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Best Sustainable Running Shoes in 2021

 

Did you know that almost every pair of running shoes you’ve owned in the past had had a negative effect on the environment?

From the material to the manufacturing process, the comfy, sturdy running shoes on your feet are much less eco-friendly than you ever thought.

If this is shocking news to you, don’t worry! It’s easy to make a change and start wearing sustainable running shoes.

Thankfully, most brands have made an effort to become eco-friendly. Here are some of the best sustainable running shoe brands out there today.

If you already wear these brands, chances are you’re already wearing environmentally-friendly shoes!

Brooks

Brooks has taken big steps towards becoming a more sustainable brand. They employ what they call a “People and Planet Path”, and are committed to both equality and sustainability.

Two of the biggest changes they’ve made are to ensure responsible sourcing and sustainable consumption.

This means that they do their best to ensure a sustainable and ethical supply chain for all the materials involved in creating their shoes.

It also means that they use recycled or renewed materials wherever possible and are working towards a “zero waste” manufacturing process.

Their other big initiative is to become entirely carbon-neutral by 2040. Their first carbon-neutral shoe, the Ghost 14, is currently on the market.

1. Brooks Ghost 14

The Ghost 14 is a carbon-neutral shoe, but that doesn’t mean it has a zero-waste manufacturing process.

Brooks adds up all the emissions from the production of a pair of Ghost 14s and offsets that by contributing to carbon offset projects.

This means they’re directly supporting projects that focus on improving air quality. Brooks purchases credits from four specific projects to neutralize the emissions from the Ghost 14’s production process.

These four projects are:

  • Crow Lake Wind Farm, U.S.: Wind farm that generates low-carbon electricity.
  • Doe Mountain Improved Forest Management, U.S.: Sustainable forest that supports healthy wildlife.
  • Wenchang Biogas, China: Helps farmers in rural areas in China to build and maintain household biogas digesters, which are a source of renewable, clean fuel for cooking and heating.
  • Gyapa Stoves Project, Ghana: An efficient stove that requires 46% less fuel, creates less smoke, and cooks food faster than regular stoves, reducing carbon emissions and toxic fumes.

Another eco-friendly update to the Ghost 14 is the upper. The air-mesh material, which includes 3D Fit Print technology for a custom fit, is made almost entirely of recycled polyester.

Those color palettes that you love on the Ghost? They’ve also been made safer for the environment by the use of low-impact dyeing processes. Brooks is also committed to working with factories that use renewable energy.

The Ghost 14 is still a dream on the feet. A slab of DNA LOFT foam in the midsole makes them super soft and comfortable but retaining a nice bit of bounce.

Your feet will be hugged all-round, thanks to the extra padding on the collar and tongue. The addition of a segmented crash pad helps to create a smooth transition from heel to toe.

PROS:

  • Carbon-neutral shoe
  • Full DNA LOFT midsole
  • Segmented crash pad
  • Plush tongue and collar

CONS:

  • Heavier than previous iterations
 

New Balance

New Balance is another brand that has been taking a stand against climate change. Here are some of their environmentally-friendly goals:

  • 100% preferred leather and 50% recycled polyester by 2025.
  • Source 100% renewable electricity for owned operations by 2025.
  • Eliminate use and discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2025.
  • Zero waste to landfill in our footwear factories by 2025.
  • 30% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030.

If you’re a New Balance fan and want to help, check out the Fresh Foam Hierro v6. For every purchase, NB donates 1% to the 1% for the Planet initiative.

Your money will go towards organizations and businesses that are actively working on mitigating the effects of climate change.

2. New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v6

The Hierro is a trail running shoe with a lightly lugged sole. It’s a neutral shoe with a synthetic upper using HypoSkin technology, which hugs the foot and adapts as you move over rugged terrain.

Toe Protect rubber on the toe stops you from injuring your toes on rocks or other hazards. The Vibram Megagrip outsole uses sticky rubber to ensure an excellent footing at all times.

Fresh Foam midsole cushioning keeps your feet well-padded and reduces shock on every step. A cushioned tongue and ankle collar add to the overall comfort of this shoe.

You can wear the Hierro off the trail, too. Although the outsole is high-traction, it has light lugs that are comfortable on flat ground too.

