The footwear industry has long been associated with unsustainable practices, but recent years have seen a shift towards more eco-friendly options. In particular, sustainable running shoes have emerged as a growing trend among athletes and fitness enthusiasts looking to reduce their environmental impact without sacrificing performance.
The best sustainable running shoes are those that not only use sustainable materials, but also provide foot-healthy cushioning and support. This presents a unique challenge for shoe manufacturers, but some brands have risen to the occasion by developing innovative designs that are both eco-friendly and high-performing. This article will explore some of the top sustainable running shoes on the market, as well as the benefits and challenges of eco-friendly footwear.
Sustainable & Recycled Running Shoes Setting A Planet-Friendly Pace
Allbirds is a carbon-neutral footwear brand that offers some of the best ethical running shoes made from mostly biobased materials. Their eco running shoes are continuously evolving for both performance and sustainability, offering something for every type of running and runner.
Allbirds’ Tree Dasher 2 is an everyday running shoe that features a one-piece upper for seam-free comfort, a lightly padded heel, and a flexible cushioned insole. The Tree Flyer is designed for distance running, featuring a light, bouncy midsole and a breathable, plant-based upper to help runners cover those miles.
For sustainable trail running shoes, the men’s and women’s Trail Runners SWT feature multi-directional 4mm lugs that increase grip on multiple terrains. Allbirds also offers a 30-day return policy with no questions asked.
Allbirds’ Ethical & Sustainability Practices
Allbirds uses merino wool, FSC-certified TENCEL™ lyocell fabric, or a blend of both for their uppers, bringing natural materials into a traditionally synthetic-dominated industry. The SwiftFoam™ midsole used for their Flyers is 48% bio-based thanks to castor bean oil, and the SweetFoam® midsole (Dashers and trail running shoes) is made with sugarcane-based EVA. Outsoles are made from FSC-certified natural rubber, and other sustainable materials include bio-based TPU, bio-based nylon, and recycled polyester.
Allbirds sources ZQ-certified ethical wool from mostly regenerative farms (soon to be 100%) that prioritize animal welfare standards. Their sustainable running shoes are made in Hai Phong, Vietnam, and their ethical running shoe factory is part of the Better Work program.
Allbirds offsets 100% of its emissions through carbon offset programs that focus on permanence and additionality. Their Flight Plan details ways in which they plan on reducing emissions altogether, like having all factories (both their own and partner ones) operate using 100% renewable energy by 2025. Each pair of ethical running shoes is labeled with its carbon footprint and shipped in an all-in-one bag, box, and mailer made from 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard. They also promote circulation by selling used shoes through ReRun.
Icebug is a Swedish brand that specializes in eco-friendly running shoes for winter conditions. They offer plenty of ethically made running shoes for all outdoor adventures, including those with legendary GORE-TEX® (GTX) waterproof membranes.
IceBug’s Ethical & Sustainability Practices
Icebug uses bluesign® certified and 100% GRS-certified recycled PET polyester for their uppers, 20% BLOOM® foam for their midsoles, and FSC-certified natural rubber for their outsoles. The GORE-TEX® lining used for some models is bluesign®-approved and OEKO-TEX-certified. They also use recycled fishing nets and recycled polyethylene in their recycled plastic running shoes.
Icebug’s eco-friendly running shoes are made in Vietnam in factories that are regularly audited to ensure healthy and safe conditions. They’re a Fair Wear Foundation member, and their Follow Our Foot Footprints initiative makes it easy for customers to trace the journey of each pair of shoes.
Icebug offsets 200% of emissions, including all historical emissions since the company started over two decades ago, making them the first outdoor footwear brand to become climate positive. They’re committed to halving emissions by 2030 and always use sea freight over air freight. Each product description highlights the CO2 footprint and percentage of recycled and bio-based materials present. Icebug is also a member of 1% for the Planet, and their recipients include Protect Our Winters and Naturarvet.
Merrell is a 40-year-old brand that prioritizes performance, comfort, and fit. They’ve recently added sustainability as another priority, incorporating sustainable materials into some models.
