wasn't cutting it on those rainy days. So, we did want to pursue a water resistant version, but it sounds like as you're familiar, most of the water repellency treatments that exist are extremely toxic. So, again setting sustainability is the constraints of the experiment. If we do water repellency, we're not going to use fluorine, which is the main chemical of concern in waterproofing.
Hana Kajimura: So, we work to develop a fluorine-free waterproofing treatment, and that is what we use. We do have a couple models that are now water resistant.
Quinn: This is very exciting.
Brian: Yeah, I'm looking at them right now. What's it called? The Puddle Guard is what you call the water resistance?
Hana Kajimura: They're called the Wool Runner Mizzle. Mizzle is apparently a term for a misty drizzle, signifying that it is not-
Hana Kajimura: ... for a downpour, but it can handle a little bit of water.
Quinn: Sure, sure, sure, sure, sure, sure.
Brian: I love that.
Quinn: This is great. Brian frequently just buys things during the podcast that people are talking about, so this is fantastic.
Brian: Yeah, well, but it makes. It's relevant. I'm not just shopping for who knows what.
Quinn: Yeah, that would be frustrating.
Brian: That would be crazy.
Quinn: Hana, I'm curious because you seem to not only be judging by Allbirds and their success and by your excitement talking about this quite into this. It's not just doing a job. What is it about this particular job that suits you? Why shoes? Why Allbirds? Why sustainability?
Hana Kajimura: Since I studied environmental science in college, and at that point identified that climate change was really the issue that I wanted to spend my career working on because I wanted to choose the most... very strategically choose the issue that was going to be I thought most central to our existence going forward both from an impact perspective and a job security perspective, and I was really convinced of the power of business to bring about that change and in a lot of cases model what's possible from a government or policy perspective, a great example being our carbon tax at Allbirds, and signifying that, "Hey, this is possible, and we will pay for it."
Hana Kajimura: I was really lucky to be able to marry those two things together in this role and that Allbirds was thinking so boldly and hiring for sustainability so early on in its lifetime, but I wouldn't be happy at just any company. I think I'm super inspired by the leadership of our co-founders who time and time again show this conviction and doing their thing that is super motivating, but then I also love being in a small company where my job is as diverse as attending global climate summits and talking about climate policy to as menial as sorting our trash in the alleyway and getting to visit farmers in New Zealand and factories in Asia and maybe most importantly just develop this repository of fun facts and knowledge from how sugarcane has grown in Brazil to how to calm a sheep.
Brian: Wow. How do you calm a sheep?
Quinn: Hold on.
Hana Kajimura: I knew you were going to stop me there.
Quinn: One moment. Please, indulge us.
Hana Kajimura: For shearing and other purposes, if you put a sheep on its, like you lift him up and put him on his butt, he gets really calm.
Quinn: Okay, so I'm going to stop you there too. How does one pick up a sheep and put it on its butt? And is this like a new hire training thing that you have to do at Allbirds?
Hana Kajimura: I mean, it's just like your household pet or your dog.
Hana Kajimura: Hug him tight and lift him up and lean back, you're halfway.
Brian: Love it.
Quinn: That's essential. See, Brian? I don't make you do anything.
Brian: I want to get a sheep.
Quinn: We're definitely going to do the sheep thing.
Hana Kajimura: But yeah, I think I again thought that in order to have maximum impact, I did need to work in the energy sector or the transportation sector, but I think the key learning of this job is that actually our industry is connected to all of those things. So, we get to keep a finger on the pulse of new developments in every industry, which is really interesting.
Quinn: For sure, and I love that you're evaluating the whole chain. I mean, again, to found a company and say, "We're going to take on the whole supply chain from the very beginning," is like it's a tall order. On top of making fantastic shoes that are sustainable, you want to be incremental but proactive and radical where you can be and a leader in an industry where you can be, but it's hard. I mean, I just literally just saw today that Apple said they're going to go fully carbon neutral by 2030, which I believe they've had mostly solar-powered offices and data centers up until now, but now it's the hard part, which is looking at the rest of their supply chain, which to be clear is insane.
