Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by All Birds #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
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Sustainable & Ethical Sneakers: 11 Eco Friendly Brands Ahead Of The Pack | Sustainable Fashion


Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands.

So much progress has been made in the last few years.

We now have a healthy selection of sustainable sneakers so you can put your best eco foot forward. 

Of course, these eco-friendly sneaker brands still have some strides to make towards true sustainability. Because, to be frank, the traditional footwear industry stinks worse than feet that have been in rubber boots all day.

If you want to read more about why sustainable and ethical sneakers are necessary and how the brands on this list made the cut, keep reading or click here.

A few standouts we must mention. From personal experience, Allbirds have got to be one of the most comfortable sustainable shoes on the market. Then there’s Baabuk, whose100% Portuguese sheep wool (and machine washable) kicks will undoubtedly be my next pair.

And 8000Kicks make the world’s “first waterproof cannabis sneaker.”

No sense in standing still! Let’s get moving toward the best sustainable sneaker brands

*This post contains affiliate links

  • Allbirds
  • 8000Kicks
  • Baabuk
  • Saola
  • Cariuma
  • AKS
  • Third Mind
  • Thousand Fell
  • Ecoalf
  • Native Shoes
  • Nothing New

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by All Birds #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by All Birds

Allbirds are everywhere. 

This San Francisco based B-Corp makes some of the most eco-friendly sneakers for women, men, and kids (or “smallbirds”).

We both recently bought a pair of these and we LOVE them. They’re probably one of the most comfortable shoes we’ve ever worn. No wonder this sustainable sneaker brand has reached cult status in less than 10 years. 

Their selection is huge. Besides running shoes and mizzles (a higher rise running shoe), they make loungers, breezers, skippers, and toppers (plus those names!).

The colors are soft and easily matchable like feminine mauve ethical sneakers.

Allbirds was founded by New Zealander Tim Brown and American renewables expert Joey Zwillinger. Fun fact: sheep outnumber people 6 to 1 in New Zealand hence the use of merino wool in their sneaker range.

Materials: 

Allbirds eco-friendly wool sneakers are made using superfine ZQ Merino (which adheres to the most stringent ethical wool and most animal welfare standards) which demands 60% less energy to make than synthetic shoes.

Their Tree lines are made of eucalyptus pulp TENCEL Lyocell grown with 95% less water and produced in a clean, closed-loop process.

The laces are made of recycled plastic bottles (about one bottle per pair) and threaded through bio-based TPU eyelets. 

They use partial castor bean oil in their midsole to minimize synthetic content (though there is still some EVA here). For the outsoles, they are transitioning to using a new material called SweetFoam, made from Brazillian sugarcane certified by Proforest

Since its byproducts are used to power the mill and fertilize the field, it’s the world’s first carbon-negative EVA.

Read the full details on materials here.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Allbirds openly states where their products are made.

Their merino is sourced from New Zealand and spun in Milan, Italy in Europe’s only wool mill sustainably certified by the European Commission.

The Tree collection is made with FSC-certified eucalyptus from South African farms that are then made by the Austrian company Lenzing.

Finished fabrics get assembled at WRAP-certified factories in South Korea and China.

They also use 90% recycled cardboard packaging “because every box deserves a second chance”. They are Carbon Neutral by offsetting all business operations.

Community & charitable giving: 

 Through their partnership with Soles4Souls, they donate lightly used, returned shoes to communities in need (while simultaneously reducing waste). 

Available: Allbirds

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by 8000 Kicks #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by 8000 Kicks

Portugal-based 8000Kicks make the world’s “first waterproof cannabis sneaker.” 

We know what you’re thinking: No, you can’t smoke the shoe (it has less than 0.3% THC) and no, TSA won’t detain you if you wear these on your next flight. 

Finished cannabis products are 100% legal around the world.

The only kind of high these sustainable workout sneakers will give you is a runner’s high.

The company started after founder Bernardo quit his job in 2018 hoping to make something revolutionary. 

He states, “If we can’t show everyone we can make better products with natural materials, then how are we supposed to win the war on plastics? How are we supposed to make this planet better?”

They currently focus on just one design: the Explorer V2– a versatile and eco friendly sneaker for men and women. It’s come in either beige or black.

They’re breathable, light, and suitable for either casual or activewear. 

Materials: 

Each shoe upper is made from responsibly sourced cannabis hemp fabric, which is not only strong and durable (as proven by their “torture” tests) but waterproof.

