Super Green Sneaks of Summer

According to ecofashion designers and retailers, shoes probably have the largest environmental footprint of any of our apparel choices (pun intended!). Even after years of reporting in this area, I was a bit surprised by this fact since shoes generally last for some time, especially if you buy good quality and repair them when necessary. Most people I know aren’t going all Imelda Marcos shoe-crazy and usually have between six and ten pairs of shoes that they wear regularly (many guys even fewer). Compared to the number of clothes in the average person’s closet, shoes would seems to have far less impact.

But once one understands how shoes are made, which involves a number of manufactured materials to make up their various layers, including super-toxic glues to hold them together, and chemical dyes and hardware (not to mention the labor required for putting all of that together), one starts to get why shoes use as much energy and materials— and produce as much waste– as they do.

According to Greenpeace, the demand for leather goods and beef by Nike, Timberland, Adidas, Ikea, Wal-Mart and Honda, among other corporate leaders, is helping to fuel the growth of the Brazilian cattle industry on forestland that has been illegally cleared, the environmental advocacy group writes in its latest report, “Slaughtering the Amazon”. Nike and Timberland have agreed and are taking action.

And leather’s just one piece of the shoe puzzle.

Of all the shoes in the world: flats, pumps, espadrilles, hiking boots, or flip flops, the one that gets chucked the most frequently are sneakers. With that in mind, I’ve been noticing that there are some seriously green sneaks around and about these days, and every single one of these is as cute as can be to boot (ha ha!).


The Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot

The Vivo Barefoot sneaks are not only cute (I have the orange/taupe pair pictured) but they are incredibly green, with recycled insoles, heavy-metal free leathers, vegetable tanned leathers, pure latex soling materials, recycled rubber soles and recycled foam foot beds. Phew! And if that isn’t green enough, go barefoot! (Which is kinda the point, these shoes are made to most closely imitate walking or running sans soles.)


Levi’s Reused Jean Sneakers

I’m loving that none of the Levi’s Reused Jean Sneakers is like any of the others. Made individually from pre-worn denim (two pairs made one pair of kicks), these sneakers are hard to find, but so damn cool I had to blog about them.


The New Balance 70

I’ve been wearing these to the gym (great for the elliptical and spinning) and trail-running, because not only are they superduper lightweight (seriously, I have flipflops that are heftier) but the upper material is so airy that I never get hot feet, even on steamy days in July. They also dry very fast, so if you’re day hiking or trail running through wetlands (and isn’t the whole Northeast a wetland this summer?) they are ideal for keeping feet dry (ish).

Seventy-five percent of the upper components are “environmentally preferred materials.” The laces, webbing, rand, quarter, tongue and saddle incorporate recycled polyester; the foxing and the tip of the shoe are synthetics made with fewer solvents than traditional materials. Rice husks filler in the outsole reduces the amount of rubber needed, thus reducing the amount of petroleum used. Water-based adhesives (rather than solvent-based) are used to join the upper and the sole unit and no paper stuffing or paper wrapping are used in the packaging of 70.

The 70’s were also thoughtfully designed to reduce waste. The upper is constructed with minimal layers to reduce unnecessary material usage. It features a uniquely efficient design–the parts fit together much like a puzzle–in an effort to utilize as much of the original cutting material as possible.

These New Balance 70’s just debuted this month and retail for about $80. And don’t just take my word for it; guys love these shoes too; Urth Guy at The Daily Green and Shea Gunther at MNN are both into these sneaks.


Loomstate for Keds

Loomstate and Barney’s once again team up, this time with Keds in the newest mix of hi-lo fashion fabulousness. (To get that straight, Rogan Gregory of Loomstate designed them, Barney’s is selling them, and Keds is making these low-tops, pictured above). The 5 styles will be available exclusively at select Barneys New York nationwide and Barneys.com for $75. I say go with the 80’s old-school trend and wear them without laces=instant slip-ons!

However you wear them, they boast 100% Certified organic uppers & linings, Nickel free eyelets, 100% recycled insole board, re-used, and they come in recycled shoe boxes (sans tissue paper, natch).

A percentage of proceeds will be donated to The Organic Exchange, whose mission is to deliver sustained environmental, economic and social benefits through expansion of organic agriculture. The Organic Exchange will be the beneficiary of 1% of sales from each pair of organic sneakers sold via Barneys New York, Loomstate and Keds’ membership in 1% For The Planet.

Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick.com and the author of the Eco-Chick Guide to Life. She's also a freelance science and environment writer who has published in National Geographic, CNN, Scientific American, Mental Floss, Pacific Standard, the NRDC, and many more. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her partner and black cat. She was a geologist in her first career, and still picks up rocks wherever she goes.