Today, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the best sustainable running shoes for the eco-friendly-minded women and men.
Maybe you are trying to become more sustainable in the way that you live your life?
Perhaps you’re trying to recycle more, reduce your single-use plastic, or reduce your carbon footprint?
We all know that running can be quite environmentally-friendly because you’re not burning carbon or sticking emissions into the atmosphere.
But the other side of that is we are quite a resource-intensive bunch buying new kits, new shoes, etc. which isn’t particularly green or eco-sound.
The running shoe industry isn’t really particularly well-known for being environmentally friendly and we’ve got a long way to go before we get there.
But there are some eco-friendly shoes that are starting to come onto the market that are trying to take a step in the right direction.
So, brands like Adidas, Allbirds, Vibram, Scarpa, and Reebok are making it easier than ever before to be more aware of these types of environmental issues.
What Makes a Shoe Eco-friendly
Sustainability can mean lots of different things to different brands. So, as we take you through all of the eco-friendly shoes, we’ll explain what qualifies them to be in this article.
But broadly speaking, if a shoe has been labeled in some way eco-friendly or ethical, it could be because…
- the manufacturers aim to limit the use of single-use plastics,
- they’ve incorporated recycled materials into the manufacture of the shoe,
- or perhaps they’ve developed a manufacturing process which aims to be carbon neutral,
- it could mean that the shoe is vegan-friendly so no animal products are used in the manufacturing process of the shoe.
- it could mean that they are ethical ensuring good working conditions in the factories where they’re made and a fair wage being paid.
Let’s dive in and take a look at some of our favorite sustainable and ethical shoes.
Best Sustainable Running Shoes
Adidas PrimeBlue UltraBoost 20
This is one of the best Adidas environmentally friendly shoes.
What makes the PrimeBlue UltraBoost sustainable is that the upper is actually made from plastic. It’s reclaimed coastal plastic that gets melted down, spun into a yarn, and then knitted into this upper.
That’s all part of Adidas’ pledge to be free from using virgin polyester – polyester that’s made specifically to make something else by 2024.
So, the shoe itself is super comfy and pretty lightweight for the sort of look of it. It looks like quite a heavy shoe, but actually, it’s quite surprisingly light.
It feels really good on some steady runs, some nice long slow stuff, and I wouldn’t necessarily take it out to do faster sessions.
But overall, it is a really great shoe to run in.
The fit is true to size. I have a slightly wider foot and despite the fact that it’s got this sort of bootie all-in-one attached upper, it doesn’t actually affect the fit of the shoe at all.
You have plenty of room in the toe box, which sometimes people struggle with in other sneakers.
The lacing actually comes up much higher on this shoe than with other Adidas shoes and with other brands as well.
But that doesn’t cause a problem with the fit despite the fact that I have a bit of a wider foot.
So, these Adidas sustainable shoes are one of my favorites in this roundup just for how comfortable they are all around.
Adidas Futurecraft Loop
These are the second great Adidas eco-friendly shoes after the PrimeBlue.
I think this is the world’s first-ever shoe that is made from entirely recyclable materials. It is 100% manufactured from one plastic material called TPU.
What Adidas hove worked out how to do is take TPU and turn it into many different forms, which constitutes the entire shoe.
They’ve also managed to work out how to clean-fuse the uppers to the sole with no glue at all.
Glue is one of the biggest problems because once you get something in glue, it’s incredibly difficult to get off of other parts of the shoe, which means the shoes are basically straight into the landfill or they need to be burned.
On the bottom, you have more TPU that’s been made into an outsole that is nice and grippy. The outsole still has the torsion bar which helps with propulsion and energy return.
The laces feel like normal fabric laces, which are recyclable anyway, but the tips are certainly TPU.
What’s cool about the Futurecraft is you’ve got a yarn upper with some different firmer plastic panels and a firmer plastic heel counter on the back. The heel counter is a little bit more flaccid than some other heel counters, but it works fine.
You still have the famous traditional Boost foam that you find in other Adidas sneakers. Even the logo on the tongue is TPU.
Sustainable vs traditional running Shoes
So, the Futurecraft is 100% recyclable and Adidas can turn this into brand-new shoes, but how does it feel while running in it?