This makes them easy to clean and dust-resistant, too. 

The hemp fibers are first separated from the bark, then allowed to “rest” for 4-6 weeks before being carded into strands and finally “steam explosion” (a non-chemical process) is applied rendering them into the final weavable fiber. 

See more about the process here.

The insoles are also hemp, which is anti-microbial and anti-bacterial.

They write, “[D]id you know hempcrete (hemp cement) is the “new” high-performance material for home insulation because hemp is a temperature regulating material? That makes our insoles a good fit for all weather conditions.”

The outsoles, once made of recycled rubber from “our competitor’s old sneakers” in the V1, are now made of Bloom foam algae which helps sponsor the removal of harmful algae from marine ecosystems.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Compared to average traditional sneakers, each pair of DopeKicks requires 72% less CO2 and 70% less water to manufacture. Shipping emissions are reduced by sourcing close to Portugal. 

Both their cork and recycled outsole materials are sourced and made in Portugal in a factory that provides free health care and education to its employees. 

Their other factory is located in China, which also holds strict labor standards.

In fact they “can even tell you how much our workers make in each of the factories”.

The hemp is sourced in China, Romania, and France. 

We reached out to them directly to ask why they choose China and they explained it’s because “the best hemp in the world comes from there [and] we refuse to make shoes with second quality hemp.”

Green business practices: 

They also now ship from the USA and the UK for a reduced carbon footprint (and faster delivery!).

Available: 8000Kicks

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by Baabuk #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by Baabuk

Baabuk is a family-owned Swiss company that started with a simple Christmas gift: a pair of traditional Russian Valenkis felted shoes. 

Realizing these were the most comfortable shoes the founders had ever worn, they took to making their own, though the first iteration “looked more like a sheep that had wandered through a car wash.”  

They then perfected the design and took eight pairs to an ISPO trade show where they received an astonishing 700 orders. They’ve been unstoppable every since, making some of the most stylish and cozy ethical slippers and colourful sneakers around. 

For sneakers, choose between their Urban Woolers and Sky Woolers, available in either low or mid rise designs. 

Did we mention they’re machine washable?!

Materials: 

Wool is the base of all Baabuk booties, mulesing-free and ethically sourced from kindly treated sheep.

The Urban Woolers are the most sustainable, made of 100% Portuguese sheep wool, a soft Merino inner lining, and a durable TPU Thermoplastic sole.

The Sky Woolers also contain an upper and inner made from Portuguese mulesing-free sheep wool, but their soles are made of rubber and top-grain Nubuck leather. Since we generally try to avoid leather, these would be our second choice.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

This certified B-Corp says, “We love wool but we aren’t sheep,” which is why their supply chain is fully traceable and fully ethical. They guarantee safe working conditions, no child labor, equal employment opportunities for women, and a 25% higher salary than the national average.

Their sneakers are 100% made in Portugal. It starts with sourcing the wool from sheep who live in Serra de Estela Natural Park, the largest protected area in Portugal.

Next comes the felting in Portugal’s historic Burel Factory (in the town of Manteigas near where the sheep are raised). This factory is famous for its long wool making tradition using either hand techniques or 100+ year old machinery.

From there, the wool gets made into sneakers at Ateliers in the Porto region of Portugal. Across it all, they prioritize “helping keep jobs local and production on a human scale.”

Green business practices:

Baabuk chooses wool because of its eco friendly nature and good end of life prospect. 

They write:

“[S]heep consume organic carbon stored in plants and convert it to wool. Fifty percent of the weight of wool is pure organic carbon, which is higher than cotton (40%) or viscose (24%). A wool product contains atmospheric carbon sequestered by plants the sheep ate 1 to 2 years earlier.”

We thought we knew a thing or two about ethical and sustainable wool, but you learn something new every day!

Beyond that, they offer a repair kit for a measly $5 to help extend the life of your shoes and encourage folks to repair rather than replace.

Community & charitable giving: 

While Baabuk does not have a regular giving partner, they do organize the occasional fundraiser. 

Most recently, they ran the ‘You Care, We Care’ Donation Program, which allowed customers to add an additional $20 donation to their order in exchange for Baabuk sending a pair of slippers to “front-line workers” during emergencies.

In the end, they received over 150 donations and donated that many slippers to doctors, nurses, store clerks, delivery persons, and other essential workers in Switzerland.

