If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.
- Over 300 million pairs of sneakers are thrown out annually.
- It can take 30 to 40 years for a pair to decompose in a landfill.
- Learn about 10 sneaker brands using eco-friendly materials and more sustainable production methods.
The sneaker industry is bigger than ever, and its growth shows no signs of slowing.
More than 23 billion pairs of sneakers are produced every year, but behind the great demand for footwear is an industry so wasteful it’s almost beyond measure. Most of these new pairs use virgin plastic, rubber, and petroleum, producing alarming amounts of carbon dioxide. According to sneaker startup Nothing New, about 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown out every year and, on average, it takes 30-40 years for a pair to fully decompose in a landfill.
In the past, most shoppers would have put little thought into exactly how the items they bought were made, but that is no longer the case all around. In addition to demanding trendsetting styles and groundbreaking innovations, the educated consumers of today expect products to be made responsibly.
Sportswear retail expert Matt Powell explained to Insider that younger people are very concerned with how their purchases are affecting the environment. “Sustainability is an important theme in retail, so much so that younger consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products,” said Powell. “Brands have long been concerned about making products sustainably, but they’re being more forward and open about it.”
If you’re looking to make better, more sustainable choices, we hear you. We are too, which is why we rounded up this list of brands that are using innovative, eco-friendly materials and more sustainable production methods to make sneakers.
From performance sneakers made by popular brands like Nike and Adidas to fashion-forward trainers from startups like Everlane and Allbirds, you’ll find plenty of brands new and old working to set new standards.
Check out 10 brands making more sustainable sneakers:
Founded in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Cariuma is a sneaker brand that focuses on sustainability. The brand handmakes its sneakers using high-quality natural materials including organic fair-trade cotton, natural rubber from hevea brasiliensis trees, and leather from gold-rated tanneries using hides sourced from areas that weren’t deforested for cattle farming.
The brand ships its shoes directly in the shoebox, which eliminates the need for wasteful packaging. It also makes up for the carbon emissions associated with shipping products by purchasing carbon offsets, which brings its carbon footprint down to zero.
Cariuma’s sneakers have an old-school look, but with modern comfort. The insoles have a generous amount of memory foam, which make them easy to wear all day long.
Adidas x Parley
When it comes to mainstream sportswear brands, Adidas is easily the most vocal about its sustainability efforts — and environmental organization Parley for the Oceans has been its biggest collaborator. The two brands teamed up for the first time in 2015 with a sneaker using yarn made from recycled ocean plastic and illegal deep-sea gill nets. They officially launched products to the public in 2016.
In 2020, Adidas made more than 20 million pairs of sneakers with Parley ocean plastic — a major increase from 11 million pairs in 2019 and 5 million pairs in 2018.
Tread by Everlane
While recycled knits account for a big part of the sustainable sneakers market, Tread by Everlane is for those who still appreciate quality leather. With 94.2% non-virgin plastic soles, leather sourced from the world’s cleanest tannery, and laces and linings made from recycled plastic bottles, The Trainer is touted (by its maker, mind you) as the world’s lowest-impact sneakers.
Even if you aren’t a particularly conscious consumer (although you should be), Tread by Everlane has great appeal. Its style lends itself well to minimalists and lovers of that cut-and-sewn look found on retro running sneakers.
Reebok Cotton + Corn
Reebok first launched the Cotton + Corn sneakers with the NPC UK sneaker. It originally featured leather accents on the heel tab, but after receiving kickback from Peta, the brand took the initiative to make the shoe completely vegan. The updated sneaker features a 100% cotton upper, a sole derived from corn, and insoles made from castor bean oil. Even the packaging is 100% recycled.
Now, Reebok is continuing vegan shoes with the Corn + Cotton Slip-On, a casual sneaker.
Founded in 2019, Nothing New is a sneaker startup that aims to positively impact the planet and educate the people that live on it. Unlike most brands on this list that are simply making strides to improve their eco-friendliness, sustainability is at the very core of the brand.
As the name suggests, Nothing New sneakers are made with only recycled materials. The upper is 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, while its other components are made from recycled cotton, fishing nets, rubber, and cork.