Merrell’s most sustainable running shoes are those that will last a long time, and their trail runners are made for years of puddle splashing, hill ascending, and hundreds of miles of rough terrain.
Merrell’s Ethical & Sustainability Practices
Merrell uses 100% recycled materials for the uppers, laces, lining, and footbed cover for their men’s and women’s Trail Glove and Vapor Glove shoes. The EVA foam midsole is 30% recycled, and the Vibram® outsole is made with 30% recycled rubber. The Moab Flight is another sustainable athletic shoe line featuring a 70% recycled upper, a 50% recycled footbed cover, 100% recycled laces, and 30% recycled Vibram® outsole
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Why Choose Eco-Friendly Running Shoes?
The traditional running shoe industry has a significant negative impact on the environment, with manufacturing accounting for two-thirds of its carbon footprint. However, eco-friendly running shoes made from sustainable and recycled materials are becoming increasingly popular. There are several reasons why one should choose eco-friendly running shoes:
Sustainability: Eco-friendly running shoes are made from recycled and sustainable materials such as recycled polyester, organic cotton, and natural rubber. These materials help reduce the impact on the environment by reducing carbon emissions and waste.
Comfort: Eco-friendly running shoes are designed to provide comfort and support to the feet, making them an ideal choice for runners who want to reduce their impact on the environment without sacrificing comfort.
Durability: Eco-friendly running shoes are made from high-quality materials that are designed to last longer than traditional running shoes. This means that they do not need to be replaced as often, reducing the number of shoes that end up in landfills.
Vegan and Ethical: Eco-friendly running shoes are often vegan and made with ethical production practices. This means that they are not made from animal products and are produced in factories with fair labor practices.
Carbon-Neutral: Some eco-friendly running shoes are made with carbon-neutral processes, which means that they have a net-zero carbon footprint. This is achieved through the use of renewable energy sources and carbon offsets.
Overall, choosing eco-friendly running shoes can have a positive impact on the environment by reducing the use of unsustainable materials, carbon emissions, and waste.
How We Found The Most Ethical & Sustainable Running Shoes
When it comes to choosing the most ethical and sustainable running shoes, there are a lot of factors to consider. From the materials used to the supply chain and labor practices, carbon commitments and green practices, inclusivity, and community and charitable giving, it can be overwhelming to navigate the world of sustainable footwear. However, by breaking down the criteria for what makes running shoes sustainable, it is possible to find the most eco-friendly options.
Final Thoughts On Ethical & Sustainable Running Shoes
After thorough research, it is clear that sustainability is a journey that many brands are on for the long haul. While there are no completely biodegradable running shoes yet, many brands are using recycled materials such as TENCEL™ lyocell, recycled polyester from plastic bottles, castor bean oil, corn, algae bloom, hemp fabric, organic cotton, rubber, sugarcane, rice waste, and banana oil. Additionally, certifications such as USDA Biobased Product, Leather Working Group (LWG), ZQ Merino, Eurofins, Global Recycle Standard (GRS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), bluesign®, and OEKO-TEX ensure that the shoes meet certain sustainability standards.
In terms of supply chain and labor practices, transparency is key. Brands that provide supplier details and a comprehensive code of conduct are a good starting point. Fair trade or direct trade partnerships and third-party certifications such as International Labour Organization (ILO), B Corporation, Fair Labor Association (FLA), Fair Trade, and Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) are also important indicators of ethical manufacturing.
Carbon commitments and green practices are critical in becoming a truly sustainable brand. Brands that use carbon offsets, careful packaging, efficient manufacturing practices, localization, renewable energy, closed-loop systems, and initiatives to reuse, repair, or resell refurbished shoes are making strides towards a more sustainable future.
While inclusivity is not yet a major focus in the world of sustainable footwear, brands that are working to make the world of athletics more diverse and inclusive deserve recognition.
Lastly, community and charitable giving are important aspects of sustainable footwear. Return programs that donate old shoes to global communities and initiatives to support social and environmental projects make for the best sustainable running shoes.
In conclusion, by considering all of these factors, it is possible to find the most ethical and sustainable running shoes. It is important to remember that sustainability is a journey and every small step towards a more sustainable future counts.