Five Minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds

Words by
Melanie Rickey

18th July 2023

SPHERE takes five minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds to hear about the world’s first net zero carbon shoe, and why they are giving away the design so everyone can copy them.

How do we help turn around the climate crisis through fashion and everyday clothing items? If you’re someone who doesn’t think it’s possible, its time you discovered Allbirds, a shoe business intent on finding ways to cut carbon production in sneakers, the most worn shoe on the planet. Their new pop-up space at Selfridges Wonder Room is not only a luxurious space to discover their chic, low-carbon products, it’s a user-friendly education in sustainabilty and climate science.  

Five Minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds
The M0.0nshot by Allbirds is the world's first Net Zero carbon shoe

Five Minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds

I lead sustainability at Allbirds which includes our latest launch… Project M0.0nshot, the world’s first net zero carbon shoe; and also Allbirds Flight Plan, which aims to cut the company's carbon emissions in half by 2025, and to zero by 2030.

Five Minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds
Aileen Lerch, Senior Manager of Sustainability at Allbirds

I don’t think there was a single moment when I thought ‘I want a career in sustainability…’ but growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania a former steel town which had to reinvent itself and return to a more natural state, really formed my thinking about how we can reimagine the world around us.

Technically, I’m a very nerdy person… at Stanford I studied water infastructure, and stayed to do a master's focused on energy and climate, which I see that as foundational pillars of understanding environmental impacts, water, energy, emissions and climate.

Sustainability is such a huge subject. It means 10 different things to 10 different people…It's everything from animal welfare to human rights and materials. Its climate. Its water. Its chemicals. But everyone's flooded with so much information it becomes hard to digest.

Five Minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds
Courier sneaker, £120, by Allbirds

At Allbirds we prioritise all of this, but we also recognise that to cut through the noise we need to focus… so we have lasered in on climate change by decarbonizing our business and reducing emissions, but it's not enough to just do it. We have to share it and celebrate it and make it relatable enough for people to care, and want to get involved.

A really big moment for us in 2022 was partnering with Adidas and working to try to develop the lowest carbon footprint shoe… and at that time, we succeeded! It created 2.94 kg of carbon emissions, but the natural question that everyone was obsessed with is how low can we go? Can we hit zero? And we have.

The M0.0nshot shoe is the world’s first net zero carbon shoe…To measure its carbon footprint we look at the five phases of manufacture and use that generate carbon: materials, manufacturing, titration, use and end of life. We use renewable energy to create it, and the ocean shipping used a biofuel derived from waste cooking oil. The upper is made from wool from a regenerative sheep farm in New Zealand, and we used a methane capture bio-plastic made from sugarcane that captures more emissions than it creates for the sole.

Five Minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds
The Allbirds space at Selfridges

We’ve shared how this shoe is made on an open source platform – yes, we actually want people to copy us!  We want them to collaborate with us, because ultimately what are we trying to solve here is climate change. If we can make less carbon emissions we are all winning.

If I was to have a mantra for me and my work, it would be… “we’re actually trying, this is real.”

When someone asks me what they can do to get involved with sustainability, I tell them to…do what excites them! If its local politics get involved there, if its fashion do what you can to reduce your emissions. Find the joy in it.

I’m a minimalist.. for me it's just my natural mindset. I don't like clutter. I like having the things I need and nothing more. I don't see having less things as a limit my happiness, and actually my guilty secret is I don't like getting gifts.

Five Minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds
The M0.0nshot by Allbirds

My most treasured possession is a clay pin of a bee which I made myself… it’s a memento of my time working at a summer camp as a teenager.

The highlight of my career was two weeks ago… when we launched M0.0nshot at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. It represented a combination of so much work at the company, but also to just have a moment where I get to talk about the nerdy details was a dream!

Five Minutes with Aileen Lerch of Allbirds
All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson

The book I recommend to absolutely everyone is All We Can Save... it's an anthology of stories of activism science, plus there's art and poetry and it's written by women in the climate movement from many different perspectives. I've read it like three or four times in both physical print and audiobook. There is so much hope in it.

My guilty pleasure right now is Ted Lasso.

The next thing on my mind... for Allbirds, I’m excited to see where do we go from here. For me, I’ve been away for a month, and looking forward to going home.