A Guide To Sustainable Sneakers

Have you ever wondered where to get sustainable sneakers from? Me too. This guide comes about as I find myself with holes in my current pair of running shoes, and my everyday sneakers too! Where can I find some new shoes to replace my old sneakers, that are equally good for people, planet, and my feet?

For more than 10 years, I’ve always kept two pairs of sneakers in my wardrobe: a pair of style-focused, comfortable pop-to-the-shop shoes, and a pair of supportive exercise shoes. Shoes, after all, are one of the best examples of clothing that combines form and function – they look nice and they protect our feet from harsh terrain and the cold.

In my guide to ethical shoes, I also highlighted how the intricacy of shoemaking makes it far harder to make shoes sustainable. A simple t-shirt may have just two pieces of fabric, whereas a pair of shoes has soles, insoles, outers, fastenings, and more. That said, I’ve been seeing more and more footwear brands touting sustainable sneaker collections, and as it’s time for some replacements, I wanted to do some digging!

Buy Less Sneakers, Buy Circular Sneakers

To frame this guide, I want to start by highlighting just how big the footwear industry is. Tansy Hoskins explores this in her book Foot Work*: “Every single day in 2018, 66.3 million pairs of shoes were manufactured across the world. That adds up to a total of 24.4 billion pairs.”

24.4 billion pairs of shoes is A LOT. The world’s population in 2018 was 7.6 billion. That means we made 3.2 pairs of brand new shoes per person alive on Earth that year. And according to a new Dispatches documentary, the average Brit has 7 pairs in the wardrobe. It has to slow down.

To tackle overproduction, I usually advocate second-hand shopping and encourage circular solutions. However, with shoes, and especially running shoes, this isn’t always the best answer. Shoes can be fine if lightly worn, or new with tags, but from experience, shoes need to be supportive and heavily-worn shoes often lose that sturdiness. To guarantee real wearability, I’m only covering new shoes in this guide, but I will be looking for shoes that can be remade or recycled, which helps with circularity.

What Makes Sneakers Sustainable?

For this guide, I looked at sneakers that are already being touted as sustainable, to see what holds up, and what proves to be greenwashing. However, sustainable isn’t a protected term, and can mean different things to different people. To me, sustainable sneakers should encompass:

  1. Social sustainability: providing clear, accessible knowledge of who makes the brand’s products, and how they treat their people ethically, with safe working conditions and fair pay.
  2. Environmental sustainability: transparently listing out the natural and regenerated materials they use, as well as practices to lower their impact (e.g. reducing energy and water use, avoiding harmful chemicals).
  3. Slow production: dropping four or less collections per year, or at the very least, making an attempt to reduce the amount of clothing they produce.
  4. Circular practices: designing products that are long-lasting, resellable, and recyclable, as well as inviting customers to return products, which go back into production within the brand, as opposed to charity donations, or worse – landfill.

On top of my four principles, I’ve looked into each brands’ websites, Codes of Conduct, and ratings by Ethical Consumer, Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index, and Good On You.

17 Sustainable Sneakers, Compared

Have a read through all the reviews below, or jump to a brand linked here:

1. Adidas Parley Sneakers

Close-up of Adidas Parley Sneakers

Price: £50 – £220

The Adidas Parley Collection is one of the longest-standing so-called sustainable sneaker collections I’m aware of. Parley is a global collaboration network tasked with taking action to protect the world’s oceans. Their successful collaboration with Adidas started over five years ago, and has led to numerous new product lines, as well as Adidas committing to phasing out single-use plastics and microbeads. Great work, but this only really tackles one area: materials.

Live on the Adidas Parley section of their website is no less than 394 products, 63 of which are sneakers. This seems a little much, considering reducing production can also help our planet greatly.

In terms of people, Adidas Group’s Employment Standards Guidelines reflect the bare minimum ILO regulations. In short, they employ garment workers aged 15 and up, which in my eyes, is unethical. On top of this, Adidas is tied to factories that have denied legally-owed severance pay to garment workers during the pandemic according to The Worker Rights Consortium.

