Each day we field lots of questions, many of them centre around where to buy specific ethical and sustainable items. Now the other day we received this comment on our post about sneakers and runners:
“It would be really helpful if the article included info about the shoes’ utility for athletic activity. I’m not sure that any of these shoes are appropriate for running or cross-training…”
The topic of high-utility sports shoes has come up several times over the years and up until recently, there really haven’t been many available options for eco-conscious sports lovers which is why we’ve never focussed on it. It’s only since sustainability has entered mainstream conversations over the last couple of years that we’re finally seeing more athletics brands introducing responsibly-made and eco-friendly sports shoes – albeit very slowly, and even now the options are still too few.
Nevertheless, we’re now in a position to explore the subject somewhat. So here are some running shoes and cross trainers that have considered some aspects of ethicality and sustainability without compromising sports function and performance:
1. adidas UltraBOOST
The rising stars in the eco-friendly sports shoe world is adidas’ range of UltraBOOST Parley and UltraBOOST X running shoes which was created in collaboration with non-profit environmental charity Parley. The innovative shoes are made of 95% Parley Ocean Plastic™ Primeknit upper, a specially made knit fabric produced from upcycled and recycled fibres sourced from marine plastic debris and fishing nets. Each pair of these trendy running shoes saves approximately 11 plastic bottles from entering our oceans.
Not just a good sustainable story, the UltraBOOST range of eco-friendly runners also perform to high expectation. It is lightweight which means its perfect for long distance running, either on the road or on the track. Suitable for low-impact gym sessions too. The shoes also have midsole cushioning and a flexible outsole to ensure maximum comfort and utility.
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UltraBOOST are stylish and functional, combining good design, high sports performance and sustainability and because it ticks so many boxes, it has received rave reviews. Of the 95 customer reviews left on the site for the women’s UltraBOOST shoes, 95% recommended the product and rated the shoes 4.7 out of 5.
Now as a company, adidas is also powering ahead, embracing sustainability and environmental initiatives such as becoming a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition as well as partnering with Parley to promote ocean conservation. As a result of these progressive environmental actions, this global sports brand – one of the biggest in the world, second only to Nike – has become one of the darlings of the sustainable fashion industry. Fashion ratings app Good On You rated the company ‘Good’ for its public commitment to reduce carbon emissions and implementing water reduction initiatives within its factories, and Baptist World Aid’s 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide gave the brand an ‘A-minus’ grade for Slavery & Labour Rights. According to consumer advocacy group Choice, Adidas “employees receive a basic salary – about 18% higher than the minimum wage, with bonuses for reliable workers. Employees receive safety training as well as social and accident insurance.”
To learn more or if you want to browse the range of UltraBOOST styles online visit adidas.com/parley.
2. New Balance ‘Made in USA’
Manufactured in the United States for over 75 years, the New Balance ‘Made in USA’ range represents just a small portion of their US sales (as the brand imports much more than it produces domestically, but this USA-made shoe collection is widely celebrated, with repeat American customers sharing their love for the shoes and for good reasons: these well-constructed high-quality athletic shoes are made to last, they fit well and their sports performance meets high expectations of fitness lovers, and it helps to keep Americans employed in a dwindling local rag trade and textile industry.
The Boston-founded brand manufactures in New England, employing hundreds of American workers in the process. It makes or assembles more than 4 million pairs of athletic shoes in the USA every year defying the trend to move all operations offshore and by remaining on home soil, gaining the respect of industry alliances and labour organisations.
While the brand doesn’t use eco-friendly fabrics (yet), it still ranks highly in The Good Shopping Guide, achieving 72 of 100. The 2018 Ethical Fashion Guide gave New Balance a ‘B’ grade for ‘Slavery & Labour Rights’ and ‘Good On You’ rated the brand ‘Not Good Enough’ as it has made “little to no progress towards paying a living wage across its supply chain”, its environmental performance poor and lacking in resource and waste management, and the brand cannot trace where it sources its leather and wool.
It’s clear that the jury is still out on the sustainability and ethicality of the business as a whole, but when it comes to ‘Made in USA’ running shoes, the New Balance products stand out. Read through the customer reviews and it’s clear that the Made in USA runners are a favourite amongst many:
“I have been purchasing New Balance running shoes for over twenty years. The quality of this shoe is excellent (this is my second pair). They fit well and my feet feel great after a run. They look great as well but I wish they came in a few more colors for men. To top off all of my compliments, they are made in the USA.” – Customer review left by Sean, Greensboro, North Carolina
The New Balance ‘Made in USA’ range offers a broad range for both men and women, in many styles and colours to suit just about all tastes and preferences.
To learn more or if you want to browse the range of New Balance ‘Made in USA’ styles vist their online store here.
3. Newton Running
The first running shoe company to achieve B-Corp Certification, Newton Running meets high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency as assessed by not-for-profit organisation B Lab. The business is headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, the mecca for outdoor lovers and long-distance runners which has seen the brand take off with the well-heeled (pun intended!).
Newton Running completes all design, research, and testing in Boulder and the shoes are produced overseas in their factory in China, which pays living wages and offers good working conditions, meeting the strict requirements as set out as part of B-Corp certification.
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This ethical shoe company is best known for creating innovative running shoes for both women and men, using advanced technology and trainers that ultra-marathon runners approve of since the shoes offer good arch support, are lightweight, responsive, and constructed well. Judging by the customer reviews on the website, Newtown is popular with athletes and non-athletes alike, receiving five-star reviews from nurses who are on their feet all day, to serious marathoners and trail runners. For high-performance ethically-made running shoes and cross trainers, you can’t look past Newtown Running.
“I have run in Newton’s for years and I love every pair I have had. Running in Newton’s has allowed me to correct my form and run injury free. Would recommend Motion 7. I can easily get in 400-500 miles per pair of Newton shoes. Great quality running shoe!!” – Customer review on website
4. New Balance ‘Made in UK’
Following similar production processes as their ‘Made in USA’ collection, this ‘Made in UK’ New Balance shoe range is ethically manufactured in their Flimby factory in Cumbria, UK, an area that has historically played a critical role in British shoe production. New Balance began producing in the UK in 1982 when the brand set its sights on expanding into the European market. It opened its shop in Flimby with just 40 workers and in over three decades, has grown their team to over 200 employees, the local workforce producing over 20,000 pairs of sports shoes each week. Each employee is highly skilled and have their hand in each part of production from cutting the leather to sewing the shoe. These traditional Cumbrian shoemaking skills are evident in the high-quality of construction that customers adore, proving that ‘Made in England’ shoe craftmanship is something people are willing to pay higher prices for and be proud to show off.
Disclosure: The curated list is based on the writer’s research and does not fully take into account all ethical considerations that are unique to each individual. Before making a purchase, we encourage you to do your own research paying particular attention to the supply chain and your own particular set of ethics. You can also check out online tools and apps that provide product reviews and brand ratings here. This list also contains affiliate links. For more information, click here.
Title image credit: Adidas UltraBoost Parley