Sustainability as a protagonist in the Brazilian footwear industry

2023-02-18 | By Brazilian Footwear


A concept that has gotten stronger since the 90s, sustainability assumes an increasing importance in the imagination of the consumer. A survey released late last year by KPMG, which heard 30 thousand people from 11 countries pointed out that the concept has changed consumption habits. According to the survey, about 85% of consumers in the world have made changes in lifestyle and behavior in order to be more sustainable. Another important fact is that 76% of respondents placed the protection of the environment as more important than the growing economy. But is it possible to unite business and sustainability? Yes, and we can prove it. 

Aiming to instigate sustainability in the footwear production chain, not only in its environmental pillar, but also economic, social, cultural and sustainability management, the Brazilian Footwear Industries Association (Abicalçados) and the Brazilian Association of Companies of Components for Leather,  Footwear and Artifacts (Assintecal) have created the Sustainable Origin program. The only ESG (Environmental, social, and corporate governance) certification for the footwear sector in the world, it currently has more than 80 footwear producing companies and suppliers of raw materials certified and another 60 in the process of certification. 

Abicalçados' project manager, Cristian Schlindwein, points out that between 2021 and 2022 the program grew by more than 75% in certified companies, a number that should continue to grow in the coming years. "Sustainability is a consumer requirement. Companies that do not adapt production processes so that they are more environmentally, economically and socially responsible, will not survive in the market. We are living in a new era and companies are more attentive and concerned about this, not only for the planet, but for business”, he evaluates. 

A survey conducted by Abicalçados in 2021 points out that the Brazilian footwear sector is making great progress to be increasingly sustainable, but that there is a path still to be followed. The survey of the entity indicates that 87% of companies in the sector have a process of environmentally adequate disposal of waste completely or partially, 73% perform the control of restricted substances and 48% consume clean energy from renewable sources. “We have one of the most sustainable industries on the planet and we need to communicate that to the market. The Sustainable Origin program came to assist in this task with all stakeholders in the national and international market”, emphasizes Schlindwein, highlighting the image gains provided by the certification. 

Bibi: sustainability in the DNA

There are many examples of companies in the footwear sector that work on sustainability on an ongoing basis. One of them is Bibi, a children's footwear industry from Parobé/RS. Certified in the maximum category of Sustainable Origin (diamond, with more than 80% of the sustainability indicators achieved), Bibi directly employs more than 1.2 thousand people who annually produce 2.5 million pairs that supply the national market and more than 70 other countries. The company's sustainability coordinator, Anderson Alves, points out that Bibi carries the concept in its DNA, even before it was such a hot topic. “We were the first children's shoe industry certified by Sustainable Origin. In addition to preserving the planet and respecting people, sustainability ends up having a commercial result, as consumers increasingly value not only sustainable products, but companies that practice social sustainability in their day-to-day lives.”

Alves separates sustainability actions into three main pillars, environmental, social and economic. According to him, in the first area, emphasis is placed on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “In 2020, we've developed our first emissions Inventory and proved that, since 2012, we have stopped emitting more than 930 tons of CO2, the equivalent of planting more than 3.4 thousand trees,” he says. Bibi also strongly works in recycling and reusing the waste generated in the production process. Per year, on average, more than 200 tons of these materials are generated, and 100% of them are either recycled and returned to production or sent for co-processing and turned into fertilizers. 

At the final end of a whole sustainable production process, Bibi presents children's shoes with 100% non-toxic materials. In this sense, actions are carried out focusing on the development and monitoring of more than 100 suppliers (and 2.6 thousand), so that all shoes are produced with materials free of toxic substances, which makes the company, in a global sphere, able to get prospects and consolidate itself in markets that are positioned with a very high degree of demand with regard to the principles of sustainability. 

In the social area, Bibi's great highlight is the Talent Factory, which annually trains an average of 70 professionals able to work in production and management areas. “Last year, about 70% of the graduates stayed in the company. With the project, carried out in partnership with Senai, we qualify our workforce and help these people earn a place in the labor market”, evaluates Alves. 

Aware that sustainability is a journey that begins but has no end, Bibi has outlined sustainability commitments until 2030. From the environmental perspective, the objective is to continuously improve the network's environmental management system, aiming to develop processes that result in eco-efficiency gains and the reduction of environmental impacts. In the economic sphere, among the results that the brand expects to achieve by 2030, is to expand the franchise network to reach 350 stores in Brazil and 100 abroad. In the environmental field, Bibi hopes to achieve annually 100% compliance of products manufactured in the Reach Standard (Regulation No. 1907/2006 European Parliament) regarding toxicity. Other issues encompass a 20% reduction in waste generation in new product development and industrial operations by the year 2025. On the social side, the brand wants to promote the constant professional qualification of young people from local communities through the Talent Factory program, bringing in at least 30% of the program participants to work with the company. 