Quinn: So, I admire them for being like, "No. We're doing this thing," but I'm also just like, "Good luck." Oh my God, you know? I can't imagine.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, I think you touched on our unique challenge, which has been that we as a new company rooted in sustainability, we've had all of the goodwill and intention of doing things the right way from the beginning, but we're also starting from scratch, and sustainability has come to mean 15 different things to 15 different people, from animal welfare, to human rights, to climate change, to chemistry, and the expectation is that you are doing all of those things perfectly, and we know just from instinctively that if we tried to do 10 things, we could either do 10 things really shallowly and maybe not so well, or we could really move the needle on a few, and-
Quinn: For sure.
Hana Kajimura: ... we've tried to be really intentional about prioritizing those issues based on both our founders, conviction and starting the business, as well as where we are in our trajectory and where we think we can have the biggest impact.
Quinn: So, on that note, because you've been around for a few years now, and it seems like other companies in shoewear and elsewhere are starting to take these on. If we can dip our toes into capitalism in the marketplace for a moment, I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about... Basically reduced carbon footprints and sustainability as a competitive advantage in 2020 and going forward yet, do you feel like that's something that exists yet? Are you guys aiming more towards rising tide lifts all boats? I guess also who else is succeeding here on a similar level to you guys?
Hana Kajimura: Absolutely. I think it's become a competitive advantage even over the last couple of years, like within my time at Allbirds, I think I've seen a pretty significant shift whereas a company, we were monitoring any sort of news about other brands in sustainability, and three years ago, there might be one a week, and now there's 10 a day. I think the conversation and the bar has been elevated in the U.S. a little bit, but particularly in other markets, like especially in Europe, for us sustainability is probably the leading reason why a customer would support us or why a journalist would want to talk to us and to back that up, I think one of the big surprises for us this year was that our first feature in vogue was about our carbon footprint labeling initiative.
Quinn: That's amazing.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah. Climate change and carbon has become mainstream even in fashion and going back to the leadership of the company, I think that took foresight to really want to lean into these topics when people didn't really understand them but also to continue to challenge ourselves that as this becomes more of a competitive advantage, we can't fall prey to the temptation to keep it close to the vest. I don't think we've talked about this yet, but we started publishing the carbon footprints of all of our products just a few months ago both as an accountability measure, internally, to help us commit to drive those footprints to zero over time, but more importantly to spark an industry conversation and challenge the notion of why don't we know the environmental impact of the products that we buy and consume and how can we expect customers to make better decisions for the climate if they have zero information to go off of.
Quinn: I'm so sorry to interrupt. I've been excited to talk about this ever since when I was like, "Oh, I should reschedule this conversation. Oh, I should also buy some more shoes," and I noticed that on the website, recently, and it's awesome, and it made me think about... and forgive me if this is something you guys have talked about too much, but about the... I guess the only real legit comparison is like standardized nutrition labels. But to me, and again, just tell me to blow off if this seems wrong, but the key to making nutrition labels work besides ubiquity and how long they've been around as much as they've changed or not changed is not just, "Hey, this is how many grams of sugar. I guess now you can even see added sugar on there."
Quinn: It's that it's this is 50% of your daily allowance. So, I thought about we had this fantastic conversation back in 2019, which feels like, I don't know, a century ago at this point.
Brian: So long ago.
Quinn: We talked with this wonderful woman, professor, Julia Steinberger, and the title is, "What are the energy requirements of well-being?" Which seems kind of fufu, but it's basically about, like if we're going to get this under control, is it possible to quantify an objective allotment that allows for a "good life"? Then, of course, we went down rabbit holes of what that means historically and how white people and basically in America just blow that out of the water and what it means for different cultures. It's all great, but I guess my point when I talk about the 50% of your daily allowances, people need not only the raw numbers but a reference point. What's their allowance? I'm curious if that's part of the thinking as you guys have started to define this, which is so great to put it out there and just be like, "Look, here's a measuring stick again for the industry and competitors and people."
