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10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

How To Choose The Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

The shift to sustainability1 2 starts with millions of small steps. In the case of running shoes, brands around the world have made great strides towards eco-alternatives for those who want to make their footprint on the earth a little lighter.

When it comes to the footwear industry, sneakers are perhaps the most popular style. Did you know that companies pump out over 23 billion pairs each year?

That’s 46 billion shoes made from brand new materials like polyester, rubber, and nylon, produced from petroleum and processed using toxic chemicals that create clouds of giant cO2 emissions. Yikes!

The sad part is that, though all of these materials are recyclable, often, shoes are just thrown in the trash. They head towards the landfill to slowly break down over the next 30-40 years, if not more. And perfectly good materials go to waste along with the carbon emissions it took to create them.

Thankfully, there are brands dedicated to disrupting this toxic cycle, some of which have been doing so for decades. There are a few newcomers to the scene on this list as well, fueled with the passion for helping the planet before it’s too late.

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

If you’d like to learn all about these brands you’ve come to the right place. Ahead, I’ll introduce you to my top 10 picks for the best sustainable running shoe brands on the market. Let’s take a look!

1. Veja

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

In English, the brand’s Brazilian name translates to “look.” The vision of Sébastien Kopp and François-Ghislain Morillion, Veja was created in 2005 to transform the way sneakers, a cultural symbol, were seen and experienced.

A brand with a name like “Look” wouldn’t be as impactful if its practices weren’t placed clearly before our eyes. On Veja’s website, you’ll find details—right down to the price it pays for organic cotton3—plus how, where, and why the brand sources and makes its sneakers.

In addition to showing customers exactly where each manufacturing process takes place in Brazil, you can read all about the makeup of its shoes on each product’s page.

Veja offers a range of men’s, women’s, and kid’s sneakers, but since this is a ‘best sustainable running shoe brands’ list, I’ll be zooming in on its runners.

Making just three styles of eco-friendly running shoes for adults, I found that the majority include a mix of recycled polyester3, organic cotton, and natural rubber4.

Veja’s transparency and admission of details no conventional brand would ever let past their lips make it an obvious pick for my top 10 list.

But what do customers think? That Veja creates one-of-a-kind running shoes. Short-distance runners praise the superb grip of the Condor 2, along with the brand’s trademarked L-Foam that minimizes impact.

You can get a pair of Veja running shoes for $140-$180 in classic colors. But, there are a few neon glints thrown here and there.

2. AllBirds

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

AllBirds has been around since 2014 when Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger came together to launch an innovative running shoe brand that used the natural power of Merino wool. Australian natives, the duo were no strangers to the sustainable properties of wool5, a fabric that had been used for socks, but not often for athletic shoes.

AllBirds designs don’t include any fancy bits and bobs or flashy logos. Its running shoes are simple and designed to be worn casually or even by those logging frequent 10ks.

The shoes, created to last through the seasons, come in two styles for men and women—Tree Dashers and Wool Dashers. The latter is made from premium Merino wool.

Tree Dashers come from eucalyptus tree fibers, another Australian native, that offer a lightweight shoe lined with the antibacterial and anti-odor miracle fabric that is Merino wool.

Related: View our full Allbirds Shoes Review to learn more.

The reason AllBirds made my cut for the best sustainable running shoe brands lies in its choice of renewable materials, but also in its transparency. Sustainability and being open about sourcing and manufacturing go hand in hand, as words are useless without proof to back them up.

What makes AllBirds running shoes some of the best? The brand’s use of a SweetFoam (sugar cane) midsole that returns energy to the runner with every step. This material also helps to make its runners completely carbon neutral, their cO2e score clocking in at 11.3 kg before the company buys offsets.

AllBirds running shoes have been tested with over 50 casual and professional athletes through an entire year’s worth of runs and were proven to pull their weight—and yours. The runners love how soft the Merino wool is on their feet, noting that it’s more of a slipper than a running shoe, conforming to your foot perfectly.

Machine washable and biodegradable, you can get a pair of AllBirds running shoes for $125-$145.

3. Icebug

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

Icebug is a Swedish brand on a mission “to get people out more AND be a leader in transforming our industry to be completely sustainable.” Created in 2001 by a mother and son team, Eliza Törnkvist and David Ekelund, the brand specializes in traction footwear.

In its men’s and women’s collections you’ll find 14 different styles of running and performance shoes spiked with cleats or firm grips. The shoes look incredibly high-tech, and it’s actually surprising they’re sustainably made.

