Rothy’s Fills Sustainability Role; Fashion’s Biomass Move Causes Pollution, Deforestation: Short Takes

IF THE SHOE FITS: Recyclable footwear brand Rothy’s has appointed James Rogers as vice president of sustainability.

Rogers will join the San Francisco-based company from The RealReal, where he has held the director of sustainability post since 2020. Prior to The RealReal, he held senior sustainability positions as The North Face, JCR Consulting and served as an adviser to VC fund Alante Capital, whose clients include the clothing brand Everlane.

Rogers will focus on accelerating Rothy’s circular economy initiatives, and use his manufacturing background to work to reduce the company’s environmental impact across its entire supply chain.

“Under James’ leadership, Rothy’s will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in sustainable fashion. We are committed to using recycled materials, reducing our environmental impact and creating a more sustainable future for our planet. I am confident that James’ appointment will help Rothy’s to remain a leader in sustainable fashion and to inspire others to follow suit,” said chief executive officer Stephen Hawthornthwaite.

“From minimizing waste to enhancing energy efficiency to exploring new circular business models that extend the lifespan of their products, I’m eager to collaborate with stakeholders across the value chain to drive meaningful change. Rooted in sustainability from its inception, I firmly believe that Rothy’s is uniquely positioned to continue making a significant and lasting difference in the fashion industry at scale,” Rogers said.

In February, the company’s wholly owned and operated factory in China became both LEED and TRUE Zero Waste certified. The direct-to-consumer brand makes shoes out of discarded plastic bottles and uses a 3D knitting process to eliminate waste in the production cycle.

In 2022, the seven-year-old company launched a take-back program through its retail outlets, which then disassembles the shoe, sorts by material and recycles the components into new products. The company operates 18 stores in the U.S.

A June 2023 photo of recently felled rainforest trees adjacent to a new road being driven into the highlands of Aceh province, Indonesia on the northern tip of Sumatra island.

A June 2023 photo of recently felled rainforest trees in Aceh province, Indonesia.

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BIOMASS DELUSION: Stand Earth’s latest report sheds unfavorable light on the fashion industry’s switch to burning biomass, which is billed as a renewable energy source by many brands that are seeking alternatives to coal and fossil fuels.

The advocacy group’s report, titled Biomass Burning: The Fashion Industry’s False Phase-Out,” notes that using biomass — often wood pellets — increases deforestation and delays the switch to renewable sources such as solar and wind.

Other materials burned can include what are billed as “green alternatives,” including rice husks, straw and palm shells. Biomass has been used widely across the fashion industry to knock down carbon emissions numbers, the report said. Contrary to intent, burning biomass can increase greenhouse gas and carbon emissions in a company’s supply chain, according to the report.

The report does a deep dive into the supply chains and manufacturing lists of Uniqlo parent company Fast Retailing, Gap, H&M, Zara parent company Inditex, Nike and Puma that are touting biomass as a low-carbon alternative in the dyeing and finishing process.

In an email to Stand Earth, Fast Retailing acknowledged that they “recognize the issue of biomass boilers and are currently acting across [its] supply chain to minimize their use.” The company added it plans to “take immediate action with [its] production partners, including a review of the use of these boilers with serious impacts.”

Inditex said it sees “biomass as a transition solution as other alternatives are developed and scaled.”

The fashion companies are increasingly using biomass as an alternative to coal throughout Asian factories, including Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and

Using the example of Cambodia, Stand Earth noted that roughly one-third of the 1,200 garment factories there burn 620 tons of forest wood every day, according to a 2021 study from the University of London.

“The bottom line is that there’s no such thing as ‘sustainable biomass,’” said Stand Earth research specialist Xixi Zhang, who headed up the report. “The increased reliance on biomass boilers poses severe threats to our climate, ecosystems and human health, all while hindering the industry’s essential shift to renewable energy in Asia.”

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