Looking for some running shoes, but want to be more conscious of the environmental impact of your purchase? There are a lot of reasons to go green with your purchases including running shoes.
If you are not sure where to start, we have you covered.
Below we have put together a list of some of the best eco-friendly and sustainable running shoes.
Read on to find out more!
Why Should You Shift to Eco-Friendly Running Shoes?
If we want to fully describe the environmental impact of the footwear industry, we’ll need dozens of pages rather than a simple article. However, I’ll try to simplify the most important facts that would be enough to reveal the ugly face of this business.
According to recent statistics, we throw around 300 million pairs of shoes per year. If we’re lucky, the unsustainable shoe materials should completely compose in around 40 years.
Worst of all, brands don’t seem to understand what they’re doing. The shoe industry produced more than 23 billion pairs in 2015. This clearly exceeds the needs of our 7-billion population.
But brands won’t respond unless customers develop proper awareness. That’s why everyone should buy a pair or two, at most, of sustainable or eco-friendly shoes. While the decomposition rate will differ according to the used materials, it’ll certainly take less than 40 years.
What to Look for in Eco-Friendly Running Shoes?
Sustainability has been gaining more and more popularity recently, which is definitely a good thing. But on the downside, a lot of brands have been falsely claiming that their footwear is 100% eco-friendly.
So, to avoid buying zero-value products, here are the most important aspects you should find in a good sustainable pair.
Avoid Leather as Much as Possible
The leather industry is, without doubt, the worst part about the footwear world. First things first, sourcing leather boosts the livestock industry, which is responsible for 14.5% of the total emissions of greenhouse gases.
It’s shocking to know that leather doesn’t just accompany meat production. It’s estimated that a billion animals are slaughtered each year merely for tanning their skins and hides!
If using leather is inevitable for you, opt for more ethical forms like upcycled or recycled leather.
Look for Those Alternative Materials
Naturally, the best pair of shoes should be made from 100% biodegradable materials. But sadly, this isn’t always possible.
That leaves us with recycled materials. Yes, they’re not necessarily biodegradable. But they’re surely better than sourcing virgin materials.
Outsoles: Natural Rubber
Natural rubber is currently the best option for durable, non-slip outsoles. Unlike its synthetic counterpart, natural rubber doesn’t require harmful chemicals to manufacture. Moreover, farmers harmlessly collect it from rubber trees without cutting them.
Midsoles: Recycled Plastics
As of now, midsoles constitute the biggest sustainability challenge in footwear. It’s the main part behind shoe performance. That’s why brands still cling on to non-biodegradable materials for their fabrication.
An eco-friendly pair should be made from a mix of recycled plastic and recycled EVA. Yes, we want to completely remove the petroleum-based EVA as soon as possible. But it’s the best we can do right now to maintain functionality.
Although cork is a type of wood, it’s slightly compressible. It’s capable of molding to your feet’s outline to promote comfiness and improve running.
Just like natural rubber, cork doesn’t require cutting trees to be harvested. The bark of cork trees can be shaved every nine years without compromising the internal structure by any means.
Laces: Recycled Polyester or Natural Cotton
In spite of its small size, laces are still bad for the environment, especially under the crazy footwear consumption rate I mentioned earlier.
Organic cotton or 100% post-consumer recycled polyester should be suitable.
Support Eco-Conscious Brands
As you’ll see later on in this article, a lot of eco-conscious brands have been coming up with a bunch of creative solutions to source their raw materials.
Some retrieve plastic bottles from the ocean floor, some do the same but on beaches, while others support local independent farmers.
I think that this is the most important factor to consider. Shoes will wear out eventually, no matter how perfect they are. But when you choose to purchase from brands that support local causes, you’ll be leaving a truly positive impact.
The 12 Best Eco-Friendly & Sustainable Running Shoes
So, we’re off to the actual shopping. Here are my top picks for sustainable shoes. I’ve based my selection on the company’s history, used materials, and overall perks. Let’s see!
1. Nasumi 2 Trainers by Ecoalf
We can’t talk about eco-friendliness without mentioning Ecoalf at the top. They have a standalone organization that collects plastic bottles from the ocean floor. They use these plastics in crafting all sorts of gorgeous apparel, not only shoes.
According to their estimates, “500 tons of marine waste have been collected since 2015.” After sourcing, these materials are transformed into usable filaments without using new natural resources at all.
Nasumi 2 has a minimalist, smooth design that guarantees a seamless running experience. I absolutely love the small recycling symbol printed on the sides. This can inspire a lot of people to be positive and opt for sustainability.
2. Condor Mesh Light by Veja
Veja has been in the shoe industry since 2004. In 2020, these shoes were chosen as the running shoes of the year in the ISPO Sports fair.
