According a MIT-led life-cycle assessment, each pair of traditional sneakers accounts for 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions—which is comparable to keeping a light on for a week straight, or burning a gallon and a half of gasoline. A large amount of these emissions come from the manufacturing process and from raw materials. It takes a lot of crude oil to make synthetic fabrics.
But fortunately, a lot of progress has been made in the past few years, and there is now a much wider variety of eco-friendly sneakers than ever before. And they actually happen to look cool, too. Here are 13 of our favorites.
Cariuma IBI and OCA High
Brazilian shoe brand Cariuma is focused on creating products that are long-lasting. The men’s and women’s IBI is a simple, no-fuss low-top that is is made of 100% recycled and regenerative materials, such as sugarcane-derived EVA, cork, Mamona oil, recycled plastic water bottles, and bamboo. We also love the super-cool OCA High for its classic look.
Native Shoes Mercury 2.0 Liteknit and Apollo 2.0
Just a few months ago, we reported on Canadian shoe company Native Shoes and its entirely biodegradable Plant Shoe, which is concocted of pineapple husk, olive oil, corn, and cotton that can begin to break down after only 45 days in a compost bin. But Native hasn’t focused its sustainability efforts on a single shoe. The fresh, sporty Mercury 2.0 Liteknit and the colorful Apollo 2.0—both shoes come in men’s and women’s sizes—are produced with EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) plastic foam that can repurposed as playground materials, flooring, or insulation in building construction through the company’s Remix Project recycling program. And these two modern, sleek styles are also convenient and exceptionally comfy—thanks to the knit upper and cushy construction.
Everlane Court Sneaker and Trainer
If you simply can’t imagine life without a leather sneaker but you’re stressed about the impact of leather goods on the environment, stress no more. Everlane’s normcore Court sneaker and the sporty Trainer—which come in both men’s and women’s sizes—are made using leather from an eco-friendly manufacturer that uses solar energy in the tanning process and emits 20% less greenhouse gas that traditional tanneries. Everlane also created the sole for both shoes out of 94.2% recycled rubber and used recycled plastic for the laces, insoles, and lining.
Allbirds Tree Loungers and Dasher
If you don’t know about (or already own) a pair of Allbirds, I would be suspicious that you’re a time traveler from pre-2010. The brand’s Tree Loungers ($95) were my chosen pair of shoes to take on a month-long trip to Europe in 2019. They’re versatile, incredibly light, naturally stink-resistant, and they form to the shape of your foot perfectly—and are made of eucalyptus fiber. But if lace-up sneakers that are built for running and working out are more your thing, try the Tree Dasher ($125), which also features a slip-on design, but has laces for extra security and a beefier mid- and outsole that supports you on more active adventures.
Toms TRVL LITE and Carlo
Toms does a lot more than its original Alpargatas these days. The brand also makes heels, dress shoes, and sneakers—namely, the very cool Vans-esque Carlo, for men, and the super simple, Keds-like TRVL Lite Low sneakers, for men and women. Both sneakers are 100% vegan and the Carlo features a cushy insole made of plant-derived and recycled materials.
Rothy’s The Sneaker
Rothy’s is known for its sensible flats (such as The Point), made from recycled plastic. But the San Francisco-based brand also makes a pair of recycled-plastic slip-on sneakers for women that may be even cuter (gasp!) than the flats. The Sneaker comes in eight different colors and prints, is machine washable, and is incredibly comfy.
Adidas x Parley 4D 1.0 LTD
Adidas is on a mission. In fact, the sportswear behemoth recently set itself a lofty goal to end all plastic waste within the company by 2030. And it all started with Adidas’s first collaboration with environmental organization Parley for the Oceans in 2015 to create a pair of shoes from recycled plastic that was pulled from the ocean. The partnership has since expanded to include more ocean-plastic shoes and even clothes. The latest Parley design, the 4D 1.0 LTD, for both men and women, ($200) has an upper made from Parley ocean plastic and a 3-D printed sole.
Reebok NPC UK Cotton + Corn
The only sneakers my dad ever wore while I was growing up was a classic pair of white leather Reeboks. Very practical, quite timeless, but not at all environmentally friendly. Cue the Cotton + Corn Shoes ($90)—Reebok’s eco-friendly, basket-woven sneakers made from . . . you guessed it, corn and cotton. The shoes also contain castor bean oil, making for the total percentage of USDA-certified bio-based content in the shoes 75%.
Looking for more recommendations? Check out our other handpicked suggestions.
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