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Sustainability and the Confused Customer Dr. Gerhard Nickolaus, PFI- Germany / PFI-Hong Kong

November 2013

Forsa* Survey 2012 (Germany) 36% of the interviewed persons had no idea about the meaning of “Sustainability” Another 30% gave a wrong or cloudy interpretation …so 66% of the persons don’t know what “sustainability” means, but 85% heard already about it. *Forsa: Gesellschaft für Sozialforschung und Statistische Analyse, report 26.January 2012

Many interpretations of the word Sustainability! Best one is probably: Permanently Conciliate Economy, Ecology as well as political und social Responsibility

Sustainability was first mentioned expressively and defined in 1713 in Germany for forestry Simplified: never harvest more trees than the forest can regenerate within the same time to ensure that coming generations have also the benefit of the forest as natural resource.

But what does this all means for shoe making?

Do we as Shoe Experts know it?

…most of us don’t…..

Is Sustainability a attribute of a product or of a process?

What is important for a customer? (real buying decision – not only answering polls)

-look -price -fitting -quality (free of harmful substances) (environmental friendly) ……………. (production conditions) (environmental production) (fair salaries for the workers)

Shoes from sustainable production! Does any customer understand the meaning? Does the customer sees any extra value?



long life cycle


fair price

attractive price

renewable resources

fashion (price)

environmental friendly production



fashion, price, logistic, technic

reduced energy consumption


supply chain supervision

logistic (costs)

production close to consumer market (transportation)

price, quality, availability

Fashion is non-durable Fashion stands against sustainability. But clothing and shoe production is fashion driven. Fashion brings growth in sale.

Fashion means high consumption of resources and high waste accumulation.

Can FASHION ever be sustainable? No, never completely. But it can be somewhat more sustainable.

The shoe and textile industry is fashion driven.

The industry is economically interested in short fashion life periods.

A shoe is a complex, multicomponent product.

Materials: textiles coated textiles leather coated leather fiberboard carton, paper metal soft thermo plasts and duroplasts hard plastic rubber adhesives solvents

The completely recyclable shoe: 100% Thermoplastic material e.g. PVC, PA, PP,.. Not made from renewable resources but can be made in a one-shot process and can be completely recycled.


Higg Index ! (excerpt from the home page) Scope The Higg Index 1.0 was developed for apparel products and environmental performance; however, future releases of The Higg Index will expand the scope to include footwear products and social and labor impact areas. The Higg Index 1.0 is based on life-cycle thinking and spans the apparel life cycle (materials, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, use, and end-of-life). Retail activities are not included in The Higg Index 1.0 and will be considered for future releases.

Sustainability is not necessarily directly connected with environmental issues. Also the economical sustainability can be a program of a company

A very (too) simple interpretation of sustainable products is, that these are all products made from natural materials respective regenerative materials.

But also natural or regenerative materials may have a strong, negative impact on the environment e.g. Plantations may have a big impact on the environment and need normally high amounts of pesticides (monoculture)

…and are highly land and water consuming….

….and compete against the food production.

Real Sustainability would be: FROM CRADLE to CRADLE

…but in best cases it’s just CRADLE to CRAVE

So SUSTAINABILITY just means, looking for the technology and materials which have less negative influence on human health, the environment and the consumption of non-recoverable resources

How is the rating today for a shoe or shoe production which can be advertised as “SUSTAINABLE”? - Comparable high ratio of renewable materials from controlled sources - Comparable durable product - Comparable environmental friendly production processes - No jumping from factor to factory - Comparable good production conditions for the workers - Reduced energy consumption - Recycling of production wastes - Continuously free of harmful substances NOT ONLY FOR THE OWN PRODUCTION BUT ALSO FOR THE WHOLE SUPPLY CHAIN

“Sustainable� is everything which does not last only for a short period. Sustainability requires long term thinking and stamina.

Sustainable Shoes and sustainable production requires innovation! Thanks for listening!

Uitic 18th congress session 4 1 gerhard nickolaus presentation  
Uitic 18th congress session 4 1 gerhard nickolaus presentation