IceBug shoes are made from 100% recycled PET polyester, BLOOM foam (algae), and recycled mesh made from old fishing nets. You can see the exact breakdown of what’s in each of the brand’s sneakers, and while the entire shoe isn’t made from recycled material, it’s certainly high up there.

IceBug strives in other ways to help the planet, reducing greenhouse emissions as much as possible, then offsetting them using UN-certified emission reductions.

Runners say they feel extremely confident when wearing IceBig on the ice, and that they’re able to run at their normal pace without worrying about slipping and falling.

Pick up a pair for between $160-$220.

4. Hylo Athletics

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

Hylo Athletics is perhaps the newest name in the sustainable shoe game. Its first design was released during the 2020 pandemic in the UK. The brand, founded by Michael Doughty, offers just one style of shoe for men and women, but one is all it needs considering the engineering for said shoe is out of this world.

The shoes come in six solid, versatile colors and are lightweight and supportive. But it’s their construction that makes shoppers do a double-take. They’re made from a mix of corn fiber, natural rubber, algae bloom, organic cotton, water-based glue, and just a touch of polyester.

By choosing such a high rate of natural materials, local sourcing, and minimal packaging, Hylo’s carbon footprint is just 7.83 kg. The brand squashes its impact down to zero by funding a project that installs biogas digesters in Sichuan that turn organic waste into clean fuel.

At the end of Hylo sneakers’ lives, they are completely recyclable. The brand even offers free return labels for those shipping their retired shoes back to be recycled.

When you think “Corn Runners” the word “durable” doesn’t exactly come to mind, but runners around the world are continually surprised at how sturdy the shoes actually are, along with being breathable, lightweight, and comfortable—and perfect for runs.

Grab a pair of Corn Runners for $130.

5. Giesswein

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

Giesswein is the name with the longest history on this best sustainable running shoe brands list. The Austrian company’s specialty is woolen shoes and apparel, and in 2019, it sold over 1 million pairs of shoes alone.

The brand is on a mission “to make wool perform in its most optimal way, and to use these properties to enhance your clothing and footwear.” Run by the third generation of Giesswein men, Markus and Johannesburg, the brand creates modern takes on traditional woolen shoes, offering 3D stretch to ensure they’re snug and stretchy for the perfect fit and feel.

Giesswein is a traditional company with admirable values, like wasting absolutely no wool and recycling 90% of the water used in production.

Using Merino wool, a natural and renewable resource, the brand’s shoes wick away sweat from your feet, keep them warm, and negate odors.

The brand makes three styles of running shoes: the Wool Cross, Wool Peak, and Wool Cross X Alpine. Customers love that with any of these shoes, socks aren’t required. The shoe itself fits snugly enough to the foot that it acts like a sock itself and keeps moisture away from your feet.

Using Giesswein Energy Run Material, the shoes actually give you energy back with every step, cushioning your impact on the ground. Their running shoes are made of something called Woolfinity, a twisted Merino wool yarn that increases the shoes’ durability and resilience when running. 

Giesswein’s website says that it’s made 700k customers happy with its shoes, which cost $160

6. Vivobarefoot

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

With shoemaking in their blood, seventh-gen cobblers Galahad and Asher Clark set out to make footwear a little differently. Their idea was sustainability, and so each and every shoe they make is made from a mix of recycled materials, and fewer materials overall. 

The premise behind barefoot footwear is to bring us all closer to the earth. The brand’s shoes connect us with nature, so it only makes sense that the things that tread the ground be kind to it too.

The goal at Vivobarefoot is to “make regenerative footwear and experiences to bring you closer to nature.” Offering four men’s and four women’s active shoes, each one is designed to help you perform to your best, using recycled PU foam for the insole. 

Related: Check out the entire VivoBareFoot Shoes Review for a full analysis.

The shoes are also completely animal-free and recyclable after you’re done using them. All you need to do is ship them back and Vivobarefoot will take care of the rest.

With a 4.3/5 star rating on Trustpilot from over 7k shoppers, runners love them for their support and second-skin-like feel.

You’ll find Vivobarefoot running shoes anywhere from $115-$170.

7. On Running

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

The On Running story begins in Zurich, Switzerland in 2012 with a simple yet bold mission to “change the world of running.” Founded by Olivier Bernhard, David Allemann, and Caspar Coppetti, the brand is a result of the three friend’s passion for running and the need to find the perfect running shoe.

