On a sliding scale of how enjoyable certain purchases are, utility bills would be right down at the bottom end and sneakers would be at the top. There’s just something about a good bit of footwear that really gets those consumer juices flowing, and no matter how many pairs we have, we’re always left wanting more.
Unfortunately, there’s a rather big problem with that, and we’re not just talking about the resulting instability of your bank balance.
Regardless of actual shoe size, your footwear has the biggest carbon footprint of anything you wear. The shoe industry is estimated to be responsible for approximately 1.4% of greenhouse-gas emissions, which is a staggering statistic when you think about it. The manufacturing process of traditional footwear causes all sorts of environmental issues, releasing toxins and chemicals into the atmosphere and oceans while creating huge amounts of waste that can’t be disposed of.
The solution, first and foremost, is to buy less. So, should we all start walking around barefoot to save the planet? Well, although that might be the best thing from a sustainability standpoint, it’s not exactly practical in real life. The next best thing you can do is buy from sustainable sneaker brands instead, and these are the best ones around.
Why Buy Sustainable Sneakers?
An estimated 20 billion pairs of shoes are produced every single year. That much of anything tends to spell bad news when it comes to the environment, particularly when it’s made using materials that can contaminate soil and water when the product inevitably winds up in landfill.
Disposal is just the tip of the iceberg. The biggest environmental impact of footwear is in the manufacturing process. Huge amounts of machinery and harmful chemicals are needed to produce the world’s footwear, and most of the industry relies on fossil fuels like coal as a means to power these machines. The production of a single shoe creates roughly 30 lbs of carbon dioxide, so it’s not hard to see the problem when you consider the numbers being churned out on an annual basis.
Sustainable footwear brands aim to reduce their impact on the environment through tweaks to their production methods and the use of recycled and natural materials. It’s not a silver-bullet solution to the problem, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.
What Are Sustainable Sneakers?
So, what makes a sneaker ‘sustainable’? For the most part, it come down to materials. Conventional sneakers typically use a mix of leather, rubber and synthetic fibres, all of which pose their own unique set of environmental problems. Take leather, for example: arguments could be made about its durability and longevity, but that’s outweighed by the pollution caused by the tanning process, and the farming of the cattle.
Sustainable sneaker brands address these issues by using materials from renewable sources. Some are made from repurposed man-made materials, while others are made from natural fibres. Many sustainable sneaker brands also make their footwear vegan, which means they don’t have to use leather in their uppers.
Many new-age sneaker brands also adjust the way in which they ship and package their products. This could be as simple as using paper packaging instead of plastic, or as big as relying entirely on ocean-based logistics, which, while still harmful, is less detrimental to the environment than transporting goods by air.
The Best Sustainable Sneaker Brands
These are the most sustainable sneaker brands on the market today, none of which sacrifice aesthetics. So you can do good while looking good.
Making simple, understated sneakers and shoes, LA-born Clae has always believed that less is more. The brand is constantly pushing to make its range more ethically sound and environmentally friendly, and today a whole third of the range is made without any components of animal origin.
Clae even produced the very first sneaker using cactus, developed in collaboration with Mexican company Desserto, which is another step towards combatting the polluting effects of the leather industry when it comes to footwear.
French footwear brand Veja is dedicated to producing cruelty-free, eco-friendly sneakers. It has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence since its launch in 2005, and its iconic ‘V’ logo is now a common sight on city streets all around the world.
As arguably the first sustainable footwear brand, Veja paved the way for countless others, and has become famous for making premium footwear using recycled materials, sustainably-sourced leather and organic cotton.
Uniform Standard’s responsibly produced sneakers provide a great alternative to the likes of Common Projects and will suit those who want to reduce their carbon footprint without settling for less when it comes to looks and quality.
The brand works with Italy’s best tanneries to source the leather for its uppers and all other materials are made from recycled fibres. We’re talking outsoles, insoles, dustbags, footbeds… even its plastic-free packaging.
If you’re a fan of the Reebok Club C but enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing your footwear is ethically and sustainably produced then SAYE will be right up your street.
The brand specialises in crafting high-quality kicks which take their design cues from retro court shoes, putting them together in Portugal – a country famous for high-quality clothing and footwear manufacture – using recycled and vegan materials.
Brazilian brand Cariuma is a sustainable footwear brand with skateboarding routes that’ll appeal to eco-conscious skaters (and anyone else for that matter) who find themselves unimpressed by the bigger brands’ environmental efforts.
These skate shoes are simple and timeless, with an obvious board sports influence, and use responsibly-sourced materials including bamboo, organic cotton and sugarcane in place of more harmful alternatives.
LØCI’s understated sneakers are 100% vegan and made using recycled ocean plastics. The brand’s mission is to protect wildlife from the impact of humans, and for every pair of shoes sold LØCI donates 10% of the profits to charities committed to protecting animals.
There are five key styles in the collection, all boasting the same clean design language, with pared-back styling and signature oversized branding to the sides.
We love the idea of sustainable footwear, but with so many brands focussing their efforts on minimalist sneakers, it can all start to feel a bit samey. Enter, Hylo. Instead of everyday lifestyle shoes, it makes sustainable athletic footwear, designed for running, gym days and beyond.
The brand is committed to balancing performance with what’s best for the planet, and does so through its use of recycled materials, high supply chain standards and limiting its use of animal products.