Pegada: new identity

Calçados Pegada, men's shoes manufacturer from Dois Irmãos/RS, is another giant in the national footwear sector that received the Sustainable Origin certification at the Diamond Level. The company's Administrative Manager, Gabriel Ranft, points out that Sustainable Origin has given life and a new identity to the way Pegada and its employees understand the sustainability theme, broadening cultural horizons. “The main actions and benefits were the creation of the multidisciplinary work center, the main benefit for the organization being the use of the Sustainable Origin Framework for the organization and formalization of the issues that were loose around the company”, says the manager.

In the environmental area, the company compensates for 22% of the packaging used in sales in Mato Grosso do Sul and São Paulo, and wants to expand to more Brazilian states in the coming years. It has also reduced, and has been reducing, the use of electricity through greater awareness of employees and has given preference to the use of renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass, etc.), acquired in the free market. The reduction in the use of fossil fuels is also a reality in the company, which between 2020 and 2021 reduced its use by almost 35%. “All of these actions meant that we did not emit 193.69 thousand tons of CO2 in 2021.


For the coming years we want to increase our inventoried categories and add, mainly, the transportation and distribution of our finished products to customers. We will continue to try to reduce our emissions, doing our part in controlling climate change and being 100% committed to reducing 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030,” comments the manager. Reducing water use is another highlight in the Calçados Pegada's units. In Bahia, there is also the capture of rainwater through cisterns, which contributes to savings. According to a report released by the company, between 2020 and 2021 the use of water in the premises of the footwear industry was reduced by 10%.

In the social area, donations to those affected by floods in Bahia, to hospitals, schools and charities, such as Apae, Lar da Criança com Câncer, among others, draw attention. Also in this pillar, more specifically within the units, the company maintains 82% of its management staff filled by women, promoting the local economy by buying from suppliers in the regions where it operates, among other topics.

Calçados Pegada employs more than 4.2 thousand employees and produces about 6 million pairs per year. Exports are around 12% to 14% per year, with the main markets being Latin America and Europe, with considerable representation also in the Middle East and constant growth in North America.


Ramarim: gains in the market and internal organization

The Ramarim Group, producer of women's shoes from Nova Hartz / RS, is another example of sustainability in the Brazilian footwear chain. Certified at the maximum level of Sustainable Origin (Diamond), in the environmental pillar the company allocates 100% of the waste from the production process for recycling or reuse - 52% of the waste is transformed into energy and 48% is recycled or reused in some way in the manufacturing process, being transformed into new components for shoes (insoles, buttresses, cuirasses, heels and soles), whether they are leather or synthetic. In addition, in this context, the company also began to recycle solvents and paints, reducing the consumption of these products in production units by almost 60%. 

The relationship with natural resources is also an important highlight of the Ramarim culture, which constantly monitors the flow of water consumed, with the aim of reducing and optimizing its use. In this way, the company replaced all the taps in the bathrooms of the production sector for models with automatic closure and replaced conventional flushes with others with a smaller capacity. On the other hand, the electricity used is 100% purchased in the free contracting environment (ACL), from renewable sources - providing the reduction of emissions in almost 580 tons of carbon dioxide annually. 

In the social area, aiming at the qualification of the company's workforce, the group periodically provides training for its employees. The company works with the Young Apprentice program, in partnership with the Senai System. During 2021, out of a class of 125 students, 50 were hired as young apprentices, a 40% use of talents. For the community in which it is inserted, the company has a strong performance with the Lions Club, making donations to the Hospital de Sapiranga, schools and churches, strengthening its social commitment. 

The company's director of innovation and technology, Rodrigo De Oliveira, says that Sustainable Origin has given the group a new vision and enabled employees to see management and sustainability as a whole, in addition to image gains before the market. According to him, the certification helps in the organization and understanding of various aspects that involve the sustainable growth of a company, such as economic, environmental, cultural and social. "In addition to the image for the market, the main gains with the Sustainable Origin certification go through the organization of ESG information and networking with our stakeholders, having greater assertiveness in internal and external actions with employees, suppliers, customers, community and consumers”, evaluates Oliveira. 

The Ramarim group directly employs 6.2 thousand people who produce more than 50 thousand pairs per day, part of which is shipped to more than 60 countries. 

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