Eco-friendly shoes

Hemp shoe

One of my readers asked me how to avoid leather in shoes.  This is a great question! Avoiding leather in shoes can be challenging, especially for those who live in cold climates or have sensitive feet that are irritated by petroleum-based synthetic shoe materials.

Simple Shoes is one company that makes “shoes for a happy planet.”  The average shoe takes 1,000 years to biodegrade, whereas many of the Simple Shoes will biodegrade in 20 years.  The company aims for 100% sustainability and offers shoes made from a combination of cotton, hemp, cork, silk, natural rubber, wool, coconut, bamboo, recycled plastic, recycled rubber, or eco-certified leather and suede.  They also produce a vegan line of shoes and bags.

By the way, this is not an advertisement for Simple Shoes.  I’ve never tried their products and can’t vouch for their comfort or durability. I just want you to know that there are alternatives. Safer products are almost always available for whatever you need! Just keep looking and asking questions till you find healthier items.  BTW, you can read customer reviews for Simple Shoes at zappos.com.

If you can’t avoid leather and can afford the prices, you can buy eco-certified leather and suede, which is available from Simple Shoes, or Silver Tannery Rated leather products from the Earthkeepers™ line from Timberland.  Eco-certified and Silver Tannery Rated means that the leather is produced in a more sustainable way.  These are just two examples; there are other companies making earth friendly shoes as well.

It’s not a question of one ‘right’ solution for everyone. Each individual will need to consider items they purchase in light of their particular situation and genuine needs as well as the overall earth friendly, sustainability factor.  Someone who lives in Finland will require different footwear than someone who lives in Hawai’i, for example.

A new way of shopping

Clearly, it’s no longer viable to buy products based on our old habits and preferences. A new way of shopping is in order, which requires taking some time for research and a willingness to try new products.  When you find a sustainable product that works well for you, spread the word.  Doing so will save time for others.  Your generosity of spirit will be rewarded when others respond in a like manner.  We need to create new chains of word-of-mouth and blog-to-blog eco-marketing that circumvent the standard, wasteful techniques.

On the short run, it may be more expensive to buy sustainable products, but let’s keep an eye on the bigger picture.  What can be more costly than developing one of the many conditions—like cancer and allergies—that are on the rise due, in part, to environmental pollution?  What could be more costly and devastating than having increasing numbers of children with early-onset chronic illness?  In part, you can offset the extra cost by buying fewer items.  Not to be a killjoy, but no one actually needs a whole closet full of shoes.

In a new eco-friendly, green world, there will be earth friendly products available for everyone at reasonable prices, but it will take time to get there. Imagine a PayLess Shoe store that doesn’t stink of plastic and chemical toxins!  Some of us will have to pay more now until larger markets are created for sustainable products.

No one would intentionally poison themselves.  As more environmental information becomes available and greater dialog ensues, people will gradually learn to make better choices for themselves and the planet.

“Rubber” flip-flops

It’s the height of summer in my part of the world and local stores are advertising zori flip-flops as “rubber” slippers for as low as $2.59. What does “rubber” mean in this context?

According to Wikipedia, “most flip-flops are made with polyurethane, which comes from crude oil. This material is a number seven resin and cannot usually be recycled in small amounts.” Real “natural” rubber flip-flops usually cost around $15-20, but some companies now offer flip-flops made from recycled tires at a more reasonable price.

While it may not sound fashionable, if you can, it’s better to buy sturdier shoes that will last longer rather than disposable ones like cheap flip-flops.  As unchíc as it may seem, try to wear your shoes until they are well worn.

Have you found eco-friendlier shoes?  Do you have any suggestions for avoiding leather shoes?

If you liked this article, please share it with others.  Thanks very much, Sandra

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Comments

  1. says

    I feel like you wrote this blog post just for me. :) I would love to find something eco-friendly that fits because I would buy it in 3 colors and then I wouldn’t have to shop again for a long time. I detest shoe shopping because it’s very hard to find something that fits and won’t make my feet break out. I don’t mind paying more for shoes at all if they are well-made. That keeps me out of the store!

    • Sandra Lee says

      Jennifer, I did write it just for you! :) But I’m sure it applies for others as well so I’m really appreciative of your feedback. I have sensitive feet too, but not as extreme as you. I definitely can’t wear thongs that have an insert between the toes for example! Canvas shoes can also be a problem for me if I wear them barefoot. I’m lucky I live in a warm climate. I don’t know if a “hemp” shoe would work for me. Trying eco-friendly options will be a big experiment for me too. Zappos.com carries the Simple Shoes brand and you can read their customer reviews for any particular shoe to at least get an idea if it might work. Good luck with finding shoes that work for you.

  2. says

    I just found this post and am so grateful. I’m transitioning to veganism, and as I make this shift, I’m becoming more aware of how often animal products appear in my world other than in food options. My spirit is guiding me to making a smaller footprint on this earth and to lead a life that does not contribute to cruelty or abuse. Thus, a happy dance ensued when I saw this post :) Thank you!

    • Sandra Lee says

      Jean, You’re welcome! I am awed by your commitment “to lead a life that does not contribute to cruelty or abuse” and bow to you. Please let us know as you find other good alternatives. Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment. I’ve been planning to head over your way to look at your post on the 7 link challenge. Hugs.

  3. says

    Well this is a good alternative to walk more comfortable. Besides, it’s a good contribution for the planet. I live in a country where we have Rainy Station and Dry Station; right now we are in Rainy Station, and I will love to use that shoes ’cause it’s very cold. :) It’s the best alternative right now to my feet.

