Everyone loves a new pair of sneakers. That fresh, never-worn smell; the bouncy feel of new insoles; the vibrant colors that pop straight out of the box. 

However, the sneaker industry is notoriously unsustainable. A typical pair of new running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon due to a lengthy manufacturing process that requires energy to turn raw materials into the sneakers we know and love. 

Many shoes aren’t recyclable, either. Sneakers are made from a combination of materials, which means they cannot go in most people’s normal recycling bins. 

In recent years, the sneaker industry has taken steps to become more sustainable. Major brands like Nike and Adidas have made climate pledges and now offer in-store recycling programs. 

This is a step in the right direction which other manufacturers can learn from. 

Sustainable Materials

Most sneakers use a blend of materials to produce a pair of shoes. Oftentimes, these materials come from unsustainable sources and cannot be recycled in their current form. 

This is a major issue and means that many shoes end up in landfills. Over 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away per year in the U.S. alone and most end up in landfills. 

To address this issue, the sneaker industry needs to source and utilize more sustainable materials during the manufacturing process. Ideally, these materials should be carbon neutral and should be easily recyclable to improve the lifecycle of the shoes. 

Major brands like Nike are leading the charge toward more sustainable materials. Nike has an entire sustainable range, meaning you can buy their Air Max or Air Force 1’s without the guilt of worsening climate change. 

Nike uses a sustainable polyester blend in their Flyknit fabric, which means that the shoe uses less waste compared to traditional “cut-and-sew” shoes.  


Every major sneaker brand wants to look sustainable. However, some brands have been caught greenwashing. Greenwashing is an underhand marketing tactic that makes a business look sustainable when, in reality, that business has done little to combat climate change. 

Sneaker brands can avoid greenwashing by being more transparent and honest about their path toward sustainability. This is something that other major shoe brands like Crocs do well. 

Crocs publish a yearly update on their progress towards net zero and are honest about their shortcomings. Crocs currently use 2.56kg of CO2 per pair and are aiming to become net zero by 2030. 

Sneaker brands should take the same approach to transparency as Crocs. Rather than hiding their sustainability data, they should freely publish the information so sneaker-heads can make informed decisions. 

Currently, major brands like Adidas publish their targets, but it’s hard to establish their impact on our environment. 


Sneakers and shoes should be built to last. However, any sneakerhead knows that today’s shoes don’t last as long as they should and quickly begin to fray and fall apart. 

Consumers can help their sneakers last longer by storing and cleaning them correctly. This is all part of keeping a well-organized home, as dirty shoes that are left out will deteriorate quicker than pairs that are cleaned and stored in a safe space. 

Consumers can consider installing an under-stairs storage space or a well-ventilated attic will ensure that sneakers don’t grow mildew and are kept to last. 

Consumers can also vote with their dollars. Buying power has the potential to change sneaker culture and promote more sustainable, durable shoes. 

Sneaker Culture

Sneaker culture is infamous for its exclusivity and the joy of collection. There’s nothing wrong with buying a new pair of shoes for yourself or your collection, but it’s time to add a new metric to your evaluation when shopping for a new pair of sneakers: sustainability. 

Sneaker culture can go green by encouraging eco-friendly consumerism. This may sound like an oxymoron at first, but going green is a growing trend in the fashion and sneaker world. 

Sustainable brands like Allbirds have made a splash in the sneaker world and have partnered with major companies like Adidas to provide styles and exclusive crossovers specifically designed for the eco-friendly market. 

Green sneakers look great and have a minimal impact on the environment. However, some sneakerheads may need to reevaluate their buying habits if they want to lead a truly sustainable lifestyle. 

This is particularly important for folks who believe that “treating themselves” will lead to everlasting happiness. Instead, sneakerheads might want to practice other forms of self-care that have a lower impact on the environment, like exercise or mindfulness. 

Sneakerheads that do keep on buying should take pride in knowing about the materials and processes used during the manufacturing process. This adds a layer of insight and exclusivity to the process of forming a sneaker collection and can help their closet stand out from the rest. 

The sneaker industry is on a journey to becoming more sustainable. Major brands like Nike and Adidas have lofty climate pledges and are working hard to provide more sustainable alternatives. 

Consumers can do their part by supporting green shoes and recycling whenever possible. 


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