It needed to have a cushioned landing but firm take-off, and for that, they turned to a fabric called Helion™ super foam, implemented a Speedboard® heel, a wide outsole, and a cushiony tongue to create the Cloudflyer Waterproof running shoe.

Today, the company offers more than 16 different running shoe styles for men and women. They’re each made from a mix of fabrics that are 100% waterproof and windproof.

Additionally, On Running is transparent, and its founders admit that they have a long way to go in the realm of sustainability.

The reason it’s on our best sustainable running shoe brands list is for its accountability and the fact that the Cyclon is the brand’s first 100% recyclable shoe—plus it only costs about $27 and is made from bio-based sources.

All of the brand’s other shoes clock in around $140-$230 and use about 20% recycled material. This is a well-known and favored brand in the running community. On Running shoes are available in over 6,500 stores in more than 50 countries around the world.

8. Lane Eight

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

Lane Eight is the product of James and Josh Shorrock, brothers who are on a mission “to make the world’s best workout shoes.” Of course, the perfect shoe also needed to be good for the planet, which is why their signature running shoe, the Trainer AD 1, is made from recycled plastic with an algae-based cushion and vegan suede.

Founded in 2017, the brand is based in Hong Kong, China. Its one-shoe style is offered in 13 different colors and patterns—including a range of bright neons, fun patterns, and classic neutrals. There’s some variation in terms of colors between the men’s and women’s lines, but not much.

The shoe is designed for running, but can be worn for gym sessions or casual walks too. It’s versatile and works for a range of movements, unlike traditional brands whose shoes cater to one type only.

The reason Lane Eight landed a spot on my best sustainable running shoe brands list is for its materials and the way it gives back. Removing toxic algae blooms from the ocean and using them as a cushion in its shoes, the brand also makes sure to send clean water back to the environments it takes from—negating toxic runoff and capturing carbon dioxide with the algae foam.

Lane Eight also works with organizations like Shoes That Fit which gives unworn and gently worn shoes to kids in need.

You can read all about what the Trainer AD 1 is made from clearly on the brand’s website (like 11 recycled plastic bottles) and it’s this kind of transparency that makes the brand one of the best eco-friendly running shoes around.

Lane Eight‘s trainers were awarded 4.7/5 stars by 835 buyers, who left frequent comments on how comfortable and breathable they are. You can pick up a pair for $110.

9. Ecoalf

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

Ecoalf won the Schwab Foundation’s Social Innovators of the Year award in 2020 for its line of conscious sneakers. Named after founder Javier Goyeneche’s sons, Alfredo and Alvaro, the brand has proved itself as one that’s honestly sustainable in every sense of the word.

The folks at Ecoalf believe they have a mission “that goes beyond just business.” They realize that since fashion is the second largest industry in the world that causes the most pollution, designers need to step up to the plate.

So, Ecoalf does its part by choosing recycled PET and reducing water and energy consumption. The brand uses 50% less energy and 20% less water than other sneaker companies do and generates 60% fewer carbon emissions.

You can see a list of where Ecoalf sources its recycled polyester (for instance, from post-consumer trash, the sea, and garment waste). So far, it’s recycled over 250 million plastic bottles into its collections, with 1.4 million used in the Fall/Winter 2020 collection made from 96% recycled materials.

Its shoes also use recycled cotton and tires in its men’s, women’s, and kid’s collections along with algae and Sorona® (partly plant-based and recyclable). What’s the result? Shoes that are recyclable and completely vegan.

Ecoalf offers a mix of casual, hiking, and walking shoes that can also double as casual runners. The Oregon Sneakers and Arctic Sneakers look to be the best choices for hitting the trail. In fact, the Oregon sneakers save 148.61 liters of water in the production process!

Now I understand why this brand won that award—due to its practices, and shoes, and its admirable journey. You can get a pair of running shoes for $115-$145.

10. Lunge

10 Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands

Lunge exudes German quality. From the sleek engineering of its running shoes to its high standards for sustainability, the brand—which has a factory located in a former cowshed in Düsseldorf, Mecklenburg—was launched in the 1980s.

The majority of the materials Lunge uses for its shoes come from Germany, meaning their carbon footprint will already be quite low. Only sourcing from trusted, high-quality suppliers, Lunge adheres to the many German guidelines for sustainability to ensure that having a great run doesn’t mean damaging the earth.