Available: Baabuk

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by Saola Shoes #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by Saola Shoes

Pronounced SOW-la (after an endangered animal), Saola makes “kickass” kicks designed to get outside. 

Founded in 2016 by biker, skier, and trail runner Guillaume when the birth of his daughter inspired him to start taking responsibility in every aspect of his life.

There’s an impressive line of affordable, durable ethical sneakers to choose from. They even have ethical slip on sneakers.  

Reviews say they are super comfortable and each design looks a bit earthy to match whatever outdoor activity you wear them for.

They’re also reportedly some of the most supportive eco-friendly sneakers.

Materials: 

For the uppers, Soala mostly uses a synthetic leather made from a 40/60 ratio of Recycled Gold Standard certified PET (about 4-5 plastic bottles per pair) and PU.

Their Samnoz shoe is different and is also the most sustainable option with an upper made with a blend of 100% recycled canvas knit with 90% recycled PET.

All shoes have organic cotton laces and cushioned bi-layer insoles with an upper layer of cork and a lower outsole made of recycled algae foam sourced from Bloom Foam, which removes harmful algae from natural water systems and converts it into a powder that gets mixed with EVA. 

Some shoes instead use a partially recycled EVA for the outsoles, which makes them light and springy. EVA is not a perfectly sustainable material, but the increased use of recycled EVA among shoe companies is greatly reducing the need for virgin materials.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Soala manufacture through a factory in southern China. 

One of the founders is permanently stationed in Asia to monitor its ethical standards. They chose to do this because many materials end up coming from China anyway, so it keeps shipping to a minimum.

They also know they’re still young and have hopes of improving the supply chain.

The goal for now is to “[f]ocus our efforts on minimizing the carbon footprint of the shoe via construction and materials, the other 30-40% will come later”.

Community & charitable giving: 

Saola is named after one of the rarest animals on earth, only discovered in 1992 and with about 300 remaining. Needless to say, wildlife conservation is a top priority for Saola.

As a fellow member of 1% for the Planet, 1% of proceeds go to the Wildlife Trust (opens in a new tab)” href=”https://www.mwaluawildlifetrust.org/” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener” class=”rank-math-link”>Mwalua Wildlife Trust, a grassroots conservation organization founded by their friend and Kenya native Patrick Kilonzo.

This organization works to promote wildlife conservation and protect biodiversity in Kenya by supplying sustainable water systems to wildlife communities.

Available: Saola  

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by Cariuma #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by Cariuma

Cariuma makes sustainable sneakers and skate shoes in a way that’s better for people and the planet. 

In every step of their supply chain, they try to have the smallest footprint possible. Continuous improvements and new practices mean that that footprint is getting smaller every day. 

Unlike industry-standard, uncomfortable shoes, Cariuma’s are “good-looking, crazy comfy and consciously made.” 

They’re available for men and women in several different styles, like slip-ons, low tops, high tops, and more.  

Materials:

Cariuma uses a range of natural materials like bamboo, cotton, and rubber.

Their bamboo is FSC sustainably harvested and certified by OEKO-TEX and the Organic Crop Improvement Association. 

Their rubber, too, is ethically tapped, and their BCI cotton recently earned an GOTS– organic certification.

Their insoles make use of ethically sourced Brazilian sugarcane (a polyethylene produced by I’M GREEN), cork, and mamona oil (a plant-based alternative to petroleum-based foam). 

For the vegan styles (all 43% of them), the uppers, laces, thread, and labels are made with GRS-certified rPET (from plastic bottles).

Non-vegan styles use leather and suede for the upper, certified by the Leather Working Group and NOT associated with Amazon or other deforestation. The leather is produced using recycled/reused water and renewable energy.

Only bluesign®-certified, non-toxic dyes are used. 

Supply chain & labor practices:

Following ILO guidelines, Cariuma prioritizes the health and well-being of its workers through living wages and a manageable work week. 

Their Code of Conduct is adhered to by their WRAP-certified manufacturing partner. 

They’re taking steps towards certifying and improving traceability for their suppliers, too. 

Green business practices:

The only true answer to sustainability is to buy less—which is why the sneakers are designed to be worn for a long time. Their sneaks have a protective toe cap and a fully-stitched outsole. 

Quality over quantity!

They’re also working on a program to recycle or reuse excess materials and only use recycled/recyclable packaging.  

Community & charitable endeavors:

For every purchase, two trees are planted in the friends and founders’ homeland of Brazil. 


Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by AKS #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by AKS

AKS, formerly known as FUSESneakers by Purple Impression, means “reflection” URDU, which represents their company values (hence the rebranding).

The Fair trade embroidered accessory company originally called Purple Impression was founded by Sisters Afshan and Drakshan Khan in 2013 in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy. 

AKS now focuses specifically on crafting PETA-certified vegan low top and ethical high top sneakers.

Choose between plain or one-of-a-kind hand embroidered designs. Classic design with a little embellishment.

Materials: 

AKS bear certified organic cotton uppers and laces and FSC certified natural rubber soles. This rubber also provides the arch support of the shoe so there’s no cushy PU midsole.

Sustainable, yes but that makes these more of a casual sneaker than an active one.

These parts are bonded together with non-toxic latex milk through vulcanization. These environmentally friendly sneakers contain no plastic, no man-made synthetics, and no toxic chemicals.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

AKS is Fair Trade USA certified from “seed to the final stitch”. 

All sneakers are designed in San Francisco and hand-embroidered in an ethical factory in Pakistan (the first in the country to sign a “no child labor” policy). This handcrafting also wards against mass production.

In the name of transparency, they try to provide faces for the makers behind their products.

Their core business model integrates 4 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality, climate action, sustainable production and consumption, and no poverty (they pay an additional 10% premium of product cost directly into funds which provide healthcare and education opportunities to their workers).

Lastly, to reduce company waste, they hand trim all fabric then reuse the salvaged edges to incorporate into future designs.

Community & charitable giving: 

AKS believes in “trade not aid”.

In other words, by providing dignified work held to fair trade standards, they make a bigger impact than just donating money. They aim to “lift artisan communities around the world” by preserving traditions and providing much needed employment, particularly for women.

They choose Pakistani artisans not only for rich artisan traditions but because it’s among the top 4 countries lagging in gender equality. Women’s empowerment is one of their core motivators.

Available: AKS

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by Third Mind #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by Third Mind

Here’s a new word for you: integrinuity.

Coined by Third Mind, this gives you a little insight into how the brand is combining integrity and ingenuity in the pursuit of responsible performance. 

Speaking of performance, this innovative company makes men’s dress shoes that perform like a pair of sustainable sneakers. 

They’ve tested them far and wide on feet around the globe. Experience what they call “the most sophisticated ultimate performance footwear there is.”

There are five men’s styles available, in every color from classic black to a magical magenta. 

Materials:

Third Mind’s list of materials is short but unique (outside the partially recycled rubber outsole).

Clarino® is a microfiber vegan leather that doesn’t require solvents to manufacture. Plus, it produces 70% less wastewater and 35% less CO2 emissions than the real thing! 

Sciessent® Lava uses zeolites (crystalline structures made from aluminum, silicon, and oxygen) to trap odors and keep antimicrobial chemicals at bay. 

NatureTex® is what earned the brand a spot on this list of sustainable sneakers. It’s made from 100% recycled water bottles!

Each pair of shoes is made with 70% recycled materials and only their strobel and midsole have some room (and plans) for improvement.

While high performance, these sneaker dress shoes are not waterproof because the process requires chemicals. They’ve recruited energy experts and footwear leaders to look for a waterproof barrier that won’t flood our environment with toxins. 

With concerns about microplastics, they’re not washable either. They do send you a second replacement insole for if and when the shoes get exceptionally funky. 

Supply chain & labor practices:

Third Mind believes in “community before commodity.” 

Because a smile on the face of a new shoe owner should also put a smile on the face of their footwear experts. With every sale, the brand is able to support workers with fair wages and livelihood opportunities to support their families and build a stronger community. 

Most of the supply chain is in Putian, China. Each product description highlights how many workers are empowered with safe working conditions for that pair of shoes. 

Green business practices:

When you slide your feet into Third Mind’s shoes, you’re sliding on about 20 discarded water bottles! This keeps them out of a landfill and provides you with a comfy pair of kicks. 

All glues are water-based (VOC-free) and the dyes are non-polluting, which means that Third Mind can recycle all water used in production. 

In fact, many of the materials used by Third Mind are also bluesign® approved, too. Meaning that they’re free of toxic chemicals. 

Community & charitable endeavors:

In addition to providing livelihood opportunities for their team’s communities, they also want to help out the communities of their customers. Send them an email with a cause or problem and they’ll work with you to find a solution. 

