8 Sustainable Sneakers That Won’t Hurt The Earth You Walk On

The best sustainable sneakers that won’t hurt the earth you walk on

These eco-friendly sneakers will help put your best foot forward, delivering comfort, style and a clear conscience

IN OUR INCREASINGLY environmentally conscious world, it’s no longer enough for our purchases to fill a need, they must also satisfy our desire for eco-friendliness. That line of thinking is not isolated to single-use straws and plastic bags. Everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear is now under heavier scrutiny, and it has the fashion industry at a crossroads. Brands are being forced to respond to consumer demand for ethical and sustainable practices to take priority by introducing eco-friendly products, and the footwear department is leading the way.

As consumers become more conscious of the ecological footprint left by their clothing choices, a new trend is emerging – sustainable sneakers. No longer just a niche market, eco-friendly footwear is stepping into the mainstream, offering style and sustainability in equal measure. Not every brand has caught onto the trend yet, but the few that have are doing so with some impressive results.

Here, we break down the basics of shopping for sustainable sneakers and show you some of our favourites.

What makes a shoe sustainable?

It sounds simple, but what constitutes a sustainable sneaker is actually a contentious topic. This is primarily because sustainability comes in many forms, and some products can tick a lot of boxes and miss other crucial ones. Some will utilise carbon-neutral production processes and others will use eco-friendly materials made of everything from recycled plastic to synthetic vegan leather. These are not the same thing, and it’s rare that a footwear company will have a trustworthy signifier of their eco-friendliness like a B-Corp certification due to the scale of business and reliance on eco-unfriendly practices to produce other products.

Still, there are a few things you can look out for to ensure you’re doing your part for sustainability. Eco-friendly materials are an obvious signifier, so look out for organic cotton, recycled polyester, hemp, cork, or even innovative materials with confusing names like Piñatex (made from pineapple leaf fibres) and Tencel (derived from wood pulp).

Low impact production processes are also a big contributor to sustainability, including everything from manufacturing to packaging. Lastly, biodegradability and recyclability are some other hallmarks of a sustainable sneaker, meaning that they can either biodegrade naturally or be recycled into new products, closing the loop on resource usage.

Do big brands make sustainable shoes?

While smaller, independent brands have led the charge in sustainable footwear, major corporations are beginning to follow suit. Companies like Adidas, Nike, and Reebok have launched initiatives to reduce their environmental impact and have even released some sustainable sneakers. But for the most part, the best sustainable sneakers come from indie brands.

What are the best sustainable sneakers?

Sustainable Sneakers

Cariuma Uba Pro

Cariuma embraces sustainability throughout every stage in its production processes. From choosing premium raw materials for a smaller carbon footprint to guaranteeing low-impact operations, eco-friendliness is at the heart of what Cariuma does.

The Uba Pro is a skateboarding sneaker with a design inspired by ‘90s streetwear culture. Coming in three colourways, the sneakers are made from recycled materials, sugarcane, cork and bio-based foam. What’s more, for every pair you buy, Cariuma will plant a pair of trees as part of their reforestation efforts.

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Sustainable Sneakers

Allbirds Plant Pacers

Renowned for their comfort and minimalist design, Allbirds’ sneakers are made from sustainable materials like merino wool, eucalyptus fibers, and sugarcane-based foam. These particular Plant Pacers are made from vegan and plastic-free plant leather – hence the name ‘plant pacers’.

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Veja V-12

Veja has garnered attention for producing stylish sneakers crafted from organic Brazilian and Peruvian cotton, wild rubber sourced from the Amazon rainforest, and innovative materials like recycled plastic bottles. But the brand also prioritises social projects and economic justice. The V-12s were created to celebrate Veja’s 12th anniversary, and if you’re trying to flaunt your eco-consciousness, nothing says sustainable like forest green accents.

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Adidas X Parley Supernova 2.0

Partnering with environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans, Adidas recently introduced a line of sneakers made from upcycled ocean plastic. The shoe’s upper is made from 50% recycled plastic waste, while the other 50% is recycled polyester. These shoes not only combat marine pollution but also feature the performance and style you’d expected from a major athletic brand.

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Nike Air Max 1

Nike has dabbled in sustainable sneakers in the past – the 2020 Space Hippie collection combined sustainable practices and radical design with shoes made from Nike scrap and manufacturing waste – but it’s yet to fully commit to sustainable footwear beyond a select range of sneakers made from at least 20% sustainable materials. These Air Maxs are one such pair, with a design inspired by French architecture and the promise that they’re made from at least 20% recycled materials.

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Alohas Tb.490

Founded in Hawaii in 2015, Alohas are known for using an undeniably effective – but peculiar, for a brand of its size – on-demand, pre-order system. Alohas sneakers are made to order, minimising waste and ending any chance of overproduction. This policy applies to all Alohas shoes, but as the kicker, these bold red nylon/suede sneakers are made from sustainable leather.

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Reebok Classic SP Vegan Shoes

Another giant in the footwear industry that’s dipping its toe into sustainable shoes rather than diving in headlong is Reebok. These kicks are made from ethically-sourced materials and are vegan-friendly. It’s refreshing to see bigger brands taking steps towards sustainability, but Reebok might need some help in the creativity department if ‘Vegan Shoes’ was the only name they could come up with.

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Cariuma Vallely Pro

Another top-notch sneaker from Cariuma, the Vallely Pros are made from a high performance vegan suede that is three times more resistant than animal suede, while recycled webbing fabric makes them ultra-durable. The Vallely Pros come in four colourways and are a throwback to retro ‘80s skate shoes. And again, Cariuma will plant two trees for every pair sold.

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Related:

Men’s Health’s complete guide to the best running shoes of 2024

The 20 Best Sneakers for Men 2023

By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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