Look at your current pair of running shoes. No doubt they’re made with a lot of plastic and synthetic materials. And do you know where they’re made, and by whom?
When you’re buying new running shoes every year, it pays to know where they come from and how they’re made. I’ve collected a bunch of options for running shoes and gear that’s ethically made, uses sustainable materials, and comes from companies that care about their workers. I’ve also included a couple of ways to recycle your old running shoes when they wear out rather than dumping them in landfill.
Not all of these options are equal, and company practices change often, so double-check before you buy so you know what you’re getting.
Image: Running Shoe Guru
Last time I bought running shoes I just walked into a Nike store and asked for a recommendation. It turns out Nike is making strides towards better business practices recently, so I could have made a worse choice, but I’d still like to know more about my options next time I buy.
Luckily there are a few choices available for ethically made shoes.
Newton Running is the first running shoe company awarded B Corp status‚ an award given to companies that “use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.”
Newton shoes come in a box that’s created from 100 percent recycled materials in the same factory that makes the shoes, further reducing the carbon footprint of shipping new shoes to customers. And the company’s 2014 corporate responsibility report says they recycled 3,750 pairs of shoes that year. They’ve also introduced composting and energy consumption tracking at their headquarters.
Nike’s big focus when it comes to sustainability is to work towards a “closed cycle” manufacturing process that recycles all the materials involved into new products without creating any waste. The company is already working on various programs and technologies in this area, including creating a new process of knitting shoes together that reduces waste, using recycled CO2 in the dyeing process to reduce the water needed, and incorporating old plastic bottles into their polyester clothing.
The company also has programs in place to reduce energy use, improve the way factory workers are treated, stop the use of hazardous chemicals in their supply chain, and improve water efficiency.
Merrell works hard to ensure all extra materials that come with your shoes are having a smaller impact on the planet. They use 100 percent recycled materials for their shoeboxes and packaging. The company also uses renewable energy as much as possible and even their head office composts all leftover food.
I was surprised to read about Under Armour’s efforts towards ethical business practice, considering they’re such a well-known sportswear brand. But it turns out the company has strict rules against supporting child labor and forced labor. They’re also fighting against discrimination and harrassment by enforcing rules on their suppliers to ensure the people making Under Armour shoes and clothes are treated well.
When it comes to the gear itself, Under Armour has a clothing line called UA Green available in the U.S. that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. And to power their efforts, the company buys one kilowatt hour of wind power for every kWh of electricity they use.
REI powers many of their buildings with solar power, and has installed self-dimming lights that turn down during the day to save power. They also audit their suppliers to ensure the feathers they use come from humanely treated animals.
And for the workers making their goods, REI has a Code of Conduct in place for their factories to ensure their people are treated well.
Ethical gear and accessories
When it comes to my running clothes, I don’t make much better choices than I do for shoes. I generally walk into a sports store and choose whatever fits my needs at the time, regardless of who makes it or what it’s made from. In the future I’ll try to choose clothes from these companies.
Of course, most of the companies listed in the shoe section make gear as well, so I’ll be sure to check out their clothing lines too.
65 percent of Alternative Apparel’s gear is made from sustainable fabrics, and they use non-toxic, low-impact and natural dyes.
All of AA’s factories around the world adhere to the Fair Labor Association Workplace Code of Conduct, and the company is a Los Angeles certified Green Business.
Another well-known brand, Adidas has been taking steps in recent years to improve the sustainability of their processes. The company now has a team of people who conduct factory audits and work with factory owners to implement programs that help them meet the Adidas requirements. Adidas also works with the Fair Labor Association to conduct independent audits.
To improve the health and wellbeing of workers in their factories, Adidas is trialling an SMS option for sharing feedback in its Indonesian factory. Making the process more discreet than a public suggestion box, and easier than calling a hotline, is designed to encourage more direct feedback from workers.
Adidas has also joined Nike and Puma in committing to remove all discharges of hazardous chemicals from their supply chain by 2020.
Throwing out those old running shoes
There are two solid options I came across for discarding old running shoes, depending on how worn they are. If you’re a serious runner who upgrades shoes often, you can send your old shoes to a charity like Soles for Souls, Shoes for Planet Earth, or One World Running, who’ll pass them on to someone in need.
If you like to wear your shoes right down, on the other hand, you can take advantage of Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program. They recycle old running shoes to make athletic turfs and playground surfaces.
Image: Nike Reuse a Shoe via Pinks and Greens
Running may seem like an environmentally-friendly sport‚ after all, there’s little equipment needed. But running shoes are a complicated product, and it pays to know exactly what’s in them and how they’re made. Not to mention how to get rid of them when you’re done, since most estimates say a pair of runners can take up to 1,000 years to break down into the earth.
Do you have any recommendations on how to be an ethical runner?