Our Detox Journey: Solving Solvents
Our goal is simple: to create footwear that is 100% free of the most toxic chemicals.
We call it our Detox the Planet initiative. We started this journey in 2014, investing more than 11,000 hours and over $1.2 million on this initiative alone. We’ve made strong progress but we’re not done yet.
Most harmful chemicals fall into one of just six classes. Out of these six classes of the most toxic chemicals in consumer products, we’ve avoided or removed five, and we’re working on the last one, solvents.
Unfortunately, going solvent-free is not as simple as flipping a switch. Solvents, mostly found in adhesives, are used all over the shoe. Solvents might help adhere the outsole to the upper, secure an insole in place, laminate thin pieces of material together, prep a material for a certain construction method, or any other number of things. By switching to water-based adhesives and direct-injection construction (aka fusing the upper to the sole with our KEEN.FUSION construction), today we are 6% solvent-free with a goal of reaching 33% by 2030.
What are the “Six Classes of Toxic Chemicals?”
Among the hundreds of thousands of chemicals that exist in our daily lives, Six Classes of Toxic Chemicals are of particular concern when it comes to the health of the environment and ourselves. Many of these chemicals are found in supply chains around the world. Eliminating these chemicals from our supply chain has been a focused mission for us over the last nine years. We’ve made tremendous progress and can envision a future when none of these chemicals are found in a KEEN product.
1. ANTIMICROBIALS = 100% FREE SINCE 2018
We kept 10,000 kilograms of antimicrobials out of the environment in 2021 (for a total of more than 51,000 kilograms since the program went into effect in 2015). Antimicrobials are biocides and pesticides, which are known carcinogens that are widely used in footwear to help prevent foot odor. We worked with cutting-edge partners to switch to safe, effective, and affordable solutions. Eco Anti-Odor is an environmentally preferred approach that uses a lactobacillus probiotic-based microbial solution, and it’s in 100% of our footwear.
2. PFAS = 98+% FREE SINCE 2018
Due to the pervasive nature of per-and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS), 98+% is determined to be the current standard for “PFAS Free.” (In other words, it’s impossible to claim 100% because they are everywhere.) PFAS is a broad class of fluorinated chemistries that are used as surface stain and water repellents on apparel and many consumer products. We’ve kept over 68,000 kilograms of these toxic chemicals from being released into the environment since 2018. Fluorinated chemistries are known carcinogenic, mutagenic, bioaccumulative toxins that persist in our global water cycle and in human and animal bodies. A quadfecta of bad news for you and the planet.
3. FLAME RETARDANTS = 100% FREE SINCE 2003
Flame retardants are principally brominated and benzoic chemistries that are known toxic endocrine disruptors contributing to various human health issues such as neurological disruptions, skin irritations, nausea, vomiting, coma, and paralysis.
4. PHTHALATES & BISPHENOLS = 100% FREE SINCE 2003
Phthalates (try saying that one) are plastic-softening agents used in production of plastic materials and components. They are linked to asthma, attention deficit disorders, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, autism-spectrum disorders, and reproductive organ dysfunction.
5. SOME SOLVENTS = 6% FREE, WITH A TARGET OF 33% BY 2030
Solvents are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) widely used to adhere footwear components together that negatively impact respiratory and neurological functions; and several are carcinogenic. Successful testing of water-based adhesives in 2020 led to an in-line changeover from solvent-based production on several styles in Spring 2021. We are committed to continuing this path. By switching to water-based adhesives and direct-injection construction, we reduce the health risks to supply chain workers.
6. CERTAIN METALS = 100% FREE SINCE 2015
Cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and lead are all known to cause toxic and neurological damage to the central nervous system. These are impurities that contaminate textiles and materials that we screen for and eliminate using our Restricted Substances List (RSL) policy.
Our RSL policy is based on the industry-standard Apparel and Footwear International RSL Management Group (AFIRM) restricted substances list and is designed to ensure that our products meet all required global standards. Our policy goes above and beyond AFIRM’s list as part of our effort to proactively use more sustainable chemistry. We have two additional substances on our RSL: Butylhydroxytoluence (BHT) and Packaging Heavy Metals TPHC. And we ask for a higher level of testing than AFIRM recommends on four additional compounds: Acetophenone and 2-phenyl-2-propanol, Bisphenol-A, Chlorophenols, and flame retardants.
While we wish we could say that we are 100% solvent-free today, we know that every step gets us closer. And we have a dedicated team of actionists taking those positive steps every day.
How can you detox solvents at home?
Solvents, or VOCs, are commonly found in things like household cleaning products, cosmetics, and even female hygiene products. Consider purchasing toxic-free or VOC-free alternatives to traditional products. A few helpful resources we like:
• The Environmental Working Group (EWG) guide to safer personal care products
• The EPA’s Safer Choice program