The trainer brands that are taking their carbon footprint seriously

Whether you’re the sporty type or not, you’ve probably got at least one pair of trainers in your wardrobe rotation – likely more given the increasing popularity of streetwear brands. Makes sense, since they’re so comfy and practical. The problem is, your typical trainers aren’t so good for the environment.

According to one study by MIT, making a typical pair of trainers generates 13.5kg of carbon dioxide emissions – that’s the same as keeping a 100-watt lightbulb running continuously for a week. That might not seem like a lot on the face of it, but consider this: Nike sells 25 pairs of trainers a second. And that’s just one company, so the scale of the issue is clear.

Conventional trainer brands are coming under increasing scrutiny for their environmental impact, and many are taking steps (pardon the pun) to help minimise their footprint. Adidas, for example, is has a commitment to ending plastic waste, while PUMA has sharply increased its sustainable materials targets in recent times. Nike, meanwhile, is working towards zero carbon and zero waste.

But these are established brands working to more greenly reimagine their operations. As they do so, a plethora of sustainable-from-the-start labels are flourishing, building ethics and key environmental considerations into their strategies from the ground up. Here are our favourites.

Allbirds

Allbirds sprang onto the footwear scene with its sustainable merino wool trainers, but has recently added a more technical running shoe to its collection. The ‘Tree Dasher’ is completely carbon neutral, with an upper made from FSC-certified eucalyptus tree and a midsole made with carbon negative green EVA material. £120, allbirds.co.uk

Ecoalf

Ecoalf’s main objective is mitigating the damage caused by plastic waste in the ocean. As such, its trainers – and there’s a huge range on offer, from running shoes to vintage-style street kicks – are made from recycled plastic bottles and recycled nylon from fishing nets. All of the brand’s packaging is made from recycled cardboard and dye-free recycled paper, too. £89.90, ecoalf.com

Giesswein

Giesswein’s trainers are made in Austria from 100% merino wool, collected in line with the brand’s ‘slow fashion’ model, which enables zero scrap wastage. All the energy used during production comes from renewable sources, and 90% of the water used during manufacturing is recycled. This wool style comes in a range of bright colours – we like this eye-catching red pair. £89.95, giesswein.com

Good News

Fashion-forward shoe brand Good News has a list of sustainability credentials as long as your arm. Its styles are made from GOTS-certified organic cotton, sustainable cellulose fibres Tencel and Lyocell, hemp, natural dyes and recycled rubber made from car tyres and gym mats. And all of its packaging is recycled and recyclable. We love these chunky canvas-style high-tops. £120, goodnews.london

Loci

Portuguese brand Loci makes vegan trainers out of a range of sustainable materials, including ocean plastic, recycled rubber, recycled foam and bamboo. They come in a rainbow of eye-catching colours – although we like these cheerful yellow ones – and have a custom cork insole that keeps them bouncy and comfortable. They’ve been treated so they’re waterproof, too. £135, lociwear.com

Po-Zu

Po-Zu (derived from the Japanese word ‘to pause’) makes comfortable, stylish footwear that’s designed to last. All of its trainers are vegan, made from a variety of leather alternatives such as linen, like these ones, or Frumat and Pinatex – materials made from apple and pineapple waste. Its range is also made in factories that are 100% solvent-free. £55, po-zu.com

Veja

Founded in 2005, Veja puts emphasis on the economic – as well as environmental – role of sustainability, buying the rubber for its shoes at double the market value in order to enhance the economic worth of forests, thereby helping to protect them. The brand also uses organic cotton and Brazilian leather that is vegetable-tanned and comes from ‘the pampa’, meaning the cows are fed only on native vegetation. €125, veja-store.com

Waes

Waes claims to be the world’s first and only plastic-free footwear company. Its 100% biodegradable shoes are made using sustainable materials and natural organic processes, and the company’s entire supply chain is carbon neutral. For every pair purchased, the company offsets the associated carbon footprint with donations to the SeaTrees Project, which works to restore global mangroves. £130, waes.co

Yatay

Italian brand Yatay has merged fine Italian craftsmanship with the latest in green fashion technology to create what it calls ‘Italy’s first bio sneaker’. Made from wood, cereals, recycled tyres and water bottles, these sleek vegan trainers are silky soft and super comfortable, and can be sent back to Yatay for recycling at the end of their life. However, they don’t come cheap. £240, yataytay.com

Preloved

No, this isn’t a sustainable trainer brand but it is all about sustainable trainers. New research from sports brand Decathlon has found that over a third (34%) of British adults would be happy to buy preloved sports gear, with running trainers the most popular item to buy second-hand! Check out sites like preloved.co.uk, depop.com and rebelle.com to see how much money you could save on quality trainers without the environmental price tag.

The bottom line

Well-established footwear brands are waking up to the need for sustainable, ethical practices, but they’re certainly behind the curve compared to the companies listed here. Next time you’re in the market for a new pair of trainers, choose a sustainable brand that will help you tread far more lightly on the planet.

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