They’re currently working on a program to donate products to workers in the medical community. 


Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by Thousand Fell #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by Thousand Fell

Thousand Fell is maker of the “best sneakers for a better tomorrow.”

They’re also the maker of the first, zero waste, closed loop, recycled sneaker. In fact, TF is on a mission to never send another sneaker to landfill. 

Between sustainable design and easy-to-recycle materials, these are shoes you should wear over and over again—which means they won’t wear down our planet. 

They have lace up and slip on sneakers for both men and women.

Materials:

The brand prefers responsibly sourced, recycled, or biodegradable materials. 

The soles are made with natural and recycled rubber (from a net zero emission supplier).

The foam is made with castor beans, and the uppers, mesh liners, and laces are made with bio-leather blended from recycled plastic bottles and corn waste.

The mesh sock liner also features aloe vera to combat bacteria. 

For some of the bits that usually require plastic, locally sourced and food industry by-products like sugar cane, palm leaf fibers, and coconut husk are used instead. 

Keeping those white shoes white for longer (and contributing to the pair’s overall durability), they use a natural quartz barrier to make them stain and water-resistant. 

Supply chain & labor practices:

The brand’s sustainable sneakers are made in a family-owned factory located in Brazil. They try to source many of their materials locally in this region.

In order to promote more fast fashion alternatives, the nearly Certified B Corp is also a member of Textile Exchange—a nonprofit improving the textile industry.

Green business practices:

TS uses both carbon and water offsets, and encases their shoes in an organic cotton tote bag that can be reused or repurposed. 

The shoe box is also the shipping box, and is made with recyclable, FSC-certified, and carbon-neutral cardboard. 

If you live in NYC, you’ll even get your shoes delivered by a bike messenger to minimize the shipping impact. 

What’s really impressive is their recycling program, which allows you to either drop off or mail back your old TF shoes for $20 towards a new pair. 

They partner with TerraCycle to recycle the raw materials in your shoes. Some might even end up in another pair of Thousand Fell shoes!

Community & charitable endeavors:

Thousand Fell is a member of 1% for the Planet. 

Plus, any shoes in decent condition returned by the recycling program are sent to Soles4Souls to give sneakers a second life somewhere in the global community.

Available: Thousand Fell

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by ECOALF #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by ECOALF

Ecoalf lives by the slogan, “Because there is no Planet B.” It’s even printed on the soles of their huge range of PETA-approved vegan ethical sneakers.

They also make a wide range of award-winning apparel and accessories for men, women, and kids out of innovative, recycled fabric technology.

As a company, they’ve removed over 500 tons of waste from the ocean, including upcycling 200 million plastic bottles and 100 tons of ghost fishing nets.

Ecoalf is based in Spain (the first fashion brand in Spain to become a certified B-Corp) and was founded by Javier Goyeneche in 2009 after the birth of his son Alfredo.

Materials: 

Vegan shoe brand Ecoalf has lots of different designs for those looking to buy ethical sneakers. 

The fabric depends on the design.

Their Mustique, Ohio, and Because lines are made from 100% recycled polyester made from plastic bottles, while their Dallas, Land, Yale, and Sandford lines are 100% recycled nylon made from discarded fishing nets.

The Felders High Top Trainers, which are made of Pinatex, a vegan leather made from pineapple leaves. Their athletic Oreson Sneakers boast their most recent fabric innovation, a blend of 59% recycled polyester and 41% sorona, a corn-starch based biopolymer.

Every design meets non-toxic REACH standards.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Aside from the basic BSCI or SA8000 certifications, all entities of the Ecoalf supply chain have at least one Bluesign® certification or OEKO-TEX 100 certification.  

To close the loop, they also use zero waste packaging, namely recycled cardboard boxes made right at home in Spain (which reduced their carbon footprint by 13%). They also replaced all plastic filler with dye-free recycled paper. 

Community & charitable giving: 

In 2015, they started the ECOALF Foundation through which they coordinate the Spain branch of Upcycling the Oceans to clean up the Mediterranean (these plastics get woven into fibers for their products).

They donate 10% of all profits to this foundation, which also participates in other waste management and environmental education initiatives. 

Available: Ecoalf  |  Amazon UK

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by Native Shoes #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by Native Shoes

Native Shoes is based in Vancouver, Canada and since 2009, they’ve been making future forward shoes in classic designs to help the whole family “Live Lightly”.