Around 53% of these shoes are made from sustainable materials. For instance, the mesh upper is made from 100% recycled plastic, the lining features 33% organic cotton, and the outsole is constructed from 30% Amazonian rubber.
Their production lines are mainly located in Brazil to support the seringueiros families living in the Amazonian forests. Harvesting trees from these forests are made under the supervision of multiple organizations to avoid harming biodiversity.
3. Wool Runners by Allbirds
As the name implies, these shoes feature a comfortable upper made from Merino sheep wool. Don’t worry, though. This doesn’t necessarily mean animal cruelty. Sheep wool, just like our hair, needs to be regularly cut in order to maintain proper hygiene.
In addition to being naturally comfy, wool uses 60% less energy when compared to the other synthetic alternatives.
To make these shoes even more sustainable, Allbirds uses recycled bottles to make laces and castor oil for the insoles. They even care about shipping by using recycled cardboard packages.
All these efforts have reduced their carbon footprint to 7.6 kg CO2e. This is noteably better than the 12.5 kg CO2e emitted by regular sneakers.
4. Tree Runners by Allbirds
Still uncomfortable with the wool concept? No problem! Allbirds has an equally-sustainable pair that’s completely sourced from green sources.
They harvest eucalyptus trees to manufacture silky-smooth fiber treads. This makes their shoes highly comfortable and breathable to fit the most intensive runs.
They never abuse forests, though. Under certification from the Forest Stewardship Council, their process is guaranteed to protect forests and animals living there. Moreover, the South African farms, from which their materials are sourced, are cutting down on harmful chemical fertilizers.
When compared to cotton, this manufacturing approach uses 95% less water and reduces the carbon footprint in half.
5. Blake Black by The People’s Movement
The People’s Movement was started by a bunch of individuals who wanted to implement their innovative designs in eco-friendly shoes to be locally sold for their friends and family. Their aspirations got larger and larger with every pair they sold.
Today, the largest part of their products are made from upcycled plastic bags collected from Bali. If you’re unfamiliar, this is an Indonesian island that dumps thousands of tonnes of plastic waste every year in oceans and rivers.
Furthermore, they dedicate a share of their profits to help environmental initiatives like 5 Gyres. This one is fighting tooth and nail to remove plastic waste from our oceans.
In parts where plastics can’t be used, they utilize a bunch of vegan alternatives. These shoes’ upper features a vegetable fiber cotton textile.
If you like running in barefoot shoes, Vivobarefoot should be the most sustainable option. In cooperation with Sorona, they utilize 100% vegan fibers in making the upper mesh and the footbed.
The soles measure around 3 mm only. At this thickness, your feet will sense every stride. It won’t be tiring, though. This is possible because of their 45% natural rubber construction.
For manufacturing, Vivobarefoot doesn’t rely on petroleum-based sources that cause CO2 footprint to skyrocket. Instead, they depend on algae biomass that actually benefits the environment when harvested.
7. Ultraboost Parley Shoes by Adidas
I know that Adidas might not be the first sustainable brand that comes to mind. But I’m glad to tell you that they’re gradually getting better. They’ve been renovating their production lines with sustainable materials to reduce water use and decrease carbon footprint.
Ultraboost Parley is an absolutely perfect example of its new regulations. In partnership with Parley, Adidas makes these shoes from recycled bottles retrieved from beaches and coastal communities.
It’s estimated that every pair uses around 11 bottles, which is definitely beneficial for our precious marine life.
8. Everlane Tread Trainers
Everlane has recently gained a lot of popularity in the field of sustainability. First and foremost, they source their raw materials from the finest local farms to support independent farmers.
Then, they only partner with the most ethical factories around the world to produce the best products with the least waste.
These shoes were built with 54% less plastic by utilizing full-grain leather. Their unique manufacturing process is able to reduce chemical wastes typically seen in the tanning process.
For the soles, they used a mix between natural and recycled rubber with only 5% of virgin plastic.
9. New Balance X Reformation X90
Since viscose textiles are sourced from wood pulp, they partnered with Canopy to make sure forests are properly protected and preserved. They also mix around 20% of their cotton waste in this process to save more and more of our precious trees.
Moreover, all the linings, laces, and labels are fabricated using post-consumer recycled polyester. Last but not least, the soles are made from a combination of EVA and bloom algae.
Ironically, footwear has a big footprint of greenhouse gases. And it’s up to use, and only us, to say no.
I think that the most sustainable pair you can buy is Nasumi 2 Trainers by Ecoalf. I like how Ecoalf is serious about environmental responsibility. They have a standalone organization that collects plastic bottles from the ocean floor.
The product itself offers the same high-end experience typically seen in regular shoes. Some people may not be able to tell them apart.
Never underestimate the power that your simple purchase can do. If customers become more aware of the benefits of sustainable running shoes, brands will have to comply.