They run slightly narrower than NB shoes usually do. Keep this in mind if you like New Balance for their width.

PROS:

  • 1% donated to environmentally-friendly organizations
  • Lightly lugged outsoles
  • Rubber Toe Protect tech
  • Vibram MegaGrip rubber outsole

CONS:

  • Slightly narrower than other NB shoes
 

On

On is a Swiss shoe brand, started up in the beauty of the Swiss Alps.

They base their operations around sustainability. Although they’re a relatively small company compared to other major shoe brands, they’re making an effort to do things right.

In 2020, On received approval from the Science Based Targets Organization for their 2030 CO2 reduction targets. They consider this to be a huge step towards their goals of decarbonization.

They do their part towards protecting the environment by ethically sourcing their materials, developing eco-friendly packaging, and creating a completely recyclable running shoe—the Cyclon—which is available only through a subscription service.

Sign up for the Cyclon subscription service, and when your shoes are worn out, simply ship them back to ON (for free) and you’ll receive a new pair.

In the meantime, your old shoes will be recycled and turned into new ones. Win-win situation!

3. On Cloudflow

Although On’s most sustainable shoe is their new Cyclon, not everyone will be up for this kind of deal. The On Cloudflow is a great choice for everyone, and is also pretty sustainable!

On uses up to 70% recycled polyester in the making of the Cloudflow. It’s already a lightweight shoe with no excess material, so this is significant in terms of sustainability.

The company uses CloudTec technology in their shoes, which is their unique “bubble” Helion Superfoam midsole/outsole design that does an excellent job of absorbing impact and making for a comfortable and springy ride.

A Speedboard in the midsole gives these shoes some pleasant bounce. Rubber traction pads on the forefoot and heel allow for great grip when turning or pushing yourself forward.

PROS:

  • Up to 70% recycled polyester
  • CloudTec technology
  • Helion Superfoam midsole
  • Speedboard with springy energy

CONS:

  • If running on gravelly surfaces, small rocks may get stuck in the outsole pods
 

Vivobarefoot

Vivobarefoot might be a less-known shoe brand, but they’re doing their bit to save the planet and keep their apparel sustainable. The company focuses on making shoes that are both healthy for your feet and good for the environment.

They place emphasis on four specific areas:

  • Efficiency
  • Materials
  • Product Lifespan
  • Performance

Some of the things they do to keep their products sustainable include consulting with indigenous shoemakers to streamline their production process, developing new technologies to reduce energy usage, use local, sustainably sourced materials (and recycled wherever possible), and keeping their shoes as minimalist as possible.

4. Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III

The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III is a minimalist shoe that’s both sustainable and vegan.

The shoe is created from recycled material and because it’s extremely lightweight, there’s not a whole lot of material that actually goes into it in the first place.

It’s foot-shaped to provide optimal comfort, and should be quite suitable for those with wide feet. A recycled-PU Ortholite insole offers good cushion for a barefoot shoe. The Active outsole is thin enough to allow you a good connection with the ground when running, as barefoot shoes do.

It’s also extremely flexible – so much so that it can roll into a ball! This allows you full range of movement, and they’re also designed to be puncture-proof to protect your feet even while in such close contact with the ground.

As an added sustainability bonus, when your shoes are worn out you can send them to Revivo where they’ll be recycled.

PROS:

  • Sustainably made and vegan
  • Foot-shaped and good for wide feet
  • Flexible Active outsole
  • Recycled polyurethane insole

CONS:

  • Not suitable for those who need foot support
 

Adidas

Adidas has been leading the running shoe sustainability curve for two decades. They’ve been listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) every single year, since it began in 1999.

They not only create sustainable products, but they’ve also helped found initiatives such as Better Cotton and the Leather Working Group. As you can tell, using sustainable materials (with a sustainable supply chain) is important to them.

Adidas also created a totally recyclable running shoe – the Futurecraft.Loop, made from a single piece of plastic. It underwent beta testing in 2019, and it’s now available on the Adidas website as part of their Made to Be Remade circular system.

Buy the shoe, use it until it’s worn out, and send it back to be recycled. Not everyone will be keen on this shoe, though, so we’re reviewing the Terrex Two Ultra Parley, which is likely to be a more accessible option for everyone.