Beyond the production process, Nothing New offers $20 discounts on new pairs to those who send back their used sneakers. Depending on the condition of the sneakers, Nothing New will clean and donate them or break them down and put the materials back into its recycled supply chain.
Over the last five decades, Nike has continually pushed boundaries in sportswear innovation. While performance has been at the forefront of its designs, sustainability has also been a major factor in recent years. Even though sustainability isn’t heavily incorporated into the brand’s marketing (compared to Adidas Parley or Allbirds), the brand’s work has not gone unnoticed.
In 2018, Nike was recognized by Textile Exchange as using the most recycled polyester in the industry for the sixth year in a row, and from 2010-2018, the brand transformed 6.4 billion plastic water bottles into recycled footwear or apparel.
Nike’s signature Flyknit material, which can be found on footwear throughout the brand’s catalog, is made in-part with recycled plastic, but the Swoosh is doing more than sustainable knits.
In 2019, Nike also launched sneakers made from Flyleather, a new material made from at least 50% recycled leather fiber. Although there haven’t been many other sneakers to release with Flyleather yet, you can expect the material to be included more often in future designs.
In 2020, Nike furthered its impact on sustainability by using recycled rubbers on midsoles and outsoles — a feature that could be seen on everything from Nike SBs to Converse. Some of the most notable use of materials made from recycled trash is the Nike Space Hippie collection and the new Cosmic Unity basketball shoe. In total, the brand has roughly 900 items available that are made from at least 20% recycled materials.
The Chuck Taylor All-Stars are cemented in footwear as one of, if not the most timeless sneakers on the planet, but Converse has proven that it’s able to stay in touch with modern demands. Using 100% recycled plastic bottles to make up its canvas upper, the Renew Collection is the latest example of its commitment to produce more carefully.
The process starts with plastic bottles sourced by the US-based recycling company First Mile. The plastic is then ground up into flakes, melted, rolled into bales, spun into yarn, and weaved into canvas.
The best part about the Converse Renew collection is that shoes are fully customizable and are available in sizes from toddlers to adults.
As the brainchild of New Zealand native Tim Brown and San Francisco-based renewables expert Joey Zwillinger, Allbirds is the wildly popular sneaker startup you’ve seen all throughout Silicon Valley and New York City. In the first four years, the brand reached a $77.5 million valuation — all thanks to its sustainable footwear.
Love them or hate them, all of Allbirds’ designs are undeniably unique and unmatched in comfort. The brand’s shoes are made with merino wool or eucalyptus trees for the uppers and sugar cane for the SweetFoam soles. They even made the patent on their SweetFoam material public so that other brands could utilize it as a sustainable alternative. Recycled plastic and castor bean oil also make their way into the inner-workings of the shoes. Allbirds even uses 90% post-consumer recycled cardboard for packaging that serves as a shoe box, shopping bag, and mailer all in one.
Founded in 2014 by Ryan Babenzien and footwear designer Jon Buscemi, Greats began as an affordable alternative to the luxury sneaker market. The brand’s signature style, The Greats Royale, features premium leather, is manufactured in Italy, and only costs $179 — which far less than comparable high-end sneakers.
In efforts to be more eco-friendly, Greats redesigned the silhouette with a recycled plastic knit upper. Seven plastic bottles go into making each pair of Royale Knit sneakers, and in the initial production run alone, Greats removed 75,000 bottles from the ocean.
In addition to the recycled plastic uppers, Greats uses recycled materials to produce the shoe boxes and packaging.
Founded in 2016, Rothy’s took over social media and the streets of New York and San Francisco with its recycled plastic flats for women. With such a heavy emphasis on sustainability, it was only right for the brand to start making other styles, including sneakers.
Aptly named “The Sneaker,” Rothy’s recycled plastic sneaker features a Vans-inspired slip-on look with a recycled plastic upper. Other eco-friendly elements of the shoe include recycled foam insoles, vegan, outsoles made from recyclable, carbon-free rubber and TPU, and vegan and non-toxic adhesives.
To date, Rothy’s has repurposed more than 35 million plastic water bottles in its footwear. For now, the brand only makes footwear for women and kids, so if you’re looking for shoes in men’s sizing, you’ll have to check out one of the other brands on this list.