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On to turn carbon emissions into running shoes

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

11 Nov 2021

Fashion

Image: courtesy of On

Swiss performance sports brand On has announced a new sustainable initiative, ‘CleanCloud’ that will use carbon emissions to create foam for its running shoes as it looks to move away from petroleum-based resources.

On is looking to reshape carbon waste into running shoes by working with LanzaTech and Borealis, two innovative companies in biochemicals, process, and polymer innovation to use carbon emission as a primary raw material for a shoe bottom unit, specifically EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam.

The sportswear brand, known for its innovative approach to footwear, have been working on ‘CleanCloud’ for four years, as a way to cut greenhouse gas emission. It states it has overcome the challenges of connecting these technologies at a commercial scale by adopting a collaborative approach with LanzaTech and Borealis.

Image: courtesy of On

The concept works by using technology from LanzaTech to capture carbon monoxide emitted from industrial sources like steel mills or emissions from landfill sites before being released into the atmosphere. Once captured, these emissions enter a patented fermentation process. Thanks to specially selected bacteria, the carbon-rich gas ferments naturally and is converted to liquid ethanol by the bacteria. This natural fermentation process is similar to that of conventional alcohol production, explains On.

The ethanol is then dehydrated to create ethylene, which is then polymerised by Borealis to become EVA (a copolymer of ethylene-vinyl acetate) - the versatile and lightweight material that On uses to create a performance foam for shoes.

On collaborates with LanzaTech and Borealis on sustainable initiative ‘CleanCloud’

Caspar Coppetti, co-founder and executive co-chairman at On, said in a statement: “It’s a win-win situation: we are capturing emissions before they pollute our atmosphere and are at the same time moving away from fossil-based materials.

“Innovation is at the heart of our brand, and after four years of intense research, we are very proud to announce this supply chain coalition with our world-class partners LanzaTech and Borealis.”

Image: courtesy of On

On is the first company in the footwear industry to explore carbon emissions as a primary raw material for a shoe bottom unit. Its overall goal is to exchange all bottom units from On shoes currently made from EVA with CleanCloud, including the whole Cloud range, The Roger franchise collection, designed in collaboration with tennis star Roger Federer, and a part of its active lifestyle assortment.

The Swiss brand also added that it hopes to use the process on other shoe parts and products in the future.

Jennifer Holmgren, chief executive at LanzaTech, said: “We are showing the world what is possible when we rethink how we source, use and dispose of carbon. By converting pollution to products, we can see that someday everything in our daily lives will come from recycled carbon. We are excited to be on this journey with On and Borealis to bend the carbon curve, keep our skies blue, and create a sustainable future for all.”

Lucrèce Foufopoulos, executive vice president of polyolefins, innovation and circular economy solutions at Borealis, added: “Borealis is thrilled to be part of the unique, first-of-its-kind CleanCloud initiative. With our creative partners On and Lanzatech, we are proud to co-create circularity in carbon, and decouple plastic from its reliance on fossil-feedstock. Through innovation and collaboration, we continue re-inventing for more sustainable living.”

This is the first major announcement from Swiss brand On following its successful public listing at the New York Stock Exchange in mid-September, when it raised 746 million US dollars. It also adds to its other sustainable initiatives including launching afully recyclable running shoe ‘Cyclon’ via subscription made from bio-based materials.

Founded by former World Champion Olivier Bernhard and his friends and amateur runners David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti in 2010, On has become a major disruptor in the athletic footwear market due to its lightweight ‘cloud’ cushioned running shoes. The footwear brand is present in more than 60 countries in Europe, North America, South America and Asia-Pacific.