ON Running: How to sell a zero waste shoe

03.11.2022Azul Stengel, Co-founder of LienzoPhoto by ON Running

Born as a performance brand, ON running has slowly created a name for itself that transcends the technical market and can now be found in cities across the globe. As its technical competences have grown so has its notoriety and revenue. The brand has recently signed Roger Federer and collaborated in the creation of a tennis shoe.The company however has now established itself in the market as the leaders because of its technology. ON running is spearheading the implementation of zero-waste technologies and circularity in their designs. Their CloudTec technologie captures carbon waste to create plastics, a carbon based polymer. As a result, the company is one of the first to launch into the market completely circular products such as the Cylcon, and implement carbon capturing technology as a marketing strategy. But how did they get there?

This article aims at shedding some light on how ON running created a strategy that allowed it to grow financially and technologically by implementing sustainable practices.

According to the company, the development of this strategy is a natural result of their core values: performance and sustainability go hand in hand.

The strategy has three parts: 1) Materials; 2) Circularity; 3) Sustainable production. So lets start at the beggining.

  1. Materials

The importance of materials is front and center in the company product development strategy. Because this stage is paramount to create top performance and provide a technically superior product, the company focuses on creating technologically advanced materials to deliver exceptional products. In order to maintain sustainability within their production process, while focusing on performance, they needed to create materials that also respected environmental impact. To create said materials ON running follows three paths: advanced recycling, bio-based materials and carbon-emissision capturing materials. These options allow the company to reduce their environmental impact through the use of recycled materials and non-fossil fuel sources, and most importantly, create a regenerative product that captures carbon emissions and transforms them into a new product.

This last element has been a distinguishing feature of their products, and an element that they have successfully marketed to their client base. By showing the direct relationship between an active, outdoor lifestyle and the importance of environmental responsibility, they managed to engage their consumers with a cause that creates client loyalty and brand recognition.

ON Running website

2. Circularity

Shoe circularity is one of the biggest challenges to circumvent. The answer that ON running proposes is rooted in business innovation. The company has created a product line based on the principle of circularity. The product Cyclone is more than providing a shoe to the customer, it is also a subscription to a recycling program that guarantees a circular economy. The shoe is created 100% from recycled materials, however, the company was struggling to ensure that their client-base returned the shoe for it to be recycled and repurposed into the next generation of the product. To solve this problem, they created a subscription program to close the loop on the linear value chain and generate a fully circular product. By participating in the Cyclone program, the clients are provided a shoe that can be returned every six months. Twice a year, the client will receive a new pair of recycled shoes, at the same time, they will be able to give back their used shoes so that they can be turned into the new product.

Not only has the company managed to solve this problem, but it has also managed to create value from this idea. By implementing the program, they generate a new revenue stream that is based on innovative and sustainable business practices.

ON Running website

3. Sustainable production

The underlying element of this strategy is therefore sustainable production. By implementing these elements within their value chain, the company aims at establishing long-term goals and updating their production strategy to achieve zero impact.

In order to achieve these goals, the company has several pieces of advice that can be implemented within their structure and across the industry.

  • Holistic approach: from design, to raw materials, to the business model, having a holistic approach is the only way to efficiently create a product in a sustainable manner. All of the elements must be aligned to serve the same purpose and further the company’s values.

  • Look at the supply chain: looking upstream allows companies to identify sources of negative environmental impact, inefficient processes and problems in production. At these stages, the company advises vertical integration as an answer to these problems and to guarantee product quality and sustainable production.

  • Incremental change: small changes will amount in the long-term to big transformations. As a result, the company advocates for incremental changes as the approach to take when facing monumental challenges. Many companies are stumped by the task of transforming their business model into a sustainable one, this usually leads to inaction. By segmenting the challenge into small changes that are accessible and affordable in the short term, companies can create positive and long-lasting change.

  • Collaboration: whether it is to design a product, create a new technology or implement a different business model, collaboration is at the heart of sustainable business. When faced with the lack of a particular resource, ON running turned to collaboration to develop the necessary skills to implement sustainable practices within their development.

  • Regenerative climate action as an economic driver: by incorporating this goal within the corporate deadline, the company assures the implementation of sustainable practices. Furthermore, by placing sustainability as a value but also as a financial asset, the company ensures that practices are not only respected as an incentive but scaled within the production process in the long-term.