No, you haven’t been magically transported back to the 2000s—UGG boots are totally "in" again. However, this time around, most people aren’t pairing their sheepskin boots with denim mini skirts and flip-flops. (So 2007!)
What’s considered trendy nowadays—in the wake of COVID-19 and an explosion of #WorkFromHomeLife—is ultimate comfort. Something UGG boots definitely deliver on. The brand has even given its iconic boots an update with new mini styles (including the Classic Mini and Classic Ultra Mini) that everyone from Kendall Jenner to Joan Smalls are wearing on the regular.
With UGGs having a major moment, the brand has expanded to apparel, blankets, and more. But even with its recent foray into cozy clothes and homewares, it’s the iconic tanned sheepskin boot with a fleece interior that begs the question: How eco-friendly are UGG boots?
Are UGG Boots Eco-Friendly?
There are definitely more sustainable alternatives to UGG boots out there. UGG even has a more eco-friendly version of its own iconic style, which you can read about below. But how eco-friendly is its best-selling boot that everyone seems to be wearing right now?
UGG boots are made from twin-face sheepskin, which is sheep's skin with the fleece still attached. The leather outside is the sheep's skin, while the soft inside is the sheep's fleece. According to UGG, it doesn't raise the sheep that are killed to make its boots. Instead, it sources the sheepskin from sheep that were raised for food, making the sheepskin a by-product of the meat industry.
UGG says it believes no sheep should ever be raised for its sheepskin alone. In addition, the brand has a strict policy against purchasing from producers that practice mulesing, a painful procedure done without anesthesia that involves removing the skin from a sheep's hindquarters.
"UGG demands that the sheepskin we purchase comes from sheep that are never mulesed. Mulesing is cruel and inhumane, and therefore UGG requires that our suppliers certify that the sheep have not been mulesed," states the website. "Our advocacy against the practice of mulesing has helped other companies adopt standards that ban using materials from sheep that have been mulesed."
So, where does UGG's sheepskin come from, exactly? The brand only buys from tanneries, and it requires that the tanneries verify the sheepskin’s country of origin. Currently, UGG only sources sheepskin from sheep raised in Australia, United States, Ireland, United Kingdom, and Spain because "they all have standards that regulate the treatment of animals."
Aside from sheep, the hides UGG sources are "never derived from endangered or vulnerable species, and are never sourced using inhumane methods. This means we never use exotic skins, domestic or feral cats and dogs, angora rabbit, or rabbit hair. We will also not use any Alpaca as of the Fall 2023 season," states the website.
UGG’s discontinuation of Alpaca fur is a new development that has not yet been instated, but the brand heard the criticism and took a step in the right direction.
In terms of UGG's environmental practices, the brand sometimes dabbles in eco-friendly materials like repurposed wool and also makes distinct efforts to minimize packaging. However, there’s plenty of room to improve.
UGG says it strives to reduce its energy consumption and integrate climate change measures into its policies and planning: "We measure energy consumption at our corporate HQ, our Moreno Valley distribution center, and most of our retail stores in the United States," reads the website. "We also monitor our key supply chain partners’ energy usage globally and set reduction targets for them, because the most significant emissions result from the production level.”
UGG also recently transitioned most of its production from China to Vietnam in an effort to curtail energy usage and reduce its carbon footprint. China relies significantly on coal to power energy, whereas Vietnam emphasizes hydroelectric energy. The brand is also working on a lifecycle assessment of its product materials in hopes of making improvements on where carbon emissions are most prevalent.
UGG says it's also working on reducing its water footprint: "At our corporate headquarters, we conserve water through low-flow fixtures that save approximately 350,000 gallons of water each year. We also plant drought-tolerant native plants, which require less water, and utilize a culvert system that returns rainfall to a wetland restoration area."
With that being said, even UGG admits its largest water footprint comes at the production level. Because of that, it says it's monitoring its supply chain partners’ environmental footprint, which includes water usage.
UGG is making improvements in reducing waste as well. It says its "Moreno Valley Distribution Center is nearly a zero-waste facility." It's also utilizing 3D printing and design in order to drastically cut down on the amount of materials being thrown away.
"By taking advantage of 3D printing and design, we can reduce or altogether eliminate samples, thus creating less waste," reads the website. "The ability to design and print on-site allows us to visualize design intent before we finalize a sample, ultimately reducing the number of samples made, errors made, and shipping needed. We also measure waste output among key supply chain partners."
The labor subcategory is where things get murkiest for UGG boots. The company doesn’t have the best reputation for certified labor standards, living wages, and other crucial labor rights workers deserve.
UGG doesn't offer much information on its website. UGG's parent company, Deckers, says its business partners "shall not use forced labor" and that "all employment must be voluntary." In addition, business partners "shall not employ workers below the age of 16." As far as pay, all that's said is that "business partners, at a minimum, will pay worker wages and benefits that meet applicable laws."
Right now, it seems as though UGG is only meeting the bare minimum requirements. Because there are many ways to violate workers' rights beyond forced labor and child labor, we hope the brand sets much higher standards in the near future.
Final Thoughts on UGG Boots
At this point, UGG boots are not eco-friendly. Especially when compared to other sustainable apparel companies, there are many alternatives available that are simply doing better and more for people, animals, and the environment.
While traditional UGG boots still have a long way to go, the brand does have a new line of footwear that's more planet-friendly. The Classic Sugar Ultra Mini boots feature a blend of 50% reclaimed wool and 50% plant-based TENCEL Lyocell, as well as "UGGcycle"—a leather-free alternative to twin-face sheepskin—and renewable sugarcane.
The line is also carbon-neutral, as UGG provides offsets for "the small amount of emissions" their "low-impact materials" create. Hopefully, the brand continues to move in this direction. We'd love to see a more eco-friendly version of the traditional UGG boots, which are by far the brand's best-sellers.
Beyond giving UGG boots a planet-friendly makeover, the company also needs to become more transparent as a whole about its sustainability policies and practices. Accountability is also necessary when it comes to how UGG treats its workers. All workers deserve access to living wages, safe working environments, and other crucial labor standards.
If these important changes are made in the future, UGG boots could be a more sustainable option. Until then, there are a handful of other companies replicating the style of the iconic UGG boot in a more eco-friendly way.