The fashion industry is notorious for its negative impact on the environment. Footwear, in particular, has been a major culprit in contributing to pollution and waste. However, there is hope for a more sustainable future in the form of eco-friendly sneakers.
In recent years, there has been a surge in the production of ethical and sustainable sneakers. These eco-kicks not only reduce the industry’s carbon footprint but also provide consumers with a stylish and conscious choice. In this article, we will explore what sustainable sneakers are and highlight some of the best eco-kick brands available.
The Best Sustainable Sneakers You’ll Shoe-rly Love
Allbirds is a San Francisco-based company that produces sustainable running shoes for women, men, and kids. The brand offers a wide range of sneakers, including loungers, boat shoes, everyday sneakers, and hiking shoes. Allbirds uses superfine ZQ Merino wool, which adheres to the most stringent ethical wool and animal welfare standards, to make their non-vegan sustainable sneakers. They also offer vegan Tree lines made of eucalyptus pulp TENCEL Lyocell grown with 95% less water and produced in a clean, closed-loop process. The laces are made of recycled water bottles and threaded through bio-based TPU eyelets. They use partial castor bean oil in their midsole to minimize synthetic content, and the outsoles are made from Brazilian sugarcane certified by Proforest. Allbirds’ merino is sourced from New Zealand and spun in Milan, Italy in Europe’s only wool mill sustainably certified by the European Commission. The Tree collection is made with FSC-certified eucalyptus from South African farms that are then made by the Austrian company Lenzing. Finished fabrics get assembled at WRAP-certified factories in South Korea and China. Allbirds uses 90% recycled cardboard packaging and is carbon neutral by offsetting all business operations. Through their partnership with Soles4Souls, they donate lightly used, returned shoes to communities in need.
Portugal-based 8000Kicks makes the world’s “first waterproof cannabis sneaker.” Each shoe upper is made from responsibly sourced cannabis hemp fabric, which is durable and eco-friendly. The insoles are also hemp, which is antimicrobial and antibacterial. The outsoles are made of Bloom foam algae, which helps sponsor the removal of harmful algae from marine ecosystems. Both their cork and recycled outsole materials are sourced and made in Portugal in a factory that provides free health care and education to its employees. The hemp is sourced in China, Romania, and France. Their other factory is located in China, which also holds strict labor standards. Compared to average traditional sneakers, each pair of sneakers requires 72% less CO2 and 70% less water to manufacture. Both factories use some venerable energy, and 8000Kicks offsets its emissions through hemp farming and additional tree planting.
Baabuk is a family-owned Swiss company that started with a simple Christmas gift: a pair of traditional Russian Valenkis felted shoes. They continue crafting cozy sustainable slippers and some of the most affordable ethical sneakers. Wool is the base of all Baabuk booties, mulesing-free and ethically sourced from kindly treated sheep. The Urban Woolers are their more sustainable sneakers, made of 100% Portuguese sheep wool, a soft Merino inner lining, and a durable TPU Thermoplastic sole. The Sky Woolers also contain an upper and inner made from Portuguese mulesing-free sheep wool, but their soles are made of rubber and top-grain Nubuck leather. Baabuk’s supply chain is fully traceable and ethical, guaranteeing safe working conditions, no child labor, equal employment opportunities for women, and a 25% higher salary than the national average. Their sneakers are 100% made in Portugal, including sourcing the wool from sheep in Serra de Estela Natural Park. Felting occurs in Portugal’s historic Burel Factory, which is famous for its long wool-making tradition using either hand techniques or 100+-year-old machinery. Baabuk chooses wool because of its compostable end-of-life prospect and eco-friendly nature. In fact, wool is 50% carbon sequestered through a.
Cariuma is a Brazilian sustainable sneaker brand that uses natural and recycled materials to create stylish and comfortable sneakers. The brand uses organic cotton, bamboo, and recycled plastic bottles to make their shoes. Cariuma also uses natural rubber from trees in the Amazon rainforest, which is harvested in a way that doesn’t harm the trees. The brand is committed to reducing its carbon footprint and uses a carbon-neutral shipping process. Cariuma also partners with Trees for the Future to plant a tree for every pair of shoes sold.