At the same time, I have to admit to purchasing a pair of their Duramo Shoes over a year ago for light running. These shoes come in at just under £50, and for all intents and purposes, have been a trusty pair to exercise in. They fit comfortably, feel supportive, and are breathable. Yet, even the sustainable material aspect is a bit of a let down – only the upper fabric is made from a “recycled material containing at least 50% Parley Ocean Plastic”.

Finally, when it comes to circularity, it appears Adidas is tip-toeing their way around this area. In 2019, Adidas touted its new Infinite Play service, a buy-back scheme for its own products, but this seems to have now disappeared. Then, in October 2020, they announced their Made To Be Remade shoe, with 1,500 pairs being sent out to Creators Club members to trial, but nothing further since then. In 2022, Channel 4 Dispatches also reported that the ‘Ocean Plastic‘ that Adidas Parley was using in their sneakers came from plastic bottles and other waste that ‘may have ended up in the ocean’. It’s not salvaged plastic, it’s actually coming from beach-side resorts (some of whom are owned by plastic-bottle manufacturers…)

Overall, while Adidas appears to be making great strides, I personally wouldn’t call the brand sustainable.

My Overall Rating: 2/10

Ethical Consumer Rating: 6/20
Transparency Index: 69/100
Good On You Rating: 4/5

2. Allbirds Sustainable Sneakers

Screenshot of Allbirds Sneakers

Price: £95 – £145

Next up: Allbirds*. This brand appears to have taken the US sneaker market by storm over the last few years, and is now available in the UK! They come to us with two major claims: sustainability and comfort. Sounds good!

Their collection of everyday sneakers and running shoes is nice and small – around 5 styles for each. The designs are simple and effective, with natural, regenerative materials throughout: from castor bean oil and wool insoles to 100% recycled polyester laces! It is worth noting that they do use wool, so their designs aren’t vegan.

In terms of sustainability, they scrub up well. Allbirds is transparent about where they manufacture their shoes, and their Code of Conduct and auditing processes are easy to view. They also highlight the commitments they’re making to go beyond carbon neutrality by 2025, as well as invest in regenerative agriculture and materials. And finally, they have been certified as a B Corp, which is the gold standard in my opinion.

Sadly, they employ garment workers aged 15 and up, which is a deal breaker for me, and there’s no sign of a recycling or take-back scheme either. Aside from that, they seem to be leading the pack as an indie sneaker brand!

My Overall Rating: 6/10

Ethical Consumer Rating: 11.5/20

3. ASICS Earth Day & Sunrise Reborn Sneaker Collection

Asics Earth Day Collection

Price: £75 – £225

Asics creates specialist running shoes and sports sneakers, and they’ve always been one of those brands that I aspire to wear but also feel overwhelmed by their technicality.

In terms of sustainable sneakers, Asics bounded into 2021 with not one but two new collections. First, it introduced two sustainable variations of their running shoes, known as the Sunrise Reborn collection. This collection comprised their Metaride road running shoe and Gel-Quantum 360 TYO hybrid sneaker, both made from a percentage of recycled clothing and dyed a sunrise red using a technique called solution dyeing, which vastly reduces water use.

Then for Earth Day, they launched a series of (ugly) beige trainers, and encouraged customers to Shop Sustainable, despite each shoe being caveated with the line “The percentage of recycled textiles used for each product varies.” Personally, for Earth Day, I would have preferred to see a reduction in their 384 shoe styles, rather than the addition of 10 more.

In terms of their supply chain, Asics reports to work with 150 suppliers in 22 countries, and after some digging, I can confirm the minimum age of their workers is 15, (as stated in their Policy of Engagement) and their standards are pretty low.

As a brand, Asics appears to have a light-touch approach to its “lighter footprint” commitment. It talks of reducing CO2 emissions, using recycled materials, and employing renewable energy, which makes for a great start, but pales in comparison to some of the other brands in this guide. There is no circularity in sight.

