I talk a lot about how the gear we use, and the brands we choose to support, matters. The most sustainable option is to use what we already have and take care of if so it lasts as long as possible. Consciously doing this can make an immense difference on the life of our gear. But some gear, like our shoes, need to be replaced on a semi-regular basis. As someone who runs year-round it’s inevitable that I’ll need a few pairs of running shoes if I want to have proper foot support. There are seemingly endless shoes to choose from when it comes to running, but these brands are doing their best to ensure we can enjoy the road or trails while having a positive impact on the planet.
Veja Veja is on a mission to create running shoes that are not based in plastic. Plastic comes from petroleum which results in greenhouse gases. Over the past four years they have developed their latest running shoe, The Condor. This shoe is 53% natural-based and recycled material, with goals of making future shoes 100% petroleum free. Not only is this shoe incredible, but Veja is one of the most sustainable major shoe brands out on the market. They are Fair Trade certified, part of their soles are made from Amazonian rubber (which comes from a tree), many of their products use B-mesh which is a fabric made entirely out of recycled polyester, they are focused on upcycling as many materials as they can, and offer complete transparency through their entire process. Want to know how their shoes are made? If their workers are being paid fair wages? If their cotton producer is paid fairly? Veja is proud of how they operate and are open answering all of these questions and more.
Brooks I’ve been running in Brooks shoes for many years and always recommend them to others. Headquartered in Seattle, Brooks is focused on ensuring their shoes and clothing meet their standards for “Product Sustainability, Climate Action, and Responsible Sourcing”. They adhere to a Restricted Substances List (RSL) for all of their products, produce their boxes from recycled materials, and use the Product Design and Development Module (DDM), developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), to help ensure their products are sustainable as possible. Not only does Brooks offer in-depth transparency on their process, they also share a detailed breakdown of the actions they are taking for Climate Action and Responsible Sourcing. (see more here) VIVO Barefoot Vivo Barefoot offers a minimalist and sustainable line of running shoes. I’ve had a pair in the past and was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable they actually were. Barefoot shoes do take some getting used to so keep that in mind if you order a pair. As a company, sustainable practices throughout the production process is at the core of what they do. Their sustainability mission is broken down into four major area. They focus on:
Efficiency: being as efficient as possible in order to conserve energy throughout production
Materials: focus on using natural, recycled, durable, and local materials whenever possible to minimize their carbon footprint
Product Life: building shoes that last as long as possible. Focused on the longevity of their products rather than a high turnover rate Performance: making shoes you’ll want to keep wearing, thus helping eliminate the need to constantly buy new products
(see more here) Allbirds In the past few years, Allbirds have drastically expanded their reach. What started with just one shoe, now are offering a variety of running shoes. As a company, Allbirds is in the process of eliminating their products’ carbon footprint. To do this they measure, reduce, and offset the emissions associated with their products.
To make their emissions as minimal as possible, they focus on using natural materials such as tree fiber (TENCEL lyocell), recycled bottles, Castor Bean Oil, and Bio-TPU. Their running shoe material is Forest Stewarship Council Certified as well. Not to mention their packaging is 90% recycled material, they are a certified B Corp, and they partner with Soles4Souls to give gently used shoes to those in need. (see more here)
Adidas As one of the biggest fitness brands in the world, Adidas has made some forward progress when it comes to sustainability. They have a goal of shifting to 100% recycled polyester in their products by 2024, using Primeblue made from ocean plastics. This, along with their increased labor protection laws, is a step in the right direction. Though they are far from the most sustainable or ethical brand, it is encouraging to see such a major corporation listening to consumers and making changes.
(see more here) So what should we look for in a sustainable shoe?
Materials: aim to find a shoe that uses recycle or natural materials, rather than using new plastics and rubber
Ethics: the ethics behind the shoe are arguably more important that the sustainable practices. See if the company is Fair Trade Certified, that their workers are paid fair and livable wages, and the working conditions and compensation of individuals at every stage of production Carbon Emissions: see what the company is doing to offset their carbon emissions; during production, at their offices, through transportation Transparency: remember that transparency isn't everything; look for transparency and accountability.
The shoes on our feet are just as important as any other piece of gear or clothing we may own. As always, we shouldn’t just throw out what we already own. Use the shoes you have as much as you can and donate them to a company like Sole4Souls to ensure they can have another life. Next time you’re in the market for a pair of running shoes, be sure to keep sustainability in mind.