Walmart Inc. has partnered with California startup Rubi Laboratories to test a groundbreaking technology that converts carbon dioxide into clothing. The carbon dioxide is captured from Walmart’s supply chain, and this collaboration aims to explore the potential of carbon capture technology in transforming CO2 from manufacturing waste streams into textiles. By aligning with Walmart’s sustainability goals, this initiative presents an opportunity to create eco-friendly and affordable apparel made from captured CO2.
Rubi Laboratories is a symbiotic manufacturing company that seeks to revolutionize fashion supply chains through its proprietary biomanufacturing technology, which operates in harmony with the environment. This partnership represents a greener approach to clothing production.
Carbon capture technology is believed to have the potential to prevent billions of tons of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, according to climate experts. Various emerging technologies capture CO2 from industrial plants and store it deep underground. While the carbon capture sector is still in its early stages, projections indicate promising growth. BloombergNEF estimates that direct air capture, which involves capturing ambient air from the atmosphere, could become a $1 trillion market within the next decade. However, scalability remains a significant challenge.
Some companies prefer to reuse captured carbon instead of burying it, utilizing it to create other products that people use in their daily lives. This approach is known as carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS) technology. Rubi’s patent-pending carbon capture and transformation technology employs biochemical processes to convert CO2 into cellulose. Inspired by how trees use carbon dioxide to grow, this technology utilizes enzymes that “eat” CO2 and produce lyocell yarn, a primary component in textile production.
Rubi’s carbon transformation process involves three steps. First, the carbon is captured from the waste streams of manufacturing facilities within Walmart’s supply chain. Rubi’s CEO, Neeka Mashouf, claims that their system can capture up to 90% of a factory’s CO2 emissions. Walmart, as the world’s largest retailer, will test this system in a pilot project running until 2024. The objective is to find a more environmentally friendly method of producing clothing. Andrea Albright, Walmart’s EVP of Sourcing, emphasizes the importance of this project in addressing their climate and sustainability goals. She states, “Walmart’s collaboration with Rubi could reimagine the apparel supply chain by leveraging technology to create textiles from carbon emissions. This technology could play an important role in our journey towards zero waste and zero emissions.”
As part of its commitment to sustainability, Walmart aims to achieve zero emissions by 2040, a decade ahead of the Paris Agreement target. To reach this goal, the company plans to reduce absolute Scopes 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 35% by 2025 and 65% by 2030, based on 2015 levels. Walmart has already made progress in its net-zero targets, having reduced Scopes 1 and 2 emissions by 23% since 2015 and decreased carbon intensity by nearly 41% as measured by metric ton CO2e per $M revenue.
Walmart’s collaboration with Rubi Labs marks the first partnership for both manufacturing and brand pilot projects. The deal comprises two main components. The first pilot focuses on integrating the Rubi system into manufacturing facilities within Walmart’s supply chain to capture and convert carbon. The second pilot involves performance testing of CO2-converted cellulose in a prototype apparel, with a particular emphasis on accessibility and affordability for the mass market. Upon completion of the testing phase, the partners plan to develop a sample apparel collection.
Walmart is among many Fortune 500 companies committed to reducing carbon emissions to achieve climate goals. Since 2005, the retail giant has been actively working with climate action leaders, suppliers, and customers to cut its emissions. Walmart aims for 50% of its own operations’ (Scopes 1 and 2 emissions) energy to come from renewable sources by 2025 and 100% by 2035. The company also addresses its Scope 3 emissions, which encompass supply chain emissions, through Project Gigaton, launched in 2017. The project’s objective is to avoid or reduce 1 billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030. As of 2022, over 5,200 suppliers are participating in the project, having reported a total reduction of 750 million metric tons of CO2.
Given the current trajectory of rising temperatures, it is evident that existing emissions-cutting policies worldwide are insufficient to limit global warming. The United Nations estimates that these policies would still result in a global average temperature increase of approximately 2.8ºC by 2100. Recent reports of deadly heat-related events highlight the severity of the consequences of rising temperatures. Therefore, companies must undertake significant and rapid efforts to reduce their planet-warming emissions. Joining Walmart in the fight against the climate crisis are major fashion brands Lululemon and Nike. Last month, Lululemon partnered with a startup that uses enzymes to recycle plastics, recovering nylon and polyester to create new apparel. Nike, likewise, has been incorporating recycled materials into its clothing and footwear collections.
Walmart’s collaboration with Rubi Labs represents a significant step towards achieving its climate goals by addressing supply chain emissions. By capturing emissions from its suppliers’ manufacturing facilities and utilizing them to create new clothing, Walmart can simultaneously generate profit and reduce carbon emissions. If successful, this innovative carbon capture system could revolutionize Walmart’s supply chain, enabling the production of affordable clothing while mitigating environmental impact.