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After three years of development, US shoe brand Allbirds just debuted its Sugar Zeffer flip-flops, which use the first sustainable version of EVA foam. The typical EVA foam used in shoes is produced using fossil fuels, while Allbirds’ SweetFoam is made from sugarcane. SweetFoam has a molecular structure that is identical to EVA foam and feels the same way on the foot. Allbirds and its partner petrochemical company Braskem has also made the formula for the material open-source, meaning that any company – in the footwear industry and beyond – has access to it. The Sugar Zeffer flip-flops retail for USD 35.

This is the new frontier in sustainable business: where ambitious eco-pioneers trigger lasting industry-wide change. Gone (or at least, going) are the days when companies kept their formulas top secret. Witness the similar recent initiative by Starbucks’ and McDonald’s to produce a sustainable coffee cup. But as always with trends, the real impact is on customer expectations: as awareness of these efforts grows, consumers will be skeptical – even hostile – to any brand that keeps important eco-innovations to themselves. Shared problems require shared solutions!

One more insight. Allbirds’ material might be novel, but the underlying thinking isn’t: Volvo famously didn’t patent its three-point seatbelt in 1959 in the interests of public safety. 50 years later the brand was (rightly!) still celebrating its positive impact. That’s how powerful it can be to go against conventional business thinking around maximizing short-term profits, and instead focus on fundamental human needs! Here’s a challenge for you: what action could you take for the greater good that could form part of your brand legacy in 50 years?

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