You’ll find three different styles of running shoes at Lunge—the Classic Run, Derby S, and Integer—available in cool colors like curry yellow and lawn green. Made of all vegan and non-toxic materials, Lunge running shoes are made with 80% EVA (normal sneakers have 20%) to balance comfort with support.

The high level of EVA makes them more efficient than traditional runners too, meaning you’ll retain energy when your feet hit the pavement. Reviewers say the brand’s shoes are bouncy and provide an extra boost when running on the track.

Experience comfort, performance, and a low environmental impact with a pair of Lunge runners for $180-$250.

Do The Best Sustainable Running Shoe Brands Last?

Before I can answer that question, I need to tell you that a lot of the shoes on this list contain a mix of materials. In fact, the majority are made with recycled materials like PET to earn the brand eco-star status.

For designs made primarily from plants, your shoes won’t necessarily break down any faster than a traditional pair would because natural materials are hardy and durable. Plus, you’ll need to send the shoes back to be recycled and composted, you won’t be able to bury them in the garden—meaning they’re not going to break down easily.

There are a few names on this best sustainable running shoe brands list that use plants to create their shoes, but the majority use recycled plastics, along with recycled wool, and cotton.

These choices help the brand cut down on waste and carbon emissions while still retaining the quality and function of a traditional running shoe.

Are Sustainable Running Shoes Suitable For Serious Runners?

Here’s some good news: most of the best sustainable running shoe brands listed here have rigorously tested their shoes with long-distance runners. These companies are often started by people who are serious runners, and for that reason, they’re serious about designing a shoe that will go the distance.

Eco-shoe brands know they have high standards to meet to be successful, and one of the components of that success would be creating a supportive shoe that would last through the toughest conditions.

Some of my top picks are even compatible with orthotics for extra support, have interchangeable soles, or offer a range of fits catering to all types of feet.

So, yes, sustainable running shoes are just as suitable for serious runners as they are for those who go for casual, light jogs—which is great news!

Can You Recycle Sustainable Running Shoes?

When reading through this best sustainable running shoe brands list, you probably saw the words “biodegradable6,” “compostable,” and “recyclable” quite a lot.

Before you plan out a nice garden grave for your expired plant-based runners, you should know that none of them can be composted at home. Instead, they’ll need certain conditions to break down properly, and often, brands provide incentives for you to send your expired, bio-shoes back to be properly broken down in their facilities.

Remember, most eco-shoes are made from a mix of materials, meaning all parts won’t break down the same way. For example, you may find a shoe that’s made from both organic cotton and recycled PET, and though the cotton will decompose on its own, the PET won’t.

For more information on how to recycle or compost your new sustainable shoes, talk to the brand you bought them from.

What Are The Best Materials For Sustainable Running Shoes?

Running shoes are traditionally made up of a mix of plastic, rubber, polyester, nylon, and sometimes even synthetic leather or PU. It takes 30-40 years for some of these materials to break down, while others will continue living on for much longer. And though I don’t usually like to point fingers, plastic, I’m talking about you.

Now that you’ve read about some of the coolest sustainable running shoe brands around, it’s important to understand what the materials they’re using mean for the planet. So I’ll tell you about the most common eco-friendly materials next.

Recycled Rubber

First off, any material you recycle is going to be better for the planet than if you were to source a brand new substance. Rubber comes from petroleum or certain types of trees and hardens into a flexible, springy, and tough material.

Rubber is usually used to make the bottoms of running shoes, where its durability definitely comes in handy. If made from plant rubber, it will naturally break down but it takes over 100 years to do so.

Natural Yarn

Natural yarn can be made of any kind of natural material, such as cotton or wool, that’s spun into filaments and then woven into yarn. When yarn is spun, the strands are twisted, resulting in a super-strong structure perfect for running shoes that see a lot of action.

Since the natural yarn is soft, it cradles your foot for a more comfortable wear. Plus, it’s made from organic matter, so it’s completely biodegradable.

Merino Wool

Merino wool is a natural resource, sheared from the fluff of happy, hillside sheep. The material is naturally strong, odor-resistant, and protective, making it ideal for things that go on your feet.

There are so many good things about Merino wool, but there are a few downsides as well. For instance, even though it wicks moisture away from the skin, the material itself can take a long time to dry.

Also, though we like to think of the sheep as happy, some are poorly treated and the shearing process can injure them if not carefully done.