My Overall Rating: 1/10

Ethical Consumer Rating: 8.5/20 (Vegan)
Transparency Index: 46/100
Good On You Rating: 2/5

4. Black Tulip

Black Tulip Sneakers Review

Price: £120 – £150

Black Tulip is a boutique shoemaker and sneaker brand creating a range of shoes with timeless style and high quality materials. I’ve been wearing the Cassava Classic Tennis Trainers in Vintage Off-White (gifted) for a few weeks now and would compare them to Veja, as they’re bouncy, comfortable, and come with a quite literal stylish twist in the form of the Corylus twist detail.

The Black Tulip brand is quite distinctive and builds in added flair where many other sneaker brands don’t. All of their leather is Leather Working Group certified. I would like to see more about their supply chains on their site. For something a little different, I’d recommend checking out their range.

My Overall Rating: 6/10

5. Cariuma Sneakers

Close-up of Cariuma Sneakers

Price: £79 – £129

Cariuma pitches itself as “comfortable sustainable shoes and skate sneakers”, so it makes sense that my environmentally-conscious boyfriend has a pair of Cariuma Oca Low Sneakers (gifted) in his wardrobe already. Cariuma’s collection is like if Vans and Po-Zu had a baby: mid-range sneakers with a hint of streetwear and a dash of eco-friendliness.

When it comes to their supply chain, Cariuma’s Code of Conduct is easy to find, albeit being a hazy photocopy. Their minimum worker age is 16, which is what I like to see, with it being the minimum working age here in the UK. Their main manufacturing partner is also certified WRAP Gold, demonstrating full compliance to WRAP’s 12 Principles.

Cariuma’s big focus is better design, and better materials. They use bamboo, rubber, recycled plastics, canvas and more in their sneakers, and these come in recycled and recyclable packaging. On the production line, they recycle waste rubber and are developing a similar process for waste cotton canvas.

It would be great to see some kind of recycling or take-back scheme come about from Cariuma next, but overall, I think they’re doing well!

My Overall Rating: 5/10

Good On You Rating: 4/5

6. Clarks Origin

Clarks Origin in White Suede and Black Suede

Price: £99 – £120

Clarks is one of those shoe brands that I remember from my childhood and shudder. The ticketed queues. The bizarre measuring boards. The thick, chunky-soled school shoes. Ew, ew, ew.

At the same time, Clarks is a huge footwear manufacturer, with a long legacy in the UK, and now foreign manufacturing. And earlier this year I received a press release for their new ‘sustainable sneakers’, called Origin.

In truth, I was a bit surprised, and then kind of underwhelmed. Their design is exactly what you’d expect: part chunky sole, part moccasin, it’s not something I would choose to wear for everyday use, nor for exercise. However, the innovative twist is that Clarks has reduced the number of pieces it takes to make a sneaker (just five) and gotten rid of the need for glue. Shoe glue is not only stinky, but it’s also an occupational health risk, and can inhibit end-of-life recycling too, so this is a great step.

At the same time, I look at these shoes and think they should have remained conceptual. Their eco-friendliness is undermined by the use of suede. Their design leaves a lot to be desired. And their key benefits are only really benefits to fashion nerds – as a regular shopper, why would I care that this shoe is glueless and made from five pieces?

Clarks as a brand is working to be more transparent about their supply chain, which is great to see, but still has has a way to go before being called sustainable. Their main focus appears to be products ‘Made To Last’, as opposed to circularity or social sustainability. And despite their extensive Supplier Working Conditions document, the minimum age of workers is still 15.

My Overall Rating: 3/10

Transparency Index: 40/100
Good On You Rating: 2/5

7. Ecoalf Sneakers

Packshot of Ecoalf Sandford Sneakers

Price: £90 – £140

Ecoalf is a Spanish sustainable fashion brand akin to Finisterre or RAEBURN. Their designs are often minimal, beautiful, and practical, so I was intrigued when I saw they made sneakers of their own.