Their array of fun, bright-colored options, and gradient patterns are especially great for the kiddos.

Most styles are under $100, so they’re some of the most affordable ethical sneakers out there.

Materials: 

As a PETA-certified “beast free” brand, Native has always been making shoes from microfiber vegan leather. 

The best style, the Mercury 2.0, features a zero waste 3D knit upper made of 50% recycled threads that are stretchy, breathable, and washable – so have no fear of rocking even their all-white eco-friendly sneakers. 

Most of their range still has an EVA mid and outsole. Great for active use and running, but not so much from a sustainability point of view. Be sure to dispose of them correctly.

Native’s Jefferson Bloom line is toeing the frontiers of sustainability by incorporating harvested algae biomass into the design.  

This process actually restores 80 liters of filtered water back into the environment for each pair of shoes, which helps keep marine ecosystems healthy, and prevent 15 balloons of C02 from entering the atmosphere.

Supply chain & labor practices: 

Native Shoes are made in factories in China and Vietnam, which claim to have “stringent ethical practices in place” to monitor fair wages and working hours. Aside from having constant connections on the ground to these factories, they visit several times a year.

Their packaging is recyclable.

Community & charitable giving: 

In 2018, Native Shoes initiated The Remix Project by partnering with Zappos for Good to better manage the life cycle of their shoes, by offering a free return and recycle program. 

The goal is to be totally circular by 2023. As of the end of 2019, they’ve successfully recycled nearly 30,000 shoes. Return ANY of their shoes either online or at a physical drop-off location

All shoes go into community projects, like building playgrounds from recycled materials in their home community of Vancouver.

Available: Amazon

Let’s put some sustainability in your step… and move toward eco friendly and ethical sneaker brands. Image by Nothing New (@cuffington) #ethicalsneakers #ecofriendlysneakers #sustainablejungle
Image by Nothing New (@cuffington)

After learning about the horrifying statistics behind footwear, Nothing New decided to make a vow using sneakers made out of just that: absolutely nothing new.

Their sustainable canvas sneakers are made with either all natural or 100% recycled materials.

Bearing ultra classic, solid color designs, these are simple eco-friendly sneakers for women and men.

Materials: 

The uppers are made of Better Canvas™, a 100% post-consumer Global Recycle Standard certified plastic (5-6 bottles worth) material, lined with cotton canvas sourced in partnership with the Better Cotton Index. 

The heel counters come from 100% recycled fishing nets and the outsoles are a blend of recycled rubber, recycled cork, and natural rubber (for high impact areas).

The shoes are finished with post-consumer plastic labels and laces, certified conflict-free copper and zinc alloy eyelets, and fully stitched construction (no glues or vulcanization).

Supply chain & labor practices: 

They source plastic for upcycling from Vietnam, Haiti, and Thailand, all collected by people employed under a supplier that runs in accordance with the ten U.N. Global Compact principles and International Labor Organization (ILO).

The trash is processed into thread, dyed, and woven in ethical factories in China.

Because they recognize the impact of offering worldwide shipping, they work with several carbon offset partners to be completely carbon neutral. 

Their Virtuous Circle Program means that you can send your worn out Nothing New shoes back for free and get $20 off a new pair. They’ll make sure your old ones get put back into use somewhere.

Community & charitable giving: 

No mention as to charitable partnerships at this time.

Available: Nothing New

WHY BUY ETHICAL SUSTAINABLE SNEAKERS?

More than 23 billion pairs of sneakers are made every year. Nike alone sells about 25 pairs per second. And because shoes have inherently limited lifespans, this leads to over 300 million pairs getting thrown out each year. 

Less than 5% of trainers and tennis shoes get recycled.

This is especially sad when you consider traditional sneakers are made with materials that hardly break down, if at all. 

And that’s not even considering footwear’s most common criminal: leather in it’s classic form.

While there does seem to be some leather options that are arguably ethical (like upcycled or recycled leather), almost all leather we would consider unethical.

Animal rights aside, the leather industry feeds heavily on the livestock industry, one for the world’s greatest producers of greenhouse gases.

Then there’s the tanning process. One of the most dangerously polluting practices in the world. The use of arsenic and cyanide are amongst 250 other chemicals used.

On the ethical side of things, tannery workers get exposed to these chemicals, which research has shown leads to respiratory problems and cancer.

Plus, leather isn’t just a by-product of the meat industry; the leather industry needlessly kills over 1 billion animals per year. 

