According to Planet Shoes, it can take 1,000 years for the sole of a typical shoe to fully degrade.
1,000 years! Let that sink in and stir you up.
Knowing this puts an entirely different spin on buying footwear. At least, for me.
No more popping into a shop and picking up whatever strikes my fancy. Now, it takes time, research, and thought.
But, the process can be simplified if you have a helpful information resource and take to a reliable, eco-friendly brand or two.
Planet Shoes is one place that offers a simple guide to sustainable shoe facts. The online store provides:
- a list 40 “Eco Brands” (see warning below);
- A list of “Eco Logical Materials”.
But buyer beware. Here are 4 factors to consider when you are seeking less environmental impact from your footgear.
1. Go to the Green Spot
While many online shoe stores offer Eco Shops, they live alongside the planet-damaging options. First, choose the right tab to get you to the green – or at least, greener – spot. Then, be cognizant that you haven’t inadvertently clicked into unsafe territory, suddenly magnetized by a good deal or eye-catching pair.
2. Watch Out for Green Washing
In some stores, “Eco Brand” can mean just using recycled packaging. The label Eco Brand doesn’t necessarily guarantee any element or every element of every shoe in the line will indeed reduce your environmental impact.
You still need to scour the materials list to see what is and isn’t sustainable. And, you practically have to be a scientist to understand some of the terms.
“TPR?” What’s that? Is it good or bad?”
TPR stands for thermoplastic rubber, which, according to Wikipedia, has the “potential” to be recyclable.
One of my friends recommended Toms because with every pair of shoes you buy, the store gives away a pair of shoes to a child in need. Toms says, “…we use earth and animal-friendly materials wherever possible.” That sounds good, but you still need to do your homework on each pair of shoes you are considering given that “wherever possible” does not mean “always.”
3. The Plastic Side of Vegan
“Vegan” means a product – in this case, a pair of shoes – that contains no animal by-products. Vegan doesn’t automatically mean eco-friendly, however. Vegan products may contain synthetic plastic, which is most commonly derived from petrochemicals. Now, most vegans are earth conscious too, but not everyone selling vegan is vegan. We have to go the extra mile to be sure it’s not a petrochemical-permeated product.
4. How Many Miles From Birth to You?
Consider where the shoe was manufactured. The country of origin will be in the materials list if this company shares this information. Not all companies do.
The origin of your shoes matters because 71% of our oil use goes to transporting ourselves and the goods and foods we purchase. We’ll make the greatest gains in reducing oil use by opting for locally made products and buying less.
You’ll find a preponderance of popular footwear made in China, including the Merrell, Acorn, Keen, Simple Shoes, Teva, and Patagonia lines.
Europe seems to slide in second with Germany, Portugal, and Spain home to shoe manufacturers in this part of the world. I found a single brand from Mexico, but there may be more.
Few shoes are made in America: New Balance, Vintage Shoe Company, TickTacToes are a couple that stood out. But are these Eco Brands? Not necessarily. Back to research mode for a US-based individual.
This might be the greatest challenge when it comes to buying earth friendly shoes. Just how many thousands of miles has the shoe already traveled?
Make the Best Choice You Can
I find it challenging to buy new shoes. The local sources for shoes are chain stores that don’t carry Eco Brands. In the end, I do my best to balance all the above considerations, knowing that there are few “perfect” choices, and then push “buy.” Sometimes, I’ve made a mistake or have had regrets, but my batting average is getting better. My main strategy is to buy less. But it does help to have reliable information and a few real Eco Brands, when I really do need a new pair of shoes.
On the positive, side, although it may take a little more time to research eco-friendly shoes, whatever we can do to reduce our environmental impact makes for a better world. That’s something to celebrate! And, maybe, we can even help a child in need when we make our shoe purchase.
Did you know that the typical shoe sole has such a long-term impact on the environment? Do you have any tips for buying eco-friendlier shoes? Have you found a true Eco Brand?
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