Quinn: It's like, "How do we just not dumb it down but make it relative to someone's life?" Does that make sense?
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, and you touched on the challenge, which is when you said we report our carbon footprint in terms of kilograms and CO2 equivalents and that the challenge to that is nobody knows what that means.
Quinn: Right, right.
Quinn: They're like, "That's great."
Hana Kajimura: Then you start trying to explain. It's like as if you filled a balloon with this much gas and then put it on a scale, and I think that that's not really the point. We also don't know what a calorie is most of us. It's a scientific unit of measure, but because it's so ubiquitous, we've developed this relational understanding to know that if I eat a burger today for lunch, maybe I should have a salad for dinner, and as you said, that sort of percent daily value, and I think we absolutely need to develop that for carbon and the environmental impact of our decisions, and it's totally possible. I think, one, we know how much the average person emits in a year. In the U.S. it's around 100 tons of carbon per person per year, which we know is too much.
Hana Kajimura: So, certainly, we can create estimates about what that should be to maintain our desired climate commitments, but I think equally as important, we need to develop a library and an understanding of the carbon impacts of different products we buy but also decisions we make, and that's been one of the central challenges in launching this program is at once in order to help customers understand what 7.6 kilograms of CO2 equivalents means, we need to put it in context with other shoes, other apparel items, other things in our lives, but also the reason why we're doing this is because those numbers don't exist at least in any standardized or comprehensive way.
Quinn: Right, and there's places like... I'm not sure if you're familiar with Project Drawdown. They're fantastic, and they're so well meaning and so smart and so hard-working on all this stuff, and they've been like, "No. If we do these 100 things in this order, like this is going to make the biggest difference," and we've started to measure generally things like flying. So, for a year, everyone was like, "That's it. No one's allowed to fly anymore," and it's like, "Okay, but also, if we take a step back, it's important to know that it's mostly just like rich white people who fly," and yes, it's detrimental, but most people don't. So, that news is going to be null and void to them.
Quinn: That's again where it comes back to this, like you get 2,000 calories a day, and how you choose to fill them and the quality of how you choose to fill them is up to you. Here's the things, and we're going to outlaw some shit like trans fats and some things like broccoli, we're not going to make affordable enough, but the point is like having this objective thing even if we can get close to it. Maybe you guys don't totally agree with fashion and especially the subset of for instance footwear. With Drawdown, if we can work together to get close to that, so people understand about the choices they're making but also the relative choices they're making feels like the key, like if I do this, I can't do this, or I have to do less of this because it means X.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, that is absolutely the ultimate goal, and back to your conversation, your question about competitive advantage. I think that was a key moment or decision point that we had in launching this initiative was, "Okay, we're releasing figures in a void. What happens if a competitor says they have a lower carbon footprint than ours? Is that possible? Are we okay with that?" I think to our co-founders' credit, they were like, "Hey, if we get people talking about the carbon footprints of their products, let alone publishing a number that's lower than ours, that is a win. We have been in the wrong race, and we're in a new race to try to reach carbon neutrality, and if we're driving that process through competition, that's exactly what we're trying to do."
Quinn: For sure. I mean, one fewer forest fire, right?
Brian: Right. Hey, why can't somebody Nike for example use the same materials that you guys do? Just scale or-
Quinn: Is it because they don't care?
Brian: Or is it because they don't care?
Hana Kajimura: A bigger company would theoretically be better positioned to use sustainable materials because they can buy in bulk, and I think that's ultimately what we're all after is, as you said earlier, in the context of non-dairy cheeses, the initial versions are expensive and not that great, and if we show demand for them, the product will get better, and the cost will come down over time. That's why synthetic materials like polyester and nylon are so cheap now is because that's where we've put all of our time and energy over the last number of decades in terms of innovation in our industry, and we need to shift that demand. So, I think in most cases, the reason why companies aren't using completely sustainable materials is cost in almost every instance.
Hana Kajimura: They do currently cost more in most cases, and that's an impact that we are able to absorb because of our business model of not relying on wholesale. So, we're able to put more of that margin behind the materials that we source.
