Rolls of material on a shelf with tags hanging off the ends
Product
Since 1906, quality has been our trademark. But we realize that every product we make has an impact, much of it determined early in the design process when we decide on materials, form, and construction. We are constantly finding new ways to manufacture more responsibly, including choosing more sustainable materials and exploring ways to keep products and materials in circulation as long as possible.

Environmentally Preferred Materials

Choosing environmentally preferred materials (EPMs) is one of the most significant and immediate ways we can reduce our impacts. We are focused on transitioning our most commonly used materials to environmentally preferred alternatives.  Each material we use has a unique environmental impact profile, so the options available to reduce impact are specific to the material. Environmentally preferred materials (EPM) are designated based on their composition and/or sourcing practices. More sustainable materials are continuously evolving, and we’ll keep finding new ways to have environmentally preferred materials represent a larger and larger share of our material portfolio. 

Our goal is for all our cotton and leather to be from preferred sources and 50% of our polyester to be recycled by 2025.  

Polyester and cotton data includes textiles, labels, laces, webbing, boxtoes and counters, and most backer materials. Excluded from our environmentally preferred material goals (and progress against those goals) are licensed footwear and apparel, apparel designed and marketed by NB’s regional design centers (Tokyo Design Center and Manchester Design Studio), NB direct to team, promotional products ordered through third party vendors, and global football apparel prior to 2022. Beginning in 2022, global football apparel was included, except NB Japan.

Pile of polyester material sitting on wooden board with trees in the background
Recycled Polyester
Polyester is our most commonly used textile material. It is durable, lightweight, and useful across many applications in apparel and footwear, but it is derived primarily from fossil fuels and requires significant processing to achieve its desirable characteristics. Our preferred polyester is recycled, and our goal is to source 50% recycled polyester by 2025. In 2022, we sourced 41% recycled polyester. This goal will be updated in 2023 to align with our new science-based targets.
Different colored leathers hanging from rack in factory
Preferred Leather
Leather is a natural material that offers superior comfort, durability, fit, and quality. However, leather production can be associated with deforestation, various agricultural emissions, and the use of chemicals in tanning. Our preferred leather is sourced from Leather Working Group (LWG) gold-rated tanneries or is chrome-free. Our goal is to source 100% preferred leather by 2025. In 2022, we sourced 91% preferred leather. All the leather we use also meets our foundational Animal Materials Policy, found in our Restricted Substances Manual. To address raw material impacts further down the supply chain, we plan to expand our definition of preferred leather to include leather sourced from regenerative agriculture. Trials are underway with our first batch of leather sourced from regenerative land, and we hope to launch a product in late 2023 or 2024.
Close up of cotton plant with field of cotton in background
Preferred Cotton
We love cotton because it is a versatile natural fiber, but growing cotton can have both environmental and social concerns. Cultivating cotton can be water intensive, often requires fertilizers and pesticides, and sometimes carries concerns about unethical employment in cotton supply chains. By 2025, we’re committed to sourcing 100% preferred cotton and reached 64% in 2022. Our preferred options include certified organic cotton or cotton sourced as Better Cotton. New Balance is a proud member of Better Cotton. Better Cotton is not physically traceable to end products. Buying products that were sourced as Better Cotton creates demand and directly invests in improving conditions at the farm level. Learn more at www.bettercotton.org/massbalance.
Factory worker applying glue to shoe sole
Product Chemistry
Eliminating harmful chemicals is an essential part of building a more sustainable future and ensuring the safety of workers, consumers, and ecosystems. We designed the New Balance Product Chemistry Program to protect the health of consumers, workers in the factories that make our products and the environment. Our product chemistry standards apply to all footwear, apparel, accessories and equipment that New Balance makes directly, at contracted factories and through our licensees.

Restricted Substances Program

The New Balance Product Chemistry Program promotes compliance with our Restricted Substances Manual (RSM). The RSM enables our suppliers to make safer, more sustainable chemistry choices and implement continuous improvement programs around chemical management. The RSM contains two lists of restricted chemicals. 

1. The Restricted Substances List (RSL) prohibits substances related to materials, finished goods, packaging, and chemical commodities. We require RSL compliance for all material supplier and contract and owned manufacturing facilities.   

2. The Manufacturing Restricted Substances List (MRSL). prohibits a broader set of chemicals used in the manufacturing environment. New Balance suppliers are required to eliminate any use of MRSL-listed substances during manufacturing.  

Together, these lists covers more than 400 chemicals and chemical classes identified by international regulations and recognized standards as chemicals of high concern. We seek input from external partners like AFIRM and ZDHC to help us decide on chemical restrictions and management best practices. 

Since April 2013, we have played a leadership role in the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Roadmap to Zero Program, a coalition of major apparel and footwear brands and retailers that are committed to leading the transition towards zero discharge of the industry’s most hazardous chemicals.

Supporting Supplier Compliance

To ensure compliance with our standards and relevant regulations, our Product Chemistry and Responsible Leadership teams offer both online and in-person courses to train suppliers and provide additional resources on topics such as restricted substances, testing procedures, and chemical management best practices. Suppliers may also participate in our Chemical Management Certification Program. Certification signifies that the supplier has a strong internal program for managing chemicals and avoiding the use of restricted substances. As of 2022, we have certified 97 suppliers, with 15 achieving gold, 30 silver, and 52 bronze. 

Woman packing a box in a factory
More Sustainable Packaging
Damaged goods are an unnecessary waste of production and transportation resources, so we take care when selecting product packaging. Though protecting product is a primary objective of our packaging design, we also strive to minimize its environmental impact. Most of our footwear packaging is paper based, shoes are packaged in shoeboxes made of cardboard, wrapped in paper tissue to prevent discoloration, stuffed with paper tissue to maintain shape, and distributed in cardboard shipping boxes. One of our biggest concerns with paper packaging is its potential link to deforestation and land conversion. To reduce this risk, we prioritize use of recycled content and seek virgin content from certified programs intended to manage forests more sustainably like Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). All our apparel and most New Balance-branded accessories are individually packaged in plastic polybags, and small apparel orders are shipped to consumers in plastic shipping envelopes. Our search for more sustainable packaging options is ongoing. We continued our testing of paper-based bags and shipping mailers in 2022 and launched a small-scale consumer trial in the U.S. to gather feedback on performance and overall customer experience.