A proposed class action lawsuit filed this week claims Allbirds, Inc., maker of the popular “sustainable” wool running sneakers, has misled consumers regarding its carbon footprint and animal welfare claims.
The 13-page case, based in large part on a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) article, claims Allbirds has understated the environmental impact of using wool in its sneakers and misleadingly marketed that the sheep from its supplier “live the good life,” a claim the lawsuit says is “not feasible.”
According to the suit out of New York federal court, consumers would not have purchased Allbirds sneakers, or would have paid less for them, had they known the truth about the company’s manufacturing practices.
Allbirds’ Sustainability Claims
The lawsuit says Allbirds’ advertising is “replete with eco-friendly phrases,” such as “Sustainability Meets Style,” “Low Carbon Footprint,” “Environmentally Friendly” and “Made With Sustainable Wool.”
Allbirds’ claims concerning its carbon footprint, however, have failed to tell the whole story, the suit alleges, and are therefore misleading.
Allbirds, the case explains, defines “carbon footprint” as “the kg CO2e emitted to create our products” and states that the average footprint of its shoes is “7.6 kg CO2e” or “carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.”
According to PETA, however, Allbirds’ life cycle assessment (LCA) tool, which measures the carbon footprint of its products based on criteria such as materials, manufacturing, product use, and end of life, only measures the carbon footprint of each product and fails to assess “any other environmental impact of wool production, including on water, eutrophication, or land occupation,” the complaint alleges. The lawsuit, quoting the PETA article, states that the Higgs Materials Sustainability Index calculates that the carbon footprint of wool “accounts for only just over half of wool’s total environmental impact,” meaning Allbirds’ carbon footprint estimation fails to account for a significant portion of the shoes’ impact on the environment, the suit attests.
Moreover, PETA reportedly claims that Allbirds has “skew[ed] the calculations in its own favor” by basing its figures on the most conservative assumption from each calculation “so it can make more significant environmental claims,” the lawsuit says.
Allbirds’ Animal Welfare Claims
According to the lawsuit, Allbirds represents that sheep from its supplier, ZQ Merino, “live the good life” and centers its advertising on sheep “in pastoral settings.”
PETA claims, however, that Allbirds has promoted “happy” sheep while “hid[ing] behind empty welfare policies that do little to stop animal suffering,” the lawsuit says.
The case alleges that investigations by PETA into 100 large-scale wool operations—many of which allegedly promoted themselves using the same terms as Allbirds, including “sustainable” and “responsible”—have shown that “workers beat, stomped on, cut open the skin of, and slit the throats of conscious, struggling sheep.”
“These practices are neither sustainable or humane,” the complaint reads.
The lawsuit, echoing PETA, claims ZQ Merino’s representations that its sheep “live the good life” are “not feasible” given that individual care in such large production operations “has to be almost or absolutely nonexistent.”
The case goes on to claim that both Allbirds and ZQ Merino have, despite claiming to be transparent, “stonewall[ed]” inquiries into their wool operations. Per the suit, Allbirds pointed PETA to ZQ Merino to answer the organization’s questions about the standards and practices it utilizes, and ZQ Merino stated that “the ZQ standard is not online because it’s an on-farm manual for our growers, not a consumer facing document.”
PETA, the suit says, questioned ZQ Merino’s commitment to animal welfare, claiming the supplier only audits its farms every three years and that its certification program excludes the process of slaughter and transportation, steps during which, according to PETA, “much abuse occurs.” The lawsuit further claims that ZQ Merino’s certification allows sheep “to be deprived of food and water for up to 48 hours.”
While ZQ Merino says it only sources from countries with “strong animal welfare legislation,” PETA claims the supplier’s standard now covers Argentina, Australia and South Africa, where animal welfare standards are “routinely ignored,” the case alleges.
Finally, the lawsuit says PETA criticized Allbirds’ use of discarded crab shells as “better for the planet,” claiming the shells are purchased from the Canadian snow crab industry, where “[e]ndangered whales are being caught in snow crab fishing gear, and climate change is threatening the population of snow crabs themselves.”
The case claims that if Allbirds had truthfully disclosed the practices through which wool is provided for its shoes or hadn’t represented itself as “humane” and “animal-friendly,” it would have sold fewer products.
Who Does the Lawsuit Look to Cover?
The case looks to represent New York residents who purchased Allbirds’ shoes during the applicable statute of limitations period.
What if I Don’t Live in New York?
At this time, the case is only looking to cover New York residents. It is possible, however, that additional lawsuits could be filed in the future to cover a wider range of consumers.
At this time, there is nothing you need to do to join the lawsuit. If the case moves forward and settles, that’s when those affected, i.e., “class members,” would be able to file a claim for whatever compensation the court deems appropriate.
In the meantime, one of the best things you can do is to stay informed. Sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter here.