Here I chose a pair of sneakers at random to look at – the Sandford Sneakers – and I’m overall quite happy with the composition. The main fabric is 100% recycled nylon, the lining is 97% recycled polyester with 3% polyester, and the soles a 100% rubber, so there’s regenerated materials and the potential for future recycling built in. However, the secondary fabric is 100% PU, which I don’t regard as sustainable, and I’ve previously called out Matt & Nat for using PU in their shoes.

On a further look around their site, I’m surprised to find very little information about the people in their supply chains. One paragraph summarises the values, standards, and audits they hold with their factory partners, but there’s no way to access the ‘Ecoalf Sustainable Commitment’, view a supplier map, or find out much else.

Edit: I received Ecoalf’s Sustainability Commitment dated February 2021 after emailing the team. While a lot of it is boilerplate text, within this, they prohibit workers under the age of 16, and have specific protections for those aged between 16-18. Kudos.

My Overall Rating: 6/10

Transparency Index: 46/100
Good On You Rating: 4/5

8. Good News London Sneakers

Close-up of Good News Sneakers

Price: £80 – £130

Good News sprung onto my radar last year, and their chunky soled sneakers and “Conscious Shoes” tagline has made them a prime feature here.

Good News kindly gifted me a pair high-tops last year, and they’ve become a replacement to my everyday Vejas (although they’re not quite as comfortable). They’re made from wholly sustainable materials: 20% recycled rubber and 80% natural rubber soles, organic cotton upper and laces, footbeds made from recycled gym mats and castor bean oil, eco glue, and even recycled metal eyelets.

However, on the flip-side, there is next to no information about who makes Good News’ sneakers. Good On You says “Its labour rating is ‘very poor’. It does not publish sufficient relevant information about its labour policies to give a higher rating. As a shopper you have the right to know how its products impact on its workers.”

To add salt to the wound, Good News just launched a collab with H&M. Shudder.

My Overall Rating: 5/10

Good On You Rating: 3/5

9. Hylo Athletics Sneakers

Close-up of Hylo Sneakers

Price: £100

Hylo Atheltics is a sustainable sneakers brand I’ve been quite excited about. Their designs consider sustainable materials, circularity, and impact, while also innovating new solutions like their corn spring soles, algae bloom insoles, and corn fibre uppers.

Hylo gifted me a pair of their Womens Runners in White for this review. Aesthetically, the netting, minimal logo, and bright white soles feel very ‘L.A. running chic’, which makes a nice change compared to some of the clunkier, colourful running shoes I’ve had in my time.

As a running shoe, these sneakers are light and bouncy. When I first tried them on I was actually worried that there wasn’t enough support in the ankle area – it felt surprisingly naked compared to my usual running shoes. However, this wasn’t an issue at all as soon as I got to running. The shoes are incredibly light, and made me feel secure and steady on the pavement I usually run along.

However, there’s something to be desired in the fit. No matter what I do, I get blisters from wearing these sneakers. I’ve waited weeks for my feet to heal before trying again, wearing different socks, applying plasters beforehand, etc.

One area Hylo does need to work on is supplier transparency. They say they work with one factory partner, ‘SEMS in Putian’, but nothing more.

Finally, when it comes to circularity, Hylo provides a take-back scheme – so when I’ve worn these out, I can send them back and they’ll give me £10 credit. Nice.

My Overall Rating: 6/10

Good On You Rating: 3/5

10. Nike Cosmic Unity Sneakers

Packshot of Nike Cosmic Unity Sneakers

Price: £130

In February of this year, Nike announced a new line of sustainable basketball sneakers, dubbed the Cosmic Unity capsule. It combines a few different forays that Nike has made into sustainable sneaker materials, and while it’s not my aesthetic at all, the design does hold up against Nike’s regular offerings.

