Is Lululemon sustainable? An unbiased view…

  • Date: May 13, 2022

Popular activewear brand Lululemon is growing. More retail stores are popping up all over the world year-on-year and sales are booming. However, as with other large retailers, their environmental impact is increasingly under the spotlight. How do they fare – is Lululemon sustainable? The answer is not straightforward, but it is clear that they are making positive strides in this area. With no affiliation to Lululemon whatsoever, here we take an unbiased look into their ‘green’ credentials…

So, is Lululemon sustainable?

Lululemon use a high proportion of synthetic materials

In terms of sustainability, the main issue with Lululemon is their use of synthetic material – this is no surprise for a brand centered around athletic-wear. From their iconic leggings to their bucket hats, Lululemon use a significant amount of nylon and polyester. Although they do use recycled polyester in some of their products, currently the majority use virgin synthetic materials.

Synthetic materials come with a few environmental issues – from their fossil-fuel beginnings to their energy-intensive production. Laundering synthetic materials even come with damaging environmental impacts.  Every time your leggings are washed, microplastics make their way into the waterways with the potential to end up on our dinner plates.

Even when they have reached the end of their wearable life they still cause problems. As a waste product they are a nightmare to dispose of – not widely recycled by the average consumer, they will live on indefinitely in landfill. They are, essentially, made from plastic and don’t biodegrade like natural materials. There really is no end to the havoc that synthetic materials cause the planet!

Lululemon may use PFAS

A study has shown that some Lululemon garments contain fluorine, an indicator that that they may have PFAS added. These wide-ranging set of synthetic chemicals can be useful in athletic wear due to their water-resistant properties – they will wick away any sweat from the body.  As well as the health concerns linked, PFAS also bring some negative environmental impacts. These chemicals can end up in the environment in production and waste streams, causing reproductive and developmental issues in animals.

It’s not all bad news….

Lululemon are investing highly in materials innovation

Lululemon have some ambitious goals to ensure that the materials that they use in future have less of an environmental impact. For example, they recognize that nylon, is hugely damaging. By 2025, they aim to ‘launch alternative nylon solutions’ and by 2030 they want to ‘source 100% renewable or recycled content nylon’ for their products. This would make a significant difference to the carbon footprint of the business – nylon is their most used material!

Lululemon gives quality product care guidelines – making clothes last longer

Lululemon are extremely meticulous when it comes to clothing care guidelines. In terms of the environment, this is a massive plus. Clothes that are cared for well will last a lot longer. This means that resources used and waste produced will be minimized. Rather than go straight to landfill, they can be traded with fellow customers when you decide to change your style.  Lululemon’s Like New initiative has been established to connect customers for this purpose, whilst reinvesting profits into sustainability projects. And of, course, there is always the option of resale on online platforms such as eBay.

Lululemon are minimizing packaging

Lululemon aim to reduce their single use packaging by 50% per unit by 2025. It could be argued that this particular goal does not quite go far enough – but it is a start. They will do this by eliminating packaging but also using more eco-friendly options too.  Part of their Sustainable Packaging Policy is to ‘Inspire the guest’ (i.e., the customer). This is something that flows through Lululemon as a business, they want to make surface level changes to the way they work but also encourage and inspire others to make different choices in their lives too.

The bottom line

It is clear that Lululemon are conscious of their impact on the environment – they are trying to act in the most sustainable way they can.  However, ultimately, a large proportion of their clothes are made from synthetic materials – these bring significant environmental consequences. Although they have taken great strides, the biggest difference to their sustainability will be made when they (hopefully) achieve their new materials aims by 2030.