Always Well Within

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The Incredible Impact of Buying Shoes

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?

[Note:  there are no affiliate links in this article.]


P. S.  The Gift of Presence E-Course with the magical Joy Holland begins August 1st.  This E-course might resonate for you if you would like to live more fully with clear intention, awareness, love and gratitude.  You can download the free Gift of Presence E-book on the course page too.  Check it out!

Thank you for reading and sharing!  If you enjoyed this article please subscribe for free updates by email.  With love, Sandra





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  1. I saw the headline of this post and thought, wow, Sandra’s branching out to style blogging. But this is a helpful post that presents new information to me–I had no idea that it takes 1,000 years for the sole of a shoe to degrade. That’s stunning. I’ll bear all this in mind next time I purchase shoes.

    • Charlotte,

      That’s hilarious because I rate about 0 on the style spectrum! Thanks for sharing that impression. It’s true that the title of this post was confusing; so I’ve changed it now. Glad the information was useful to you!

  2. That is very interesting information, Sandra. Glad I am wearing recyclable stuff. Also glad I don’t have lots of footwear. 🙂 Scary to think of the impact of shoes on the environment. I did know about tires though.

    Thanks for sharing. Love, Vidya

    • Yes, the image I get is like this huge graveyard of shoes! But it’s not just shoes…. I’m not surprised that you are tuned in already and are wearing recyclable stuff!

  3. jean sampson

    Hey, Sandra, although my heart is in the right place (I hope), my feet are another story. I do tons of walking, so shoes are the most important (and most expensive) item I buy—-everything else is a hand-me-down from my best friend who shops at thrift stores and yard sales! But the shoe has GOT to be right and I have feet that are very picky about shoes and even socks!!! So I have found one brand that works for me (I don’t buy anything but athletic shoes, quit buying those other kinds after college because I had jobs that don’t require “good” shoes—-no heals for me!). I am fortunate to have found that particular brand, after trying many others, and I think I will have to stick with it for the sake of my feet! If the feet ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

    • Hey Jean,

      I have similar challenges. My feet are ultra sensitive. I can’t wear thongs as the thong between the toes causes me misery and I haven’t worn heals for eons. The good thing is that we can all find our own best ways to reduce our own environmental impact. Even if it’s not possible for us in one arena, like shoes, we can put our energy into other areas and simply do the best we can. I appreciate your challenge when it comes to feet and shoes!

  4. I love the practicality of your approach. We are animals that make things. We can choose better things to make them out of. Approach #4 is something I try to keep in mind, but if I’ve already chosen to use the fuel to get myself to other places, I usually buy something while I’m there.

    Though I’m in complete agreement with your intents and the philosophy behind them, you must forgive me for wincing at that opening sentence. I suppose it’s true if the soles are intact to begin with, made of rubber or petrochemicals etc. and it sounds better than saying “artificial materials decompose slowly”, but it assumes that shoes all get thrown out and buried whole in landfills. At our recycling center, garbage is shredded, the shred is burned at the paper mill for local co-generated electricity, and the ashes are buried in soil used for new forest growth.

    Also, there are nine thrift/clothing consignment stores in town and more around the county offering “pre-owned” shoes, including popular designer brands. They may not be made of eco-friendly materials, but they already exist, so buying used shoes reduces the need to make more.

    I only own a half-dozen pairs myself, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that. I do commit to wearing them until they actually break apart and are irreparable, so most of them are over five years old. Half were bought new and half used. I am excited about the non-animal materials becoming available! I own one pair from Po-Zu that I bought in London. The company name is transliterated Japanese for “pause”, and I like their philosophy. Most of their shoes are about $125/pair though, and my used shoes never cost more than $20. They do look cool and feel great:

  5. Hi Mike,

    Those P0-Zu shoes are cute and I like their philosophy. Thanks for the link. It makes one feel that things are moving in the right direction and people really care. The shoes are out of my price range, but understandably stitching instead of glue must take more time.

    Sorry the first line made you wince. I used the word “typical” in that sentence to soften it but guess it didn’t convey that right sense to you! Sure, not every shoe sole takes 1,000 years to degrade. But I know the sole on my totally worn heavy duty sandals, which I’ve owned more than 5 years, pre-green awareness days, is hardly worn at all. I know those soles are going to hang around this planet for a hefty number of years. Yes, some shoes get recycled, but the amount of recycling that is actually done is minimal in comparison to how much gets thrown in the landfill. I’m saying that from memory, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

    Thank goodness we have other options like the ones you’ve mentioned and people are getting more and more conscious. Thanks for adding your thoughts. I really appreciate your openness and honesty.

  6. Thanks for alerting me….I had no idea that it would take 1,000 years.

    I don’t buy that many shoes but still it is important to reflect carefully before I buy a new pair. I tend to wear the same one until it wears out.

    Thanks for the link to eco shoes. I am amazed that they can look rather good too!

  7. This is totally different to the blogs I usually read and I’m so glad I found it! I had no idea how ‘unfriendly’ shoes could be. I think most people would be aware of the impact of ‘sweat shops’ when it comes to clothes but I didn’t realise the impact of shoe buying.
    Great post!

    • Carolyn,

      I’m so glad you are here! You have a beautiful blog yourself and such a unique voice. I think you are right that sweatshops have taken a more prominent place in our minds in the last ten years, but we think less about the origin and materials of our shoes. Thanks for your thoughts!

  8. Hi Evelyn,

    I bet few of us realize this about the sole of the average shoes. I didn’t. I’m like you though. I don’t have many shoes and then really wear them out as fully as a can. I think that’s a good strategy. Glad you liked the look of the eco brands. Take care!

  9. Sandra: I recently bought some starter running shoes from Wal-mart and the sole of both shoes has completely came out within about two months! Only two months. I thought starter was a good brand for running shoes.
    The other day I was running at the gym and I could have sworn I was feeling the treadmill. When I got home and examined my shoes I was thinking, “What the hell”?
    That was the first time my soles completely had holes clear through them.

    • Wow, that’s definitely an example of a sole that isn’t going to last 1,000 years. I always wonder where it disappear too. Thanks for telling us your experience. I’m going to have to keep working on the starter sentence to this article. I know my husband wears out shoes much faster than I do and my soles hardly wear out at all. I want to find out more about that “fact”.
      Sorry about your soles! It’s a bummer to spend money and not have an item last very long.

  10. Hi Sandra,
    The tips you provide in this reflection upon shoe buying are helpful with any type of purchase we are choosing 🙂 As for shoes, I tend to go barefoot, only wearing shoes in public places; I understand the importance of a sustainable product with minimal impact in all realms…and I am so glad to read the above comments which affirm so much of what you have shared!

    And, thank you for sharing my class information 🙂

    • Hi Joy,

      That’s a really good point, how these tips apply to all types of purchases. I think there is a lot to be said for going barefoot sometimes though I rarely do this my self. You could say I am a sensitive sole!

    • Sandra: Haha, the starter sentence to this article might not be incorrect. I have been told that I will get what I pay for and on that day I quickly found cheap shoes. It does suck to spend money on something and it does not last long, but I only spent about ten dollars if I remember correctly so that is not a lot. I have shoes, but not running shoes. If I run everyday, would you consider it a need or a want to have running shoes? I have shoes I can run in, but they are not too comfortable. I am trying to seperate my needs from my wants and I kinda feel like it is more of a want than need.

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