Unfortunately though, it seems that design and sustainable materials is the only real focus here. While Nike’s glossy Code of Conduct highlights that they employ garment workers aged 16 and up, which is good, their track record with how they treat garment workers isn’t so good. Recent issues include Nike denying payments for orders at the start of the pandemic, which may have caused knock-on effects like Nike supplier Victory Ching Luh making wage cuts during the pandemic, and factory partner Violet Apparel shutting down due to the lack of orders and leaving workers penniless during the pandemic.

Finally, Good On You highlights that Nike has a general statement about minimising animal suffering but not a formal animal welfare policy.

My Overall Rating: 2/10

Ethical Consumer Rating: 5/20
Transparency Index: 55/100
Good On You Rating: 3/5

11. Po-Zu Sustainable Sneakers

Po-Zu Butterfly Sneakers

Price: £60 – £115

In the past, Po-Zu has shown that they work hard to use better materials, create better processes, and provide better working conditions. At the same time, their designs are basic and don’t quite compare against mainstream styles.

A few years ago I swapped out my old pair of white Converse for Po-Zu’s Butterfly Sneakers. Made with fairtrade rubber soles, natural latex foam and coconut fibre inners, and organic cotton uppers, they were equally as comfortable and quickly became my everyday sneakers.

Looking at Po-Zu again now, it’s nice to see the same selection of styles, but a little unsettling to find their Supplier Code of Practice still permits workers aged 15 and up. I know this is the industry standard, but it really doesn’t feel ethical.

Po-Zu is also lacking when to comes to circular practices – there’s no take-back scheme or focus on shoe recycling anywhere.

UPDATE 03/05/22: Po-Zu has recently been taken over by new management. Since then, I have had issues in contacting and working with the brand since this time. I do not recommend them going forwards.

My Overall Rating: 6/10

Ethical Consumer Rating: 15/20

12. Reebok REEGROW Trainers

Reebok REEGROW Trainers

Price: £70 – £100

Story time: Reebok approached me to promote their new collection of REEGROW Trainers earlier this year. Made from plant-based materials, in a classic style, I was all in. Until I discovered that they employ garment workers aged 15 and up. It may be legal, it may be the industry standard, but as someone advocating for sustainable fashion, I don’t see it as sustainable.

In terms of the materials and design, I still stand by these. They avoid leather across their Club C Grow Shoes, which is great. They use innovative materials, like algae bloom, to reduce their carbon impact. And they look cool as hell.

Reebok is owned by Adidas Group, so in terms of labour, my comments here are the same as above: Adidas Group’s Employment Standards Guidelines reflect the bare minimum ILO regulations. Adidas is linked to factories that have denied legally-owed severance pay to garment workers during the pandemic.

And to dock another point from Reebok: they don’t seem to have any plans around circularity yet.

My Overall Rating: 2/10

Ethical Consumer Rating: 6/20
Transparency Index: 69/100
Good On You Rating: 3/5

13. Rens Original Sneakers

Rens Original Sneakers

Price: £99

Rens is a new brand to me, and one that I’m still a bit confused by. Their so-called sustainable sneakers look like ankle-high moonboots, and I can’t tell if they’re trying to be cool, or they’re trying to be Crocs.

In theory, they sound good. Waterproof, comfortable sneakers, made from coffee grounds. I’m a little cynical about the overall message – they’re keeping biodegradable coffee grounds out of landfill by fusing them with recycled plastic? What happens when the sneakers are worn out? Isn’t that worse waste?

I also want to test them out – how can they be waterproof and breathable?

There’s not a drop of information about who makes Rens shoes either. Honestly, it feels like they’re answering a problem with an even bigger problem.

My Overall Rating: 2/10

14. SAYE Sneakers

SAYE Vegan Sneakers

Price: £130 – £160

SAYE is another sneaker brand that’s new to me, but it feels very familiar (Veja, anyone?) Their designs take classic sneaker styles and infuse them with sustainable messaging, but does it hold up?

While SAYE appears to use leather as standard, I choose to look at their Modelo ’89 Vegan Colores collection, as this would be the style I would buy (I don’t buy first-hand leather). From the material composition, everything is a mix of plastic-based materials: PET, PU, polyester, thermoplastics, synthetic rubber… and even if some of these are recycled, these blends make them non-recyclable going forwards. Only the laces come out unscathed, being 100% organic cotton.