Quinn: It makes sense. I mean, yeah, it makes sense. It's like if they can absorb in some places higher prices for a little while and start to order in bulk, hopefully, we bring these things down, and we find more sustainable ways to grow the things, raise the things, not dispose of the things, and somehow find our way into a circular economy of some sort again, coming back to the whole Patagonia, like just bring us back your clothes, and we'll fix them. Please stop buying stuff. It's appealing, but of course, it's going to take hard work.
Quinn: So, again, I think like how you said, your job not only is the product side but the social side and also how to divvy up the trash out back. I think a lot, and this is usually more tech-focused because these companies are by and large I don't want to say nightmares, but they can be, but at least mostly that we can touch American tech companies should be required to have a chief liberal arts graduate on their seaboard, right? So, they can stop destroying democracy and things like that. You seem to have built your role at Allbirds from scratch with a environmental science background but also a good perspective on business and capitalism, but also on things you want to do with a philosophy.
Quinn: So, I'm curious about basically, like one, how do we clone you but in a more in a more detailed version, like where and how do we institutionalize your role at other startups and, equally important, existing corporations? What's transferable from an your job at Allbirds and what's not? You can start with fashion or whatever seems to make sense because there's going to be a lot of our listeners. They're like, "I want that fucking job."
Hana Kajimura: I know, and I talk to them every day, and I do think that these kinds of roles are becoming more and more common, but they're not as ubiquitous as they need to be particularly at companies. So, early stage, which is when I think it really matters. Like at a certain point, if you add sustainability as a layer 10 years down the line out of some desire to mitigate risk, the ship has sailed. I think you're too far gone at that point to really make a meaningful difference, and I think that's... Yeah, you're right. I have an environmental science background from studying, but then I worked in management consulting and business strategy. So, coming to the world of sustainability from an outsider's perspective, I think I've really taken away that so much of this work translates across business certainly within our industry when we talk about labor supply chains and preferred materials, but outside as well, like the principles of measuring and reducing carbon are the same whether we're talking about a clothing company or a tech company.
Hana Kajimura: So, I think the real challenge is figuring out how to democratize that information and systematize it better I think in the same way that we have. When you're starting a business, you have Shopify to set up your store, and you have Stripe to handle your payments, and you have Zenefits to do your HR and benefits, like there should be a sustainability version as well because not everyone has the budget or the know-how to implement a sustainability program from scratch as we've talked about. It's quite technical, and it's complicated, and there's different areas of expertise, but the principles are the same.
Hana Kajimura: So, all the hard work and money and time that we've spent to build up the pillars of our sustainability program, not every new company should have to go through that. A lot of that could be shared. So, we're constantly thinking about how we can share that information. Certainly, informally, I think I never would have expected that one of the strongest networks I would build in this job are with sustainability people at other companies, but certainly and formally, but also trying to think formally about what that could look like.
Quinn: For sure. I mean, it's apples to oranges a little bit, but you think about what Stripe did for online businesses and before, everyone was building their payment structure from scratch or using some version of early PayPal or something like that, and Stripe and then Shopify enabled a whole new world, and it's like two clicks. "Hey, add this line of code to your website, and all you got is a shopping cart," like it's crazy, and obviously, implementing the methodology and philosophy of a sustainability across a variety of industries and products and things like that is going to be a little more complicated and a little less black and white, but that doesn't mean, like you said, startups should have to... It doesn't mean there shouldn't be a platform for at least the basics because there are so many shared things across everywhere no matter what your business you're getting into.
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, exactly. I think a prime example is to power this carbon footprint labeling initiative that we have, we had to build an internal tool to calculate the carbon footprints of our products, and we've spent thousands of dollars with consultants and thousands of hours on building this thing that we think is pretty applicable to most products in our industry, and no, it's not going to get to the level of specificity of your specific cotton vendor in India, but it'll get you pretty close, and I think we have to stop using that as an excuse to not do anything.
Hana Kajimura: So, that's a great example of something where we're like, "We spent so much time building this. It should be transferable. What's the best way to make that happen and to enable other people to use this tool so that we can achieve the goal of having more carbon footprints out there and helping people develop this understanding?"
