We all love that feeling of putting on a pair of fresh new trainers for the first time, but have you ever considered the environmental impact of your favourite sneakers? From materials to manufacturing, many have hidden costs. But is it possible to find shoes that don’t (literally) cost the Earth?

What makes sneakers unsustainable?

Unfortunately, most sneakers have a high carbon footprint as they typically have many parts which involve injection molding, foaming, heating, cutting and sewing.

Although there isn’t a lot of research out there on the environmental impact of fashion, one study found manufacturing a single pair
of running shoes emits 13kg of carbon dioxide.

Most of the world’s sneakers come from China’s factories, which still rely mainly on fossil fuels. In 2016, China alone represented nearly 80% of the global footwear manufacturing market.

Which brands out there are trying to change things and shake up the system?

Sustainable and vegan footwear has had a bit of rep for being a bit, well, rubbish (pun intended) in the past. But the movement has come a long way since then, with some of the big boys getting involved, too. Here are some of the top sustainable sneaker brands making us want to think with our feet:

Veja

Veja is the ‘eco-it’ shoe brand of the moment after the Duchess of Sussex was spotted wearing a pair. By combining a winning formula of simple yet stylish designs, millennial marketing and a sustainable focus, the brand has tapped into today’s modern consumer. The plain white V-10 Low Top with coloured Vs are the next modern classics on every savvy sneakerhead’s wishlist.

Veja’s retro-influenced white vegan-leather Campo trainers blend the sleek silhouettes of its original models to form a smart-yet-sporty shoe. The side logo appliqué is made from wild-sourced Amazonian rainforest rubber.

veja-store.com

Adidas

Adidas got on board in 2017, collaborating with environmental initiative Parley for the Oceans. It re-released its EQT sneaker using upcycled plastic waste collected from Maldives’ beaches.

adidas.co.uk

Rombaut

Italian brand Rombaut’s core mission is to protect the Earth’s bio-diversity. All materials and fabrics that the brand uses are sustainably engineered from plant-based materials, using the likes of stone, tree bark, natural rubber, cotton cellulose and coconut fibre.

rombaut.com

Nike

Earlier this year, Nike announced the Plant Color Collection as its Summer 2019 capsule collection. It’s inspired by alternative ways to make colour using plant-based dyes. The Air Max 95 and Blazer Low were the first recipients to undergo this eco-makeover.

nike.com

Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney has been at the forefront of ethical and sustainable fashion for a long time, way before it hit the masses. Her Loop sneakers are stitched together without glue for an innovative shoe that can be completely dismantled and recycled.

stellamccartney.com

Reebok

The Cotton + Corn is an initiative Reebok has been working on with partners like Dupont Tate & Lyle for several years. These sneakers are made from a 100% cotton upper and a bio-based corn sole. According to Reebok, the NPC UK Cotton + Corn is the first ever 75% USDA-certified bio-based shoe, so you can feel good about what you’re wearing.

reebok.co.uk

OK, asides from only buying sustainable sneakers, how else can I make a difference?

Hang onto your sneakers for as long as you can

Try investing in more ‘classic’ looks, rather than just the latest ‘fads’, as these are the pairs that will really stand the test of time. Taking better care of your shoes in the first place, by gently washing them and polishing them until they are no longer wearable, will also help.

Have some good quality sneakers you’re not wearing?

Take them to your nearest charity shop or donate to a shoe recycling charity.

Have some really worn sneakers? 

Nike recycles any sneakers with their Reuse-A-Shoe programme. It turns them into ‘Nike Grind’, which is used to premium sports surfaces including running tracks, courts, turf fields, gym floors, and playgrounds.

Check the source

Sustainable brands are not just about environmentally friendly materials. They should also be transparent about the people who contribute to their supply chains. The most sustainable brands are B Corp certified. This is a certification awarded to companies that meet certain standards of social and environmental purpose. Check brand websites for more details.

Look for alternative materials

Leather alternatives: Look for chrome-free leather, vegetable tanned leather or alternatives like Piñatex (made from pineapple leaves), recycled PET or textiles including hemp, organic cotton or wool.
Rubber alternatives: Look for natural or wild rubber. Both of these are cultivated to prevent deforestation. 

For more info, see thesolesupplier.co.uk