Actually, the Futurecraft feels pretty much like a standard shoe. But the upper is not quite as comfortable as Flyknit or Primeknit.
Part of that is because there’s a little bit more kind of firmness to it and it’s a little bit more rigid.
So, the upper is not as welcoming as you might get from a standard shoe, but it’s not uncomfortable neither.
However, there are some benefits to that kind of structured upper because it actually gives you more support on the lateral and medial sides especially when you make turns and need some added stability there.
How Adidas turns plastic into eco-friendly shoes
Reebok Forever G-FloatRide Grow
This is a completely plant-based running shoe from Reebok. The concept of making such an organic running shoe is fantastic.
The upper is made from eucalyptus trees, the outsole is made from actual rubber trees and not petroleum-based rubber, and the midsole is also made from castor bean and they’ve done it in a sustainable way.
So, Reebok tried to minimize impact and create this beautiful plant-based midsole.
Even the removable insole itself is made out of bloom algae.
So the idea with the Reebok FloatRide Grow is that it’s not just a sustainable casual shoe, but it’s supposed to be a sustainable performance running shoe.
Read the full review here.
Scarpa Spin Ultra
Scarpa might be better known for their mountaineering or climbing shoes, but this is the best sustainable trail running shoe.
The Spin Ultra is a mid-weight trail shoe at 9.8 oz and a 6-millimeter drop. It also happens to be vegan, which means it’s made using materials that aren’t sourced from animals nor have been used in any form of animal testing.
It’s a comfortable responsive trail shoe and it uses Vibram’s Litebase outsole which is 1 millimeter thinner than some other Vibram trail shoe outsoles, which makes it that little bit lighter.
It doesn’t have a rock plate, but I never had any problems with that on my runs even on pretty rugged terrain and it’s a really good all-rounder as far as trail shoe goes.
It has some nice little details like a little loop on the tongue to tuck your laces underneath instead of having them flapping around.
Overall, I’d say it comes up as quite a wide shoe. So, if you’re looking for a wide vegan trail running shoe, then this is the one for you.
Vibram FiveFingers V-Run
This is a barefoot shoe. Let me clarify a few things first. In order to run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, you do have to put the work in to get used to them.
You can’t really just go straight from running in your normal running shoes to then transitioning to barefoot.
With this Vibram, the sole is made from recyclable materials and they are also vegan-friendly. So if you’re willing to put the work in to try and run barefoot and or in a minimalist shoe, then absolutely give Vibram a go.
It is a very strange feeling running in these because you really do feel like your foot is moving in a completely different way.
You’re using so many different muscles and bones in your foot to normal when you wear running shoes.
Your toes fit into these individual toe bits. You measure the sole of your foot so that you can get the right size for them to be a really snug fit. They are a very snug fit and they feel like a glove on your foot.
Vibram also use recyclable materials in their packaging and they also have their own sustainability program called the Sustainable Way.
So, this company is working really hard in the sustainability market and if you are a fan of barefoot running, then Vibram is the market leader when it comes to eco-friendly running shoes that are barefoot or minimalist.
So, we had to include it in this sustainable shoe roundup because they are one of the companies out there that are doing lots to help the environment, too.
Allbirds Tree Dasher Running Shoes
What makes Allbirds running shoes sustainable is the upper that is knitted from eucalyptus trees and in the midsole, you’ve got sugarcane.
So, this shoe is 100% carbon neutral and that is a combination between Allbirds using sustainable materials in the first place but also offsetting any carbon that is created in the process of making their shoes and shipping them.
With the Allbirds Tree Dasher, I really wanted to love this shoe for running in, but the thing is I felt that it was quite stiff in the midsole and it didn’t really give my foot much flexibility.
It would be okay for some slower runs, a couple of miles, maybe some recovery runs, but actually, what I’ve used this shoe for the most is doing walking – it feels super comfy to walk in.
The fit is true to size and it fits my wide foot out the front perfectly and the bootie with the elasticated entry just feels super snug and fits really nicely.
Overall, the Allbirds Tree Dasher is good for some recovery miles and some slower runs but not, in my opinion, built for any kind of speed stuff.