On the supply chain side, SAYE says they “fight for fair work conditions, producing only in certified factories.” The start of that sentence is good, but certification can mean anything (and can often be overly relied on as ethical credentials). However, when you look at their Transparency page, they highlight how they only manufacture their shoes in Portugal, which is good because it’s local, making it easier to audit, and reducing freighting. It also means that workers would be aged 16 and up, if they follow Portuguese laws. They also highlight certain protections like no overtime and the provision of 22 holiday days per year, which is great.

My Overall Rating: 5/10

Good On You Rating: 4/5

15. TOMS Earthwise Shoes

Besma holds up TOMS Earthwise Shoes to camera

Price: £30 – £70

TOMS aren’t necessarily a sustainable sneakers brand, but I wanted to include them here as they make for an alternative option to everyday sneakers.

Last year I worked with TOMS on their Earthwise Collection, and trusted that their B Corp status meant that they were working hard to support people and planet within their operations. So I was surprised to find Good On You don’t rate them well for this at all: “TOMS’ environment rating is ‘very poor’. It does not publish sufficient relevant information about its environmental policies to give a higher rating.”

It also doesn’t do well for labour ratings: “There is no evidence it has worker empowerment initiatives such as collective bargaining or rights to make a complaint. It sources its final stage of production from countries with extreme risk of labour abuse.” On closer inspection, their Supplier Code has a minimum age of 15 for garment workers, and minimum standards.

When looking at their site, it’s clear they make way too many styles of shoe to be called slow fashion. There’s no take-back or recycling scheme. And they also stopped their 1-For-1 initiative, now giving 1/3 of profits to grassroots organisations, which seems a little vague.

I agree with Good On You here – they make talk about transparency, but there’s a lot more we need to know first. I wouldn’t call them sustainable, yet. And I wouldn’t work with them again until they improved.

My Overall Rating: 3/10

Good On You Rating: 2/5

16. Veja Sneakers

Close-up of Veja Sneakers

Price: £80 – £225

Veja is the sneaker brand I probably love the most. I’ve worn my limited edition cornstarch Campo sneakers almost daily since purchasing them two years ago, and they’re still comfy, waterproof, and aesthetically pleasing.

Veja come across as a stylish sneakers brand first, and a sustainable sneakers brand second. The style of their shoes is both classic and contemporary. They’re a B Corp, but they don’t flaunt it.

When visiting their site, I’m struck by the number of styles they offer – over 170. Veja is not a slow fashion brand.

For this review, I looked at the today equivalent of my sneakers, the URCA CWL White Natural. This is a vegan sneaker, although Veja predominantly uses leather in its sneakers. For the uppers in these vegan shoes, they use ‘CWL’, or Cotton Worked as Leather, which is a vegan material composed of organic cotton canvas, coated with P.U., corn starch and castor bean oil. They also use ‘vegan suede’, which no real explanation as to what this is, but my assumption is a plastic-based textile. Just like SAYE, the rest of the shoe’s pieces are made from blends of natural and plastic-based materials, which is good in practice, but prevents end-of-life recycling.

Veja manufactures their shoes in Brazil, which unlike SAYE, is a little further afield, with less labour protections. That said, their Transparency page outlines why they choose to locate all of their production in the country, and how they pay more than 3x the amount it would cost to produce the same shoes in China, to ensure better farming and labour practices. In their beautifully designed Code of Conduct (now removed), they back this up with additional protections like a minimum worker age of 16. Good work.

It would be nice to see Veja re-work its designs to better fit recycling, and offer some kind of repair or recycle scheme, but they do hold up when it comes to their social sustainability credentials.

