A UK-based shoe company has been making shoes from algae flowers for five years. Now they are bringing their passion for the subject to the public by calling for support for a petition urging UNESCO to encourage governments to take action against those who are poisoning the world’s waterways.
Vivobarefoot gathered a variety of voices from scientists, doctors and activists to share the Stop Harmful Algae Blooms campaign. So far, over 10,000 signatures have been collected to promote the discussion about algal blooms worldwide.
What is algal bloom and why is it a problem?
Although it can be a natural phenomenon, many algal blooms today are attributed to pollution, runoff water full of pesticides, chemicals, and fertilizers. This disrupts the ecological balance in water systems, leading to excessive algae growth that can negatively impact aquaculture. All over the US this year, from Florida to New England, there have been reports of excess algae in water systems. Scientists believe it is also related to warmer temperatures and changing weather patterns related to climate change, leading to higher levels of algae involvement.
London-based Vivobarefoot was one of the first brands to use an algae-based polymer in their shoes. In collaboration with the US materials science company Algix, they were able to work excess algae that had been extracted from these polluted waters into the soles of their swim run shoes. The material known as Bloom is a mix of polymers and algae which, according to co-founder Asher Clark, isn’t an ideal solution, but it’s a start and definitely a conversation starter.
As a surfer who enjoys riding the waves on England’s south coast, Clark found out about the new material from Kelly Slaters Firewire, who had launched a range of surfboards with Bloom for part of the board. Clark called the manufacturer quickly to find out about the innovation and how they could incorporate it into their collection. Always on the lookout for new materials, Bloom had a fascinating story for the sea-loving Clark.
“Humans are responsible for letting excessive amounts of nutrients like CO2, nitrogen and phosphorus get into our waterways, lakes and oceans, creating environmental and social problems,” says Jon Van Drunen of Bloom. “When we founded BLOOM, our idea was to convert algal blooms from an environmental problem into a sustainable material that provides incentives for CO2 capture and purification of water, while reducing our consumption of oil and plastic. Brands that BLOOM materials use in their products, support lake restoration and environmental protection projects that have a proven positive impact that the end user can understand Hug. “
Although mainstream brands like Adidas include Bloom, the problem of excessive algal bloom is largely unknown to the public, says Clark. When they reached out to friends of the company to shed light on the matter, he found that most people are unaware of this.
For this reason, the petition is about just getting the ball rolling and creating more education on the matter. While some algal blooms occur naturally, the vast majority of them appear to be perpetuated by environmental factors – and to stop this, wider awareness and further study are needed.
Vivobarefoot’s open letter, published in partnership with the nonprofit Oxygen Network, states: “We acknowledge and applaud the important scientific work currently being done by UNESCO and the Intergovernmental Oceanic Commission on GlobalHAB to assess the impact of the harmful algal bloom.
As an organization committed to preserving the world’s greatest wonders and a leader in algal bloom research, UNESCO has a unique opportunity to develop an in-depth and innovative educational program and work with local communities to incorporate regenerative practices to prevent that algal blooms are poisoning waterways and communities around the world. “
Regarding the Sustainable Development Goals, the letter addresses UNESCO’s ability to effect change: “We urge UNESCO to develop a global education program and work with governments to address destructive agricultural and industrial practices, particularly use of phosphates and nitrates, and start implementing proven, regenerative, nature-based solutions. “
Beyond just selling shoes made from alternative materials, says Clark, Vivobarefoot is a company that wants to connect its consumers with nature and be “regenerative” in the long run. This algae campaign fits into that broader vision and activism.