The last few decades have seen colossal damage done to the planet, so it makes sense that today, we should try to use sustainable materials in our everyday lives as much as possible. That even stretches to our footwear.
While there’s still plenty of work to be done, huge leaps have been made in the sustainable shoe department so if you’re looking to put your best foot forward and reduce your carbon footprint in more ways than one, consider one of the following on the list of the most ethical running shoe available today. And yes, all puns were intended!
What Makes a Shoe Ethical?
Before we look at the best running shoes that can be considered ethical, we first have to define what makes a shoe ethical in the first place. In short, it’s sadly easier to list any number of ways in which the processes that go into making a shoe are unethical.
Running shoes aren’t just used for running. Many trainers and sneakers are now classed first as a fashion accessory, and then as an item for keeping fit, training, and doing sports. Globally, sneakers are big business. They’re worth over $60 BILLION a year. And they’re often made up of many different parts, all made by different companies.
Synthetic Materials Damage the Environment
You’re unlikely to head into a branded sneaker or running shoe store and find a pair of shoes that haven’t been made with synthetic materials. Plastic, rubber, and nylon require a lot of energy and chemicals to be produced in order to make the shoes, and then, at the end of their lifespan, the chemicals in now-defunct shoes take hundreds of thousands of years to degrade in landfill sites.
Not only are synthetic materials terrible for the environment, but they’re incredibly dangerous for the people who work with them in order to make the shoes in question. Toxic fumes and non-regulated conditions are a dangerous combination.
What Constitutes Ethical Materials?
There’s a lot more that goes into making a shoe ‘ethical’ than simply not using certain products. We know how damaging plastic is for the oceans, in particular, so you may feel that buying a shoe that doesn’t use plastics would be enough.
However, the material used is only half the issue; the other issue is the manufacturing processes that can also negatively impact the environment, or exploit workers.
Even if you’re impressed by talk of sneakers and running shoes is made of such material as tree pulp, pineapple fibers, and castor bean oil (and these are all great sustainable materials), you should still also be mindful of the treatment of the farmers and producers of these materials that make ethical footwear possible.
Waterproof Sneakers Need Water!
You may be amazed to know, for example, that making shoes takes thousands of liters of water. Materials are dyed, bleached, and washed. Leather has to be tanned. Even if there is plenty of water at a factory’s disposal, it is the disposal of wastewater that can cause a huge environmental impact.
Whole villages and towns can be forced to drink factory water run-off in poorer countries where shoe production chemicals have tainted the supply. This would be considered highly unethical of course, so look for companies who recycle their own water and who work to keep workers’ families supplied with clean, freshwater.
How are the Shoes Boxed?
Finally, the packaging that your shoe comes in must also be considered ethical, otherwise, there’s no point in paying so much for ethical shoes! Recycled cardboard, paper, and plant fibers are all sustainable packaging we’d like to see more of, not just when buying shoes.
Try and find shoes that are also machine washable. Having to buy a new pair every time the old pair gets too dirty to wear will also defeat the object of being an ethical shoe.
Animal Byproducts Still Used in Manufacturing
If you’re buying a leather shoe, then of course you know it’s not vegan. But you may be amazed to hear about other animal products that are used in the construction of shoes. Wool and sheepskin are commonly used to line the inside, but the glue that holds many shoe parts together is derived from cows, horses, and other animals.
Of course, not all ethical running shoes are vegan. Some customers are happy to buy wool or fur-trimmed shoes rather than those that use plastic or synthetic rubber. There’s no one perfect way to be ‘ethical’ in your shoe choice. What’s important is making the choices that suit you and the environment you care about.
Ethical Running Shoes that We Recommend
So, let’s get to it. After all, you’re here for the shoes! We’ve selected some of our favorites in the following list, but this is by no means exhaustive. Runners have very specific needs and what suits one won’t suit another, so it’s important to do your own research.
However, special mention must go out to these amazing, ethical shoes:
Crafted without a single animal product, Vivobarefoot FG is leading the way in vegan running shoes. They’re made with sustainable rubber and recycled plastics and are surprisingly sturdy, considering they’re branded ‘barefoot’ because they really are so light it feels as though you’re not wearing a shoe at all.
Some runners will be put off by the thinner sole so they’re not great for rockier terrain, but for grass, track, and road, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better vegan shoe.
Merrell pride itself on being a shoe manufacturer that not only creates ethical footwear but ethical footwear that lasts.
A huge reason that manufacturers use synthetic materials in their shoes is that they tend to last longer. This makes sense because they take so long to decompose in landfills, too.
More planet-friendly resources just don’t seem to have the durability, but this is where Merrell is a little different because their shoes are really built to last, even when you give them workout after workout.
A large reason for this is that they do contain leather, so obviously they wouldn’t be on the list of any vegan wearers, but that doesn’t mean they’re not considered an ethical shoe. For example, in creating a shoe from 70% recycled synthetic materials, they’re putting old materials to good use instead of letting them decompose.
They’re also very comfortable, and are renowned for their supportive structure, so they support your foot as well as the environment!
We’ve loved Icebug for years now, because of their dedication to combatting climate change, one step at a time.
This Swedish company adores the great outdoors, so much so that not only are they creating shoes that have extra traction for those more difficult trails, but they’re also at the same time working toward conservation and climate positivity.
They keep their emissions to a minimum, but they also go one step further, by compensating for the emissions that they do make. They support many different sustainable development projects with these donations, including clean energy and anti-poverty projects all over the world.
In short, they’re a great brand that not only makes incredibly high-quality running shoes but does them in a way that makes you feel good when wearing them in more ways than one.
Now there are running shoe companies who do a little bit here and there to maybe look good and appeal to the climate-conscious among us, and then there are companies who truly make it their mission to be as responsible as possible. Giesswein is such a brand.
The Austrian, family-run business is again not vegan, but they insist they’re cruelty-free in their production of their wonder-fiber, made from Merino wool. Merino sheep supply wool that’s said to be softer than cashmere and smoother than silk, but it has other properties that make it excellent for running shoes.
Giesswein’s woolen sneakers help your feet breathe while regulating your foot temperature and are so light that they can even be worn without socks. They don’t harbor sweat, so there’s no risk of them getting a little whiffy after having been worn a few times. This wonder-wool is even antibacterial.
If all this weren’t enough, then it’s even more impressive to hear that Giesswein has zero waste in production and even recycles 90% of the water used in creating their shoes.
These are just a handful of some of the great shoes available on the market today, that cater to those of us who are looking for more ethical running shoes.
Special mention must also go to such companies as Allbirds, VEJA, and Hylo Athletics. Even more famous companies like Reebok are beginning to do their part in the creation of ethical shoes.
Whether you’re vegan, or simply looking to use your shoe choice to make less of a carbon footprint, there are certainly plenty of ethical running shoes on the market, and future generations will thank you for your choice!
|Coach Scott's Credentials:
To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.
Connect with me: