What makes District by ReCORK carbon negative?

How we achieve footwear that takes more carbon from the atmosphere than it adds.

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Footwear production accounts for 1.5% of global climate impact, producing 700 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses a year. The average American buys seven pairs of shoes a year, and let’s be honest, most do so with little consideration for the impacts their purchases will have on the planet. Most shoes are built on a base that combines petroleum-based rubbers and foams; components that require fossil fuels and large amounts of energy to produce, resulting in significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But what if we could make a shoe that’s not only good for the people who buy it, it’s also good for the planet? That’s the question that sparked the creation of District by ReCORK: carbon-negative footwear. 

Wait, what does carbon negative mean?

In short, it means that your overall effect is to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than you add to it.  To become carbon negative, you need to assess the total carbon emissions created by your existence - your carbon footprint. Once you know your carbon footprint, you can take steps to remove carbon from the atmosphere elsewhere (usually by purchasing carbon offsets), essentially ‘cancelling out’ your impact to become ‘carbon neutral’. At ReCORK we made the decision to take this a step further, to remove far more carbon from the atmosphere than we produce, and become fully carbon negative.

So how did we achieve carbon-negative footwear?

The answer starts with minimizing our carbon footprint as far as possible. To do this we turned to the incredibly sustainable, versatile material that is cork. While rubbers and foams are made from fossil fuels that require huge GHG emissions to extract and process, cork is a natural alternative that is quite literally produced by taking carbon OUT of the atmosphere. As a cork tree grows it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and converts it into growth of the tree, including the bark that is harvested to produce wine corks. You can think of each one of those wine corks as a tiny trap, holding carbon that would otherwise be in the atmosphere (read more about the wonders of cork here). 

Instead of producing new rubbers or foams that require more GHG emissions, we collect and recycle used wine corks to prevent them ending up in landfills. We transport all corks via UPS’s carbon-neutral shipping, and grind them down in hydro-powered facilities to keep our emissions as low as possible. Once the corks have been processed to create the midsole and orthopedic insole for District, they’re turned into the final footwear product at another factory, this time powered by nuclear energy, with zero CO2 emissions. The result is shoes with a remarkably low carbon footprint to begin with: the overall CO2 emissions for the production of the entire line were merely 0.74 tonnes.


Offsetting our emissions.

District's overall emissions may be really low for a full line of footwear consisting six different styles, but it’s still carbon being added to the atmosphere. So how did we go about offsetting or ‘cancelling out’ that carbon impact? We invested in carbon-offsets of a particularly effective kind, that’s in line with our overall aim to be champions for natural cork: you guessed it, we planted cork oak trees. 

In its lifetime a single cork oak tree will absorb more than the 0.74 tonnes of CO2 emitted during the production of District. Technically we could have planted just one cork oak tree to be considered carbon negative. But a cork tree can live 300 years, and humans don’t have 300 years to deal with the climate crisis. That’s why we planted 8,000 cork oak trees, to ensure that any impact made is reversed by many orders of magnitude in a timely manner.

Read the full ReCORK Carbon Footprint Report here.

Couldn’t anyone plant trees to make up for their carbon emissions?

YES. They could and they should. Many do. Reforesting efforts have been touted as one of the methods of stemming the tide of the climate crisis that has the highest potential. But it’s not enough to go in with an attitude of making as big a mess as you need to and cleaning up later. We need to minimize the damage done at every stage of production, and that’s why we’ve turned to cork.