    By the way, I love green shoes! :)

    Best,

    Vivi

    • Sandra Lee says

      Hi Viviana,

      Where I live, it alternates between rainy and sunny almost every day! But fortunately not too cold. I’m sorry it’s cold there now. Hope you are keeping your toes warm. I thought the green shoe was quite nice too. Thanks for your comment.

  4. says

    1,000 years? — Wow! … Do all shoes go to shoe Heaven? I bet I can find some of my old Converse.

    It just doesn’t seem right to take that long to degrade, especially given how quickly mine seem to wear out :)

    Lately, I’ve been more concerned about finding shoes that are healthy for our feet. I’ve heard a lot of shoes cause damage because they work against our feet. The guy from the book, Born to Run, dispels a lot of myths. I never imagined looking into the five-fingered shoes but after hearing enough real-life success stories and seeing some of the evidence, I’m curious and now more open to the possibility.

  5. Sandra Lee says

    Hi J. D. Just in case you are wondering, the source for the 1,000 years is:

    http://www.thedailygreen.com/living-green/blogs/recycling-design-technology/biodegradable-shoes-461009

    Simple Shoes has a special collection called Bio-D that breaks down on average in 20 years in a landfill.

    I agree 1,000 years sounds incredible! My husband wears out his shoes like you. But then, according to plastiki.com it takes 450 years for one plastic bottle to degrade into the ground and shoes are typically a bit stronger, even if well worn, than a plastic bottle.

    I appreciate your concern about finding shoes that are healthy for the feet. Shoes just never seem to be comfortable so how could they be healthy! I’ve never heard of five finger shoes! That’s news to me. Hope you find ones that work for you.

    All the best to you and your feet!

  6. says

    Hi Sandra,

    Oh dear in AZ I wear flip-flops all of the time. I had no idea what they were made of…I have had Simple shoes and do love them. I have two daughters that are in sales for an athletic co. So my closet is overflowing. I just read in my running magazine that Soles 4 Souls is an organization that donates used shoes to people in Haiti. I think I’ll spend tomorrow giving some of my shoes away.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Sandra Lee says

      HI Tess, We’re all learning together! I can’t believe how clueless I was 5 years ago about my personal impact on the environment and I’m still learning each and every day. So glad I can learn alongside special people like you. :) Thanks for the tip about Soles 4 Souls.

  7. says

    I suppose those ‘crocs’ that were popular for a long time would be the classic “petroleum-based synthetic” shoe? No doubt. Sadly I have never had a more comfortable shoe on my foot…it was very, very hard to remove them. I eventually did though. If anyone ever finds a natural alternative to these please call me straight away!! :)

    Thanks for the simple shoes link. I don’t know if I’ll try them, but they look interesting. some of the sneakers look quite cool.

    • says

      Welcome Majeeda, Glad you could stop by. The Crocs are petroleum based, but they are made from only one type of plastic rather than several so it’s possible/easier to recycle them. So do please encourage people to recycle their Crocs and not just throw them away! I think the Simple Shoes look quite cool too and I’ve read some good customer reports in terms of comfort for at least some of the styles.

      That’s an incredibly beautiful cauliflower potato curry in your last post! Awesome photograph. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

  8. says

    Thank you for the tip on recycling. I didn’t know about that. I had seen a discussion regarding the problem as far as just the safety of wearing a plastic product next to your skin though and that was what put me off wearing them all the time … mind you it’s pretty hard to get my children out of them outside of school time. I really want to find an alternative so I’m going to keep looking…my eyes still mist over when I look at mine. I’m so pathetic :P

    Thank you re the curry. It was tasty. Btw I’m about to post on 101 things I feel grateful for so you’ve really started something. I hope you don’t mind. Best wishes to you Sandra.

  9. says

    I have been having a lot of fun keeping my eyes open for environmentally sound, fair trade, & vegan shoes since I read your post Sandra. I’ve seen many nice ones, too many to post here. Ones I really like for summer are these recycled car tyres thongs (which you mentioned in your post, although these ones are not that cheap) here.

    • says

      Majeeda,

      Good hear the fun you’re having exploring eco-shoes! Thanks for following up and leaving the link – love the name “ethical wares”. These look like great flip flops. All the best to you.

  10. deltaflute says

    Hi, there is an underlying problem with Simple Shoes. They are made in China. So it takes oil to bring the shoes to the United States, for example. The shoe market using sustainable green fabrics manufacturer products over-seas, which in my opinion, doesn’t make them “green”. The shoe market in the United States uses traditional fabrics and leathers.

    The clincher for me over how green is green is the environmental regulations in China. There’s no real oversight so manufacturers are dumping chemicals into the water supply and they aren’t protecting the health of their workers. The United States has it’s own bad manufacturing history, but whistle blowers from the US won’t end up in forced labor camps making Christmas tree lights, auto parts, and tools simply because they said that the company followed bad environmental practices.

    So for me it’s more about cleaning up the human right’s abuses in manufacturing processes that will lead to better over-all environmental practices.

    For now I buy the less green shoes made in countries where workers can unionize and have a voice. My favorite shoes are Birkenstocks which are made in Germany.

    It’s sad that we don’t have any choices at home.

    • says

      Laura,

      These are really excellent points, Laura. Thank you for educating us further and expanding our thought horizons. I’ve learned more since writing this article too and it includes some of the considerations you mention. I agree that transporting goods across the world takes oil and that’s not a terrific idea either. In addition, I’m horrified by the human rights abuses that takes place routinely in China and Chinese-occupied Tibet. Then there are the other faulty ecological practices you mention that occur in foreign countries. Learning to be green is complex. It seems the best answer is to live simply and reduce the need for unnecessary goods. Of course, we all need shoes, but we don’t need a closet full of them.

      I’m very appreciate of your comment. All the best to you.