Quinn: Yeah, I mean, the bottom line, and of course, thanks to you guys for doing all that hard work and spending the time and the money and to getting to something that a lot of people should be able to use as a starter package essentially, because it's not good enough for the answer to be any more like, "Where's your t-shirt come from?" And good enough isn't, "Well, I don't think it's made out of oil by children." Does that count? It's like we're so far past that, like everything's on fire where there's got to be a more measurable way of doing it. All right. I don't want to... Go ahead. Please, please.
Hana Kajimura: Oh, just to finish that thought, we really believe in progress over perfection and not letting perfect be the enemy of good. We think a 90% right answer is better than zero answer at all, and I think our newcomer status and size as a company has enabled us to lean into that a little bit more and potentially take a bit more risk than a large corporation might when reporting numbers like this, but as you said, we're too far gone to worry about the decimal points. We have to directionally do what we know is the right answer and keep charging forward.
Quinn: Yeah, and again, it's easy to be like, oh, shoes are... Or like you said, greater fashion is single digits, maybe 10% or something close to that, and it's easy to sneeze at it, but also like, "Holy shit. 10% would be a really great achievement to knock off, because we need to do anything. We need to do everything." I'll take 9% percent in a heartbeat.
Brian: Oh, yeah. I feel like we talk about that. It comes up a lot here, that idea, "perfect is the enemy of good" on this podcast and who we talk to. Just fucking do it, you know? Do what we can. All right. Let's get to some action. Our goal here is to provide action steps, specific action steps that our listeners can take to support you, Hana, and your mission with their voice and their vote and their dollar. So, let's get into it. Let's start with it with their voice. What big, actionable, specific questions can we all be asking our local representatives to help support you?
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, I think on the most micro personal level, especially in terms of the things you buy, again, going back to my point that the majority of a product's impacts come from the materials that it's made out of. Ask that question. If it's not in apparel, you have to disclose the material makeup. So, take the time to look at the tags of the things you're buying, but in other industries it's not as clean cut, but that's a first step based on the available information that we all have. In terms of the unavailable information, I think you're exactly right that the voice of the customer is so powerful in a way that I didn't realize as a customer until I was on the other side of it, but when customers ask questions, we respond to everyone, and we respond immediately, and with the full force of the business.
Hana Kajimura: So, asking the question, asking where was this made, what's the carbon footprint? If they can't tell you, why can't you tell me? All of those questions actually spark a lot of dialogue and conversation, and ultimately, action within companies. So, they're really important to ask.
Quinn: I love that. Are there things that we could be asking of representatives and such about better labeling practices, things like that about having someone at Allbirds testify about developing the carbon footprint measure, calculator scale thing? Are there things like that that can be pretty specific that people could be asking?
Hana Kajimura: When you say representatives, do you mean of a company or of the government?
Quinn: I mean of governments. Basically, like again, at some point, a lot of these things are going to require education of legislators and their aides maybe in the opposite order, because that's usually the way it goes, but then also some form of law making and regulation, so that we can start to phase out the bad stuff but also learn where there are good models from those things because otherwise, they have no idea what they're talking about.
Hana Kajimura: Absolutely. I think a couple areas that come to mind specifically, one, is materials and how we value natural materials in terms of how they're priced and how they're supported versus synthetics, and then the other is the idea of if not a carbon tax, some sort of mechanism for paying for emissions, and I think again, that's the lens that we've tried to take at Allbirds is how do we voluntarily take on, penalize ourselves or take on potential policy measures in order to demonstrate the kind of future that we want to see and show lawmakers that we're ready and that we believe this is the way to go? Carbon labeling is another example. I know that's been particularly in Europe.
Hana Kajimura: A topic of conversation is whether to start requiring transparency on environmental impacts of products, and we absolutely agree in that vision and direction. So, we're going to start doing it ourselves, but yeah, the more that we can tell those stories and show that we can have a successful business and do these things at the same time I think is a really important example to provide.