My Overall Rating: 6/10

Ethical Consumer Rating: 13/20
Good On You Rating: 4/5

17. Vivo Barefoot Sneakers

Vivo Barefood Geo Court II

Price: £95 – £190

Vivo Barefoot is the brand that gets recommended to me time and time again when I talk about sustainable shoes. They are a B-Corp, and they come across as hardline environmentalists. They want to “liberate feet” and they make shoes that bring you closer to the Earth (quite literally). Their latest video ad is dubbed Shoespiracy. Personally, I find their hardline tone of voice off-putting, but I am intrigued as to how they hold up against the rest of the brands in this guide.

To start, I chose to look at the Geo Court II in Limestone, a white court-style sneaker. Oddly, it doesn’t tell me what it’s made from, other than ‘naturally scarred leather from free-roaming cattle sourced from small scale farmers‘, which I don’t really rate as sustainable. What about the soles? The inners? The laces? I had to start a live web chat to find out. The sole is rubber, the laces are cotton, the inners are leather, they do use glue, and no, they don’t want to give out that information unless you specifically ask about each element, one by one. Not very transparent, and it flies in the face of their “Ethical Marketing Policy“.

(Later on I actually found a vegan alternative – the Primus Lite III – but that had no material information at all, and I didn’t fancy going through the web chat again just to find out.)

In terms of social sustainability, I can’t find ANYTHING about the people that make their shoes. Individual shoe styles will sometimes say where they’re made – Ethiopia, Vietnam – and sometimes not. Their Code of Conduct outlines a minimum age of 15 for garment workers, and despite having Best Practice Policy, it’s not as hard-lined as their overall messaging. I spy definite room for improvement.

The one area that Vivo Barefoot deserves a gold medal for is its circular practices. Their mission is to make regenerative footwear, and to complement this, they run Revivo, a platform where Vivo customers can return their old shoes, which go on to be repaired and reconditioned before being resold. I wish everywhere would do this! For that alone, they deserve their place in this guide.

My Overall Rating: 5/10

Ethical Consumer Rating: 10.5/20
Good On You Rating: 3/5

So, Is There Any Such Thing As Sustainable Sneakers?

Looking at all of the sneakers ranked here, I find myself leaning towards the independent sneaker brands as better options when it comes to top-down sustainability. Allbirds, Hylo, Po-Zu, and Veja were ranked the highest, but even then, only get a B grade with 6/10 each.

At the same time, there seems to be a lack of expertise and innovation at these smaller businesses, which makes it hard to compete with the bigger brands, and reduces the comfort, style, and longevity of their products.

It would also be nice to see some knowledge-sharing across the sector, as certain brands have specialisms that others could really benefit from (for example, Vivo Barefoot sharing its Revivo circular business model).

Overall, I have to say that I don’t think there is a truly sustainable sneaker out there yet. However, there are some good attempts, and some will allow you to tread more lightly on this Earth than others.

Update 11.06.21: I’m delighted to discover that Allbirds and Adidas have been working together on a US-only collection called Futurecraft! Hoping this comes to our shores soon. I’m also currently looking into ways to recycle old sneakers, which I’ll be sure to share when I know more.

What To Do With Your Old Sneakers…

Finally, if you’re replacing worn-out sneakers, you may be wondering how to sustainably recycle or throw away your old pair. According to Channel 4’s Dispatches, 90% of the 300,000 pairs of trainers thrown away in the UK each year go to landfill. And despite all this new tech, most of those soles can take up to 1000 years to degrade. So, can you have them recycled? The most likely answer is: no. Sadly, sneaker recycling is still in its infancy, and despite brands like Nike promoting take-back schemes in the UK, they do not offer this service to customers in any of their stores.

Right now, my best advice would be to repair, resell, or donate your sneakers if wearable, and if not, place in a textile recycling bin. Your shoes will still likely go to landfill, so alongside throwing them out, be sure to ask the brand you purchased them from when they will provide a take-back scheme.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links (denoted '*') and gifted items (denoted 'gifted'). I receive discounted press access to Ethical Consumer's online ratings. All views and opinions expressed remain my own. Photography by Lauren Shipley.


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