As athletes and yogis, we understand that environmental health is the foundation for personal health, which is why many of us are as passionate about reducing our impact on the planet as we are about staying fit. It’s the reason our company’s support extends beyond healthy minds and bodies to healthy spaces.
One way we can support them is by measuring our total environmental footprint, and better understand the effects of our individual and group actions. We’ve seen a ton of energy, enthusiasm and action from our employees on environmental initiatives, and are proud of the progress that has been made so far. Yet, we also know that many opportunities for change await, and support is given to the right places and in the right amounts, it can amplify the impact of our actions.
Below are some of the ways we’re measuring our impacts and acting on our findings:
People around the world are already feeling the effects of climate change, and we understand the importance of reducing our carbon footprint for the long-term well being of our global communities. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that occurs naturally in the environment, but is being produced in amounts that overwhelm nature’s ability to absorb and store it. This affects the ocean we love to splash in, the forests we love to run and play in, and the ecosystems that allow us to thrive.
To do our part, we worked with the Vancouver-based Offsetters in 2012 to measure our entire climate impact, from the carbon footprint of our manufacturing, to our daily operations at our support centres and stores. For the full picture, we even estimated the emissions created by our guests washing and drying their lululemon clothes at home. Results showed that the largest part of our footprint occurs before our products even reach our stores (with supplier energy use, and transportation) and is relative to the growth of our business. We also learned that the impact of our guests washing and drying their clothes makes up the second largest part of our overall footprint, and can be reduced significantly with the adoption of sustainable laundry practices – practices we are starting to educate our customers on.
In our daily store operations, the electricity we use makes up the largest part of our footprint, followed by air travel and employee commuting. We’re looking at ways to reduce our footprint in all these areas by inspiring and supporting innovative actions that are meaningful to our communities and beneficial to the environment. To learn more about our carbon footprint, check out our report to the Carbon Disclosure Project, an independent not-for-profit organization working to drive greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sustainable water use.
In our hometown of Vancouver, finding fresh water can be as simple as sticking a hand out the nearest open window. Yet our community extends far beyond our company roots or even our stores, and includes our manufacturing and global guest communities as well, where fresh water may not be as easy to come by. To understand our global impact, we’ve measured our entire water footprint from beginning to end, and are using the results to guide our reduction strategy and implementation plan.
When we measured our water footprint, we learned that the water use in our stores and support centres is minimal relative to the use in areas that are beyond our direct control, such as in manufacturing and guest washing. This left us wondering, how do we effectively create global change in areas where we have influence, but no direct control?
Our Sustainability team is working with our manufacturing partners to provide the tools and resources they need to improve water efficiency in raw materials and manufacturing. Our Material Development team is examining ways to source more environmentally friendly materials, and manufacturing processes that require less water while delivering the same high-quality, colourful products. We’re looking at ways to reduce the water footprint of our stores, while educating our guests through our community boards, events and guest speakers.
As they say, travel light if you wish to travel far and fast. We couldn’t agree more, which is why we’re working on ways to get our products to stores quickly, while traveling minimizing the footprint left behind.
Over the last seven years, we’ve expanded our production internationally to meet our growing needs. Our products now travel by land, sea and air to reach the shelves of your local store, and the carbon footprint analysis we did in 2012 showed the toll this is taking on the environment. Products that travel by air have a footprint of almost a hundred times higher than products that travel by boat. We’re working to ship our products in the most efficient and environmentally friendly ways possible, but even though three quarters of our products that brave the deep blue seas to reach our distribution centres, the remaining 25 percent still account for a higher proportion of our upstream transportation emissions.
We’re working to reduce our transportation footprint even more by partnering with logistics provider Damco to help us ship products around the globe quickly with as little impact as possible. Damco is measuring our carbon footprint from four shipping routes that represent about 20 per cent of our shipping volumes as part of a pilot program. The results and learnings from this project will help us design long-term solutions.
There’s a reason the song goes, “We are living in a material world, and I am a material developer.” Okay, maybe they weren’t featured in the Madonna favorite, but our raw material developers can still be rock stars when it comes to reducing the impact associated with our products. A huge percentage of a product’s footprint is determined early in a product's life cycle. Even impacts caused in other stages, like guest use and disposal, are affected by the way a product is put together.
With the right tools, our behind-the-seams teams can have a huge impact on reducing our footprint. Our material developers are already giving preference to fabrics that are environmentally friendlier and still maintain performance, such as recycled polyester, organic cotton and bluesign®-certified fabrics. We recently joined a formal partnership with bluesign, which means that many of our suppliers will be regularly audited to ensure our products – and the processes that create them – meet the highest environmental standards. These independent standards are applied across the entire production chain, from raw materials through to the final product, and are designed to reduce the carbon and water footprint left behind.
Working with bluesign, we’re also able to closely monitor and manage the risk posed by chemicals used in manufacturing, and ensure that harmful substances are eliminated in our products while also ensuring safer conditions for the workers. To further address this issue, we have a Restricted Substance List (RSL), which is an essential component in our Product Safety Program. Companies publish RSLs to ensure that suppliers and vendors – as well as internal staff – understand which substances are allowed, and which are not. We’re proud to say, the lululemon RSL and its associated testing requirements are based on the most stringent global standards, which allows us to pursue our mission to provide components for people to live longer, healthier, and more fun lives. If you want to learn more about or see our RSL, click here.
Quality is at the heart of everything we do, from the technical features we (sometimes literally) weave into our products, to the people we work with and relationships we build. We design the majority of our product line to withstand five years of intended use and keep its functional intent. When used for its proposed activity, it will guide you in Downward Dog today and still go with the flow five years from now, helping reduce the amount of product sent to landfill.
Because our products are made for humans, by humans, sometimes products don't quite turn out the way we imagined. For products that just don't make the grade (i.e. the function is compromised) we work with a Vancouver-based company, deBrand, to reuse and recycle the product. deBrand is a small company with big ambitions: their BHAG is to put themselves out of business because all products will be designed for the environment with a high value on a closed loop production cycle. But in the meantime, they are busy finding new lives for our leavings. They’ve found new homes for scuffed, scratched, and sun damaged yoga mats, created art for our stores, and crafted furniture for the SeaWheeze lounge with our factories' extra fabric.
As we learn more about the full impact our waste footprint, we’ll be looking at ways to reduce it by innovating with our products, people and processes. Like our parents always said: want not, waste not.