Quinn: Awesome. That's exactly what we're looking for, and then what about with their dollar? I mean, you've already talked about the customer's voice being important. I guess besides allbirds.com, whatever the website is, are there other fellow makers that you would love to give a shout-out to where people could conduct some conscious capitalism, I guess?
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, I mean, my immediate reaction is B Corps. We didn't spend a lot of time talking about what that is, but-
Quinn: For sure.
Hana Kajimura: ... It means Allbirds is a B Corp, which means two things to us. One, it means that we are incorporated as a public benefit corporation rather than a traditional C Corp, which means we have to be accountable to other stakeholders in the business besides shareholders like the environment, like our supply chain, but it's also a third-party certification where every three years we undergo a really crop rigorous assessment to basically ensure that we are living up to the promises that we are marketing publicly, and there is a community I think at this point of 3,000 B Corps worldwide, not just within the consumer product space, also in services, real estate, legal, pretty much anything you can think of, but I would encourage everyone to crop look at that listing of companies and always try to support them when you have a choice in terms of buying your home cleaning product or the next backpack or suitcase.
Hana Kajimura: It's a great place to start to know that the companies you're supporting are doing what they say they are.
Quinn: Awesome. That's super helpful.
Brian: Yeah, that's really great to know.
Quinn: That's super helpful. I would also give a shout-out. There's a bunch of great companies that participate and non-profits on the other side and the 1% for the Planet program. I don't know if you guys do that one or not, but they've usually got a pretty good lead on... Again, companies are trying to do the right thing at least.
Hana Kajimura: Exactly. That's a good one.
Brian: Is it time for the lightning round?
Quinn: Just about. It's not a lightning round, but it is quick. We just don't have another name for it. Hana, if you, whether now or later, have any other recommendations for other world-changing humans we should talk to, please let us know. Anyone else that inspires you and that's out there fighting for a better future for everyone would be super dope. All right. Last couple questions here, and then we'll get you out of here. Hana, when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?
Hana Kajimura: It wasn't today. I think if I go way back, I've been having a lot of conversations in the context of racial and social justice about my own power and privilege, and one thing I've been reflecting on is the privilege of travel growing up. My mom worked in philanthropy and international development. So, I got to see a lot of the world, and I think it was probably in that middle school time of going to some of these third-world countries and just recognizing how privileged I was and then the power that I had in bringing those stories home and raising awareness about other parts of the world. So, that was certainly one, and then within the context of Allbirds, one specific memory comes to mind.
Hana Kajimura: It was in my first couple of weeks there, and I'd never worked at such a small company before. I think there were 50 of us, and we all sat in the same room, and I noticed that we had these individual trash cans at each desk and because of that, people were mixing their recycling and compost and trash rather than sorting them. So, one night, a co-worker and I just took all the trash cans away and said-
Brian: You monster.
Hana Kajimura: "I'm sorry. You have to walk to the kitchen and sort your trash properly," but I think that was the first time within the corporate context that I realized I have the power to make things happen even on a small scale.
Quinn: You're like Batman stealing trash cans. It's fantastic. That's awesome. Thank you for sharing that. Hana, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Hana Kajimura: Yeah, I think I touched on it earlier. There's a few faces and names that are coming to mind, but the common thread is that they are all my peers at other companies, sustainability leaders mostly at apparel companies, but I'm in contact with them on almost a daily basis comparing notes, texting, asking, "How do you think about this?" Just yesterday, someone shared an example job description with me that I plan to leverage, and it's just been the most unexpected community of mentors at other companies, and I've learned so much, and I'm so grateful for the support especially as a relative newcomer to corporate sustainability.
Quinn: That's awesome. Oh, man. That's got to be the coolest messages group thread-
Brian: Yeah, right?
Quinn: ... people out there trying to change the world.
Quinn: Brian, we need more friends. That's awesome.
Brian: We'll get there.
Quinn: All right, Brian. Bring it home.
Brian: Hana, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed, when you need to escape and have some Hana time?