Cork

Cork comes from the cork oak tree. It’s spongy, supportive, and durable, and bounces back with ease. If that doesn’t sound like the ideal base of a shoe then I don’t know what is.

Cork breaks down naturally and can be tossed into your home compost, but getting cork from the trees can be tricky as you can only harvest them every 9-12 months so as to not harm the tree’s life—but that’s more of a pro than a con. It just means that cork may not be as widely used as it could be.

Recycled Plastics

Recycled plastic is great. Many of the companies on this best sustainable running shoe brands list use recycled plastics in their designs, turning plastic water bottle waste into supportive shoes that save the planet.

Plastic, whether in PU or Polyester, because of its naturally tough and flexible nature, is a withstanding material that holds up under constant pounding, water, and movement.

Though there are tons of great reasons to use recycled plastics (like stopping the creation of new ones) at the end of the day, the material is still plastic. It can only be recycled so many times in its life.

Recycled Mesh

To give a close and supportive fit, some of the best sustainable running shoe brands use woven mesh for the body of their shoes. This mesh acts like a sock, providing light compression to your foot and ankle.

Recycled mesh may have come from other running shoes and is often made from polyester or nylon. Neither of these materials is natural, so they’re not compostable, but they can be recycled.

Organic Cotton

Compared to traditional cotton, natural cotton uses 80% less water to produce. It’s used by many sustainable brands and is perhaps one of the easiest choices when it comes to choosing an earth-friendly option.

Organic cotton is kind on the skin, breathable, and soft. When inside a running shoe, this material has a comfortable feel for feet that go the distance.

Perhaps the only downside to this biodegradable material is that organic cotton farms produce 25% less cotton than traditional types, meaning it will be a more expensive option.

Recycled Polyester

Polyester is made from petroleum and during its production, harmful chemicals are used. This process means that toxins are released into the atmosphere and flushed down the drain in the form of microplastics that end up in our drinking water or the ocean.

Recycled polyester saves this process from being repeated, but often, bleach and chemicals are used during the recycling process to get the different shades of fabric to all match.

Anything that saves on materials and resources will always be a better choice, but in terms of sustainability, polyester is non-renewable and cannot be composted. Because of its sturdy nature and flexibility, using it for running shoes makes sense.

Sugar Cane

Sugar cane is a pretty awesome renewable resource and it’s 100% recyclable, meaning it can be used over and over again without breaking down—even though it’s a natural resource.

Sugar cane, when processed for shoes, is called SweetFoam, a spongy, durable, and supportive material that’s used for the bottom part of a shoe. It’s made from the parts of the sugar cane that would have been discarded after all the sweet goodness is sucked out.

It’s been said that SweetFoam has the potential to be a zero-carbon emissions material.

References:

1. Egal, F. and Berry, E.M. (2020). Moving Towards Sustainability—Bringing the Threads Together. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 4. doi:10.3389/fsufs.2020.00009.

2. Smith, Peter & Sharicz, Carol. (2011). The shift needed for sustainability. The Learning Organization. 18. 73-86. 10.1108/09696471111096019.

3. Radhakrishnan, Shanthi & Vetrivel, Preethi & Vinodkumar, Aishwarya & Palanisamy, Hareni. (2019). Recycled Polyester—Tool for Savings in the Use of Virgin Raw Material. 10.1007/978-981-13-9578-9.  

‌4. Z. N. I. Husna and A. R. Azura , “Utilization of natural rubber latex as raw materials for rubber shoe outsole”, AIP Conference Proceedings 2267, 020078 (2020) https://doi.org/10.1063/5.0016152

5. Doyle, E.K., Preston, J.W.V., McGregor, B.A. and Hynd, P.I. (2021). The science behind the wool industry. The importance and value of wool production from sheep. Animal Frontiers, 11(2), pp.15–23. doi:10.1093/af/vfab005.

6. Moshood, T.D., Nawanir, G., Mahmud, F., Mohamad, F., Ahmad, M.H. and AbdulGhani, A. (2022). Biodegradable plastic applications towards sustainability: A recent innovations in the green product. Cleaner Engineering and Technology, [online] 6, p.100404. doi:10.1016/j.clet.2022.100404.

7. Bin, S., & Dowlatabadi, H. (2005). Consumer lifestyle approach to US energy use and the related CO2 emissions. Energy Policy33(2), 197–208. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0301-4215(03)00210-6


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