Between the rate of consumption and poor fabric choices, traditional sneakers just aren’t sustainable.


Lots of companies these days are toying with eco-friendly footwear lines (way more than just three years ago). 

Even industry monolith Adidas has eco-friendly sneakers made of recycled ocean plastic gathered through a partnership with Parley for the Oceans. This includes specialized performance athletic shoes like cleats and volleyball shoes.

They’re also behind the Reebok Corn + Cotton shoes.  

Real steps toward sustainability or just a marketing ploy?

The jury is still out. Read our deep dive on sustainable running shoes for more on that.

So how did we determine which brands are the real deal and which ones are just blowing smoke?  

We used our sustainable and ethical fashion criteria, which we’ve developed after extensive research and consideration. You can read about it here.

The gist of the four main things we consider are:

  • Materials: We want materials with as low impact as possible, both from the raw production side and from the product’s end-of-life.  Just below, we’ll dive into sustainable materials specific to sneakers.
  • Supply chain & labor practices: This means both consideration for human rights across the supply chain and environmental impact. Companies should treat workers fairly, reduce their carbon footprint (and offset what they can’t), offer recycling programs if their products can’t be composted, and use low waste packaging.

    Third party certifications (like B-Corp and Fairtrade) really help to provide reassurance that they’re not just greenwashing. 

  • Charitable endeavors: We prioritize companies that give back and demonstrate they care about more than just their own profit. Because much of this technology is so recent, many of these sneaker startups haven’t quite found the footing to be fully charitable quite yet.

    Which is fine! We would rather they get a proper handle on their own practices before branching out.

Fabrics for Sustainable Sneakers

The best options are those that make totally natural sustainable sneakers (meaning they’ll biodegrade). 

Recycled synthetics (like recycled plastics such as Econyl and old sneakers) may not be biodegradable, but for now, they’re still considered more sustainable than options that source virgin materials and promote petroleum mining.

This all gets pretty complicated because sneakers can’t just be made of one thing. There are essentially five main components to consider: uppers, laces, insoles, midsoles, and outsoles. Let’s look at some sustainable materials for each.

Uppers: This is where most of the innovation lies. Companies are not only making sneakers from the usual suspects like organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, and Lyocell, but out of really interesting upcycled fabrics harvested from the waste of other industries.  

Take Piñatex: This is made by taking the wasted leaves from pineapple farmers (which normally just get burned) and turning them into fabric.

Laces: Currently, organic cotton is pretty much the best option here. Hopefully, they’ll leave out the plastic tip covers, too.

Insoles: Cork fabric is the best insole alternative at the moment. It provides a healthy and comfortable environment for your feet due to its antimicrobial properties and foot molding capabilities.

This relieves joint pressure, provides cushion, and wards against foot odor. Cork is also really sustainable because it’s sourced by shaving the bark of cork trees. This is a healthy process and can be repeated every 9 years during the tree’s 300 year lifespan.

Midsoles: This component still presents the largest problem for sustainability. Most still incorporate non-biodegradable, plastic-based materials in the midsole due to their performance properties.

EVA foam, for example, can almost always be found in the soles of running shoes to give them supportive, light cushioning. 

However, many are at least starting to use a blend of partially recycled EVA. We’re excited to see more and more substitution of virgin synthetic threads with recycled synthetics.  

Equally exciting is experimentation with biodegradable, low-impact fibers such as certified ethical wool instead. Again, we’re all about celebrating progress over perfection, so yay to the above sneakers!

Outsoles: Natural rubber is ideal here. It provides the most durability while still being bio-based and biodegradable. It’s also renewable and is sourced by harmlessly tapping the natural latex of the tree (just as one taps for maple syrup).

As always, we’ll be confirming with each brand their policies listed above and will update if anything changes.


The footwear industry is definitely taking a step in the right direction. 

We’re excited to have found ethical boots, eco friendly sandals and recycled flip flops to complement the suite of footwear needs!

A pair of any of these sustainable and ethical sneakers would complete your ethical activewear getup, so you’re all set to have a sustainable sweat fest.

Or just a casual stroll in the park. Whatever works.

And this is just the beginning. There are even more innovations in-step, many of which are still in the Kickstarter phase (like Rens totally waterproof eco-friendly sneakers made from coffee).  

If you found this list helpful, consider sharing with a fellow active junky or shoe addict.


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