It’s a beautiful looking shoe though and they’re doing a great job of using recycled materials to make such a lovely shoe.
Veja Condor Running Shoes
Veja is a fashion brand that is known more for their lifestyle shoes, but they’ve taken the plunge into the running space.
This is the result, the Condor.
So, the Veja Condors are great recycled running shoes made from 53 recycled materials. The midsole has got some really interesting stuff in it like banana oil and cane sugar and the upper is made from recycled plastic bottles.
So, loads of recycled materials go into these shoes.
They’re also made in a factory in Brazil that treats its workers with equal rights.
That’s the sustainable and ethical side of this shoe. But what is it like to run in?
Well, it’s not my favorite. I would say that I found that there was a lack of energy return and bounce within this shoe.
It is their first stab in the running space, though. So, I would actually give them total kudos for the fact that they’ve tried and would hope that they’ll sort of develop their technology a little bit more in the future when it comes to running.
For something like long-distance running, I would say that the Condor didn’t really give me the energy return that I would have liked to with it.
The Veja running shoes are marketed as a neutral running shoe and all in all, it looks great and it’s made out of recycled materials.
So, if you’re looking for an ethical and sustainable shoe to run in, then it wouldn’t hurt to give these a go.
Lunge Classic Run
For anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Lunge, I’ll admit I was one of those as well. It’s a German company and currently, they only ship to the EU and to Switzerland.
Lunge have an orthopedic background so think walking and orthotics. You can tell that as soon as you put them on because actually unusually for a regular running shoe, the removable insole has a ridge of foam along its center which is a little bit like orthotics if you’ve ever worn those before.
Essentially, it’s aimed at stimulating the natural movement of your feet, but it does feel a little bit unusual and it’s not normal to have that kind of feature in a regular running shoe.
The shoes themselves are vegan and contain only clean and non-toxic materials. In fact, everything in this shoe from the laces to the thread used to the materials all conforms to something called the Oeko Tex 100 rating, which means it’s all been thoroughly tested to make sure it doesn’t contain any harmful substances.
Lunge also say that their manufacturing processes used are ecologically sensible and socially compatible with strict German guidelines, which is reassuring for the overall manufacture of the shoe.
A final point on the sustainability aspect of these shoes, there’s is quite a thick rubber outsole made from something called Hexa4 Grip.
You can actually send these off to selected partners of Lunge and have them resoled like you would your more traditional everyday shoes.
That’s something that I guess speaks to the long life purported for these shoes.
Interestingly, out of the box on the box, it says that you should wear them in for up to 100 kilometers for optimal comfort, which does speak to the longevity of the shoe.
Although wearing a running in a shoe for 100 kilometers does seem completely contrary to what we normally do with performance running shoes nowadays.
Actually, heading out and running in them, they fit really nicely. The company is going to ask you to measure your feet in terms of actual length in millimeters to make sure that you will get the right size for you.
They feel like an old-fashioned shoe, I suppose. There’s no high-tech foam in these. They say they use 80% EVA which is more than a lot of other manufacturers, but they are heavy and they do feel like heavy old-fashioned shoes.
They actually do have what you might consider a medial post on the inside allegedly to provide pronation support.
I don’t need pronation support and I didn’t find that too obtrusive when I was running in them.
Again, the aesthetic might not be for everybody. They do look like quite an old-fashioned shoe, but if you’re looking for something that you could use casually that you could use for general everyday walking and some light running but not looking for something high performance, then these could be the shoes for you, particularly if you buy into the ethical credentials.
How do traditional running shoes harm the environment?
Let’s take the Hoka Carbon X for example. This shoe is made of many different parts. There’s a plate, different layers of sole that are fused together with glue, and the upper which is also fused together with glue.
That glue and all those parts often are very very difficult to break down and recycle. That means that most shoes will end even in an incinerator or in landfill, which is a problem for the planet particularly if you think about the average pair of shoes that lasts for 300 miles or so.
So, the turnover of shoes in our world is quite high and that is a problem.
So there you have it. That’s our roundup of the best ethical and sustainable running shoes that are out there at the moment.
What did you make of them? Do any of them take your fancy? Or, do you take any of those things into consideration when you’re buying your sustainable running shoes?
Let us know in the comments below.