5. Thousand Fell
Thousand Fell is a New York-based sustainable sneaker brand that creates sneakers made from recycled materials. The brand’s sneakers are made from recycled plastic bottles, recycled rubber, and recycled foam. Thousand Fell also uses a closed-loop system, which means that when you’re done with your sneakers, you can send them back to the brand, and they’ll be recycled into new sneakers. The brand is also committed to reducing its carbon footprint and uses a carbon-neutral shipping process.
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Why Choose Ethical Sustainable Sneakers?
Sneakers are a popular type of shoe, but the way they are currently produced and consumed is not sustainable. Over 23 billion pairs of sneakers are made each year, and only less than 5% of them are recycled. This leads to over 300 million pairs of sneakers being thrown away annually.
Traditional sneakers are made with materials that hardly break down, if at all, and leather, a common material used in sneakers, is not sustainable. The leather industry is responsible for the needless killing of over 1 billion animals each year, and the tanning process is one of the most polluting in the world.
Fortunately, there are ethical and sustainable options for those who want to make a difference. Ethical sneakers are made with eco-friendly and sustainable materials, such as recycled polyester, organic cotton, sugar cane, hemp, cork, and bamboo. These materials are renewable, biodegradable, and compostable, making them a much better choice for the environment.
In addition to using sustainable materials, ethical sneaker companies also prioritize fair wages for their workers and avoid using harmful chemicals in their production process. Some companies even have shoe recycling programs, such as Terracycle, which accepts old sneakers and turns them into new products.
Choosing ethical sustainable sneakers is not only good for the environment, but it also supports companies that prioritize ethical and sustainable practices. By opting for eco-friendly sneakers, consumers can make a positive impact on the environment and contribute to a more sustainable future.
How We Found The Best Sustainable Sneakers
When searching for the best sustainable sneakers, it can be overwhelming to navigate through all the options available. To determine which brands truly prioritize sustainability, the team used a set of criteria that focused on materials, supply chain and labor practices, green business practices, and community and charitable giving.
The team prioritized brands that used recycled or biodegradable materials with a low carbon footprint. Certifications such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), OEKO-TEX 100, Recycled Gold Standard, Leather Working Group (LWG), REACH, bluesign®, and Global Recycle Standard (GRS) were also taken into consideration.
Supply Chain & Labor Practices
Companies that treated workers fairly and provided safe and meaningful employment opportunities were favored. Third-party certifications such as Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP), Business for Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI), Certified B Corporation, fair trade, and International Labor Organization (ILO) were used to provide reassurance that the brands were truly ethical.
Green Business Practices
Brands that made additional efforts to reduce their carbon footprint were also prioritized. This included offering recycling programs, being carbon neutral, and using recycled post-consumer waste for packaging.
Community & Charitable Giving
Brands that gave back and demonstrated a commitment to more than just their own profit were also favored.
When it comes to sustainable materials for sneakers, the best options are natural materials that are organic and biodegradable. Recycled materials such as recycled plastic bottles, Econyl made from discarded fishing nets, and recycled cotton are also more sustainable than virgin materials.
The five main components of sneakers – uppers, laces, insoles, midsoles, and outsoles – were all taken into consideration. Companies are making ethical sneakers from materials such as organic cotton, bamboo fabric, hemp, and Lyocell. Interesting upcycled fabrics harvested from the waste of other industries, such as Piñatex made from wasted leaves from pineapple farmers, are also being used for uppers.
Organic cotton is currently the best option for laces, ideally without plastic tip covers. Cork fabric is the best insole alternative, providing a healthy environment for feet due to its antimicrobial properties and foot molding capabilities. Midsoles still present the largest problem for sustainability, as most incorporate non-biodegradable, plastic-based materials. Ethical sneaker brands are using a blend of partially recycled EVA to address this issue. Natural rubber is ideal for outsoles, providing durability while still being bio-based and biodegradable.
In conclusion, the sustainable footwear industry is making strides towards providing conscious consumers with ethical and sustainable options for all types of footwear. By considering the materials, supply chain and labor practices, green business practices, and community and charitable giving of each brand, consumers can make informed decisions and reduce their carbon footprint with comfortable sustainable sneakers.