Hana Kajimura: Very important. I've been paying a lot of attention to this. One is I live a couple blocks from the beach. So, seeing the sunset every night at the beach has been a huge priority of mine, always really helpful. Secondly, maybe more actionable for many of you out there, there's something called dance church.
Hana Kajimura: If you Google dance church-
Brian: Already did.
Hana Kajimura: ... every Wednesday at 5:00 and Sunday at 10:00, for those of us on the West Coast, there's a live streamed class-
Hana Kajimura: ... that is a mix between Jazzercise and ecstatic dance and aerobics, I guess. It's all of the above, but it's a great opportunity too. The problem with some of these livestream classes is that they can see you too, and this is not the case. So, you can let loose in your home, blast the music, and no one will know.
Quinn: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nobody needs [crosstalk 01:03:32] me. That's amazing.
Quinn: As a long-time Jazzercise and, reaching back further, Mousercise fan, this is very exciting. When everything locked down, I got my crop three children the Nintendo Switch thing, so they could do Just Dance, whatever the dance game is. Yeah, this is very exciting. Very exciting. I'm going to make Brian do it except I am going to set up a camera in his house, so I can watch him do it.
Brian: No. I can choose to turn it off. She just said.
Quinn: We'll talk about it. It's a corporate thing.
Brian: All right.
Quinn: Last question.
Brian: Hana, if you could send one book to Donald Trump, what book do you think he needs to read? We've got a really great list of recommendations from all of our guests on Bookshop, and we think you should throw one on there.
Hana Kajimura: Wow, and this is assuming he'll read it?
Brian: Yes, yes, or somebody will read it too.
Quinn: Look, don't go too far down that rabbit hole. It could be a picture book. It could be the Constitution, and you can assume he would listen, or it has pictures, whatever you would like.
Brian: Yeah, it could be an audio book, sure.
Hana Kajimura: Well, one thing we didn't talk much about but is the climate solution from the drawdown list that I'm most excited about is regenerative agriculture, and how we can change the way that we farm in order to create healthier soils and use natural carbon sinks to sequester emissions, and I think that one of my favorite books on that is called Dirt to Soil by Gabe Brown, and it's a story about his family's journey to regenerative agriculture, and I think why that came to mind is because, one, it's solution-oriented, which is important, and two, there's certainly a positive economic story to regenerative agriculture.
Hana Kajimura: So, again, proving that these practices that are better for the planet can also lead to economic growth is probably an important argument for him.
Quinn: Awesome. I love that. That's a great recommendation. Yeah, we've done some agriculture stuff on here, and again, one of those things is going to take probably some large federal oversight and reconditioning of their the laws and grants and things like that in the farm bill, but man, there could be huge progress. I read an amazing conversation with Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm about that, and yeah, it's pretty tremendous. Awesome. Hana, is there a place where listeners can follow you online?
Hana Kajimura: You can follow Allbirds at allbirds.com-
Quinn: Good answer.
Hana Kajimura: ... and Instagram.
Quinn: Rock and roll. Well, listen, Hana, thank you so much for your time today and for all that you guys are doing there. It's a wonderful company, wonderful products. I'm excited that you have been inspired and continue to be inspired by folks at other places doing the same thing. I'm excited that there are folks at other places doing the same thing, and that hopefully, we'll see more versions of this down the line. It'll be a great one to get off the list and wear comfortable shoes at the same time and underwear now, very exciting.
Brian: I think if the future of sustainable shoes is anything like the path that vegan cheese has made, then everything is going to be great.
Quinn: Leaps and bounds. Leaps and bounds.
Brian: Leaps and bounds.
Hana Kajimura: We're on the road for sure. Just shoes and underwear.
Brian: Right. Very excited.
Quinn: Awesome. Hana, thank you so much.
Brian: Thank you so much.
Quinn: Have an awesome rest your day and thanks again for taking the time.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dishwashing or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet. You can find us on Twitter at Importantnotimp.
Quinn: Just so weird.
Brian: Also on Facebook and Instagram at Important, Not Important, Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So, check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know deal, and please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this, and if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on. Thanks.
Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blaine for our jam and music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks guys.