A Yogis Approach to Sustainability

Athleisure manufacturer feels the burn

Energy and oil companies are not the only parties that must accommodate the implications of climate change. Athletes and yogis also understand that environmental health is the foundation of personal health, leading companies such as Lululemon to begin taking steps to measure and reduce its carbon footprint for the well-being of the global communities in which it operates. Founded by Chip Wilson in Vancouver, Canada in 1998, Lululemon is a yoga-inspired, highly technical athletic apparel company.

One way in which Lululemon’s business model is vulnerable to climate change includes increased water stress or scarcity from suppliers that could: cause a disruption to supply, slow production, reduce product quality or significantly increase costs to the company [1]. To mitigate this risk, Lululemon is measuring water use in its supply chain to identify suppliers that use water inefficiently, while preparing to shift supply away from water scarcity issues and helping suppliers identify and solve any potential issues [1]. For example, in China, the company is researching and testing low water and no water dyes for its fabrics which would significantly decrease the amount of water used in their supply chain [1].

In addition, water quality also poses a threat to Lululemon as poor quality has the potential to increase production costs from increased water filtration and purification processes [1]. To accommodate this risk, Lululemon must understand the water and carbon footprints of its organization, value chain, products and materials, allowing it to implement comprehensive water policies that mitigate negative environmental impacts [1].

Further, Lululemon’s reputation is also at stake, as consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of climate change on the ecosystems in which they thrive. Lululemon must show that they are a global, responsible leader who is taking steps to address climate change, especially since the company’s original vision for its store was to “create a community hub where people could learn and discuss the physical aspects of healthy living, mindfulness and living a life of possibility [2].”

Key initiatives that Lululemon is taking to better manage its carbon footprint include the following:

  • Materials: Lululemon requires that all manufacturers adhere to a vendor code of ethics regarding environmental sustainability practices and has partnered with bluesign® system partners to ensure the processes and materials used to manufacture their products meet the highest environmental standards [3]. Further, the company designs its products to withstand five years of intended use, reducing the footprint created over the lifecycle of the product [2].
  • Carbon: To reduce carbon emission, Lululemon has been sponsoring several innovations like Sustainable Apparel Coalition as a way of supporting ways to decrease harmful carbon emissions [2].
  • Water: Lululemon’s raw material developers are investing ways to source more environmentally friendly materials and manufacturing processes that require less water while delivering the same high-quality, colorful products [2].
  • Waste: In 2014, the company assessed its company-wide waste footprint to evaluate the amount of waste produced globally and ways to reduce it [2]. Lululemon investigated all sources of waste within its owned and operated facilities, distribution centers, offices, packaging, and all damaged and returned products [2].
    • For example, with the company’s partner DEBRAND, 98% of damaged products are recycled into a material called “shoddy” which is used as stuffing for mattresses and insulation for homes, cars, and even in sporting equipment like boxing gloves and punching bags [2].
  • Shipping: Lululemon is working with supply chain efficiency experts to find ways to ship products by boat, which have 100 times less of a footprint than products shipped by air [2]. Further, in 2014, Lululemon opened a new distribution center in Ohio that permits it to utilize more ground transportation for shipping to the East coast, while still delivering products to stores and customers quickly [2].

Looking Ahead

To solidify its eco-friendly positioning, Lululemon can take additional steps to supplement the above measures. Despite its product’s considerably light packaging, packaging still represents 40% of the company’s global waste footprint, so there is still room for the company to consider its vision for packaging and its plans to making improvements [2]. Further, Lululemon’s shopping bags, although highly reusable and made from 25% recycled content, are crafted from a mix of materials that make them not fully recyclable at this point, providing an opportunity to continue improving the shopping bag’s environmental footprint [2].

Lululemon must continue seeking ways to transform its operating model, products, and stores to address the risk of large scale climate change that is facing the world.  Ultimately, its “yoga like approach to sustainability”: always seeing room for improvement and committing to sustainable initiatives over the long run, allows Lululemon to focus on getting stronger every day in not only advocating for the health of their consumers but the broader ecosystem in which the company operates.

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[1] Carbon Disclosure Project, “CDP Water Disclosure 2012 Information Request, Lululemon Athletica Inc.,” http://sustainability.eu.lululemon.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/CDP-2012-Water-Disclosure-lululemon-athletica.pdf, accessed November 2016.

[2] Lululemon Athletica Inc., “Our Sustainability Vision,” http://sustainability.eu.lululemon.com/our-sustainability-vision/, accessed November 2016.

[3] 2015 Annual Report. Lululemon Athletica Inc., 2015 Annual Report, p. 4, 2015 Annual Report, accessed November 2016.


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Student comments on A Yogis Approach to Sustainability

  1. It was interesting to learn about Lululemon’s dependence on water. It made me wonder what they can do to the water supply once they have identified that dye or other toxins are present in the water source. My concern is that Lululemon would test for these issues when choosing suppliers and sift out any suppliers with poor water quality.

    It is great that Lululemon is taking steps to incorporate sustainability initiatives across all aspects of their business. Lululemon’s popularity and positive perception are likely linked to its sustainability initiatives since it is in line with the company’s image and narrative. That being said, I was impressed by how deep their sustainability practice runs – from in-house shipping to supply chain coalitions.

    Lastly, I was surprised by how much space they have to grow in packaging because, as their consumer, I see their packaging as much more eco-friendly compared to competitors.

  2. I think it’s very common for companies to market their sustainable initiatives. While I am often quite cynical if their efforts are making a difference, I was impressed to see what Lululemon is up to – specifically their vendor code of ethics and partnership with DEBRAND to control waste. It seems these policies attempt to address multiple areas of the supply chain rather than just what’s under their factory production system.

    I was also very intrigued by what you mention with the boat shipping initiative. I see a potential link with how consumers interact with their products. For example, if someone were to purchase a product could they opt for a slow delivery that is less energy intensive at checkout? Perhaps they could save some money and also feel they are contributing to Lululemon’s mission to control emissions. While I would not propose this as a standard shipping option, it may be a win-win for those who chose to shop at Lulu because of its commitment to sustainability.

  3. Ironic that the company well-known for its quality blunders (e.g. the see-through yoga pants crisis of 2013) has stated a commitment to this idea of “five years of intended use” for each piece of their apparel. It’s great to hear that Lululemon is addressing multiple pieces of their supply chain, but I agree with Joe that a lot of this seems to be done for the sake of marketing and less so to create a truly sustainable business. Quite frankly, a lot of the initiatives that they have embarked upon (e.g. using ocean transport instead of air, middle-of-the-country distribution centers, and internal office recycling programs) are table-stakes for anyone trying to be a competitive business in this century. It’s also worth noting that these initiatives will greatly reduce Lululemon’s costs–that is, it’s not all for the sake of the environment, they’re just generally smart business moves.

    Another major problem with athleisure wear is that the fabrics used are most usually some combination of artificial textiles (like lycra or polyester) that are harder to recycle than natural fibers like wool and bamboo. I would like to see Lululemon create some sort of recycling program in-store for their customers (similar to what H&M does), so that these products don’t decompose slowly in landfills.

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