5. Adidas Terrex Two Ultra Parley

The Terrex Two Ultra Parley utilizes Parley Ocean Plastic material, which is made out of plastic waste from the oceans. This makes a huge difference in keeping our oceans clean and safe!

It uses a sock-like Primeknit upper that moves with the foot, keeping you comfortable while allowing you the widest range of flexibility possible.

There’s a slight rocker bottom, which works with the full-length Boost midsole to push you forward while saving energy in your legs.

Underneath, a super grippy Continental Rubber outsole keeps you sure-footed on any kind of surface. The outsole has decent lugs on it so you can run trails or roads comfortably in this shoe.

PROS:

  • Uses Parley Ocean Plastic material
  • Full-length Boost midsole
  • Continental Rubber outsole
  • Primeknit upper

CONS:

  • May be slightly less breathable than other shoes
 

Saucony

Saucony belongs to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, so they’re constantly working to improve their own products’ sustainability.

They’ve also joined up to prAna’s Responsible Packaging Movement, which means that every part of their product is designed to be eco-friendly.

They’ve been working on including recycled or re-engineered material in all of their apparel, not just their shoes. The Saucony Biodegradable Collection is set to be released soon.

Their most environmentally-friendly shoe is the Jazz Court RFG, which is made from only 7 eco-friendly materials and is entirely plastic-free. It’s not a running shoe, though.

6. Saucony Kinvara 12

For runners, we recommend the Saucony Kinvara 12. It’s a lightweight shoe but still offers the best fit and support to help you go the distance.

Saucony has reduced the amount of material used to make this shoe, which is why it’s light and fairly eco-friendly.

If you’ve run in the previous Kinvaras, you’ll immediately notice that the tongue and ankle collar are much less padded. This reduces the plush comfort a little but improves the flexibility.

The PWRRUN+ midsole is slim and offers decent energy return while still providing protection and light cushioning from impact.

It’s exposed underneath with minimal but strategically-placed rubber (on the heel and inner toe) helps you to keep a steady footing and also improves the durability of high-wear areas.

PROS:

  • Lightweight mesh upper
  • Light PWRRUN+ midsole
  • Minimal but strategic outsole rubber
  • Variety of exciting colorways available

CONS:

  • The 4mm heel-to-toe drop may put strain on the calves if not used to it
 

Hoka One One

Hoka One One is known for their chunky but supremely comfortable midsole cushioning. But they’ve also been improving their sustainability in the last few years.

The company is part of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) initiative and has put forward specific goals related to making their products and processes more eco-friendly.

They’re specifically focusing on a variety of areas, of which 5 are directly related to sustainability and being environmentally-friendly:

  • Materials
  • Chemicals
  • Waste Products
  • Water
  • Clean Energy

The others—gender equality, quality education, and human rights—are equally as important.

7. Hoka One One Clifton 8

The Clifton has been created in collaboration with Outdoor Voices, and is designed to be sustainable, from the materials used to the manufacturing process. It’s also a vegan shoe, so it’s suitable for almost anyone!

It’s a max cushion shoe, but weighs just 8.8 ounces, one of the best weight-to-cushion ratios around. The midsole compound has been re-engineered to be lighter than ever, but still retains an impressive bounce.

The energy return is helped along nicely by an early-stage meta rocker in the sole. High-abrasion rubber on the outsole makes the shoe even more durable.

PROS:

  • Excellent weight-to-cushion ratio
  • New lighter midsole compound
  • Early-stage meta rocker
  • Vegan shoe

CONS:

  • Chunky design may not be suitable for everyone
 

Nike

Nike has been doing amazing things with their technology in the past few years, but they haven’t neglected sustainability.

Their Move to Zero initiative has them aiming for absolutely no carbon emissions or material waste. They’ve set out particular Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their latest Impact Report, which include climate action and responsible consumption and production processes. You can read more here.

Nike is also paying more attention to material choices, refurbishment, packaging, and versatility with the aim of developing a more circular product design in the future.

8. Nike Space Hippie 04

The Space Hippie sounds just like its name. It’s a unique-looking shoe, and contains at least 25% recycled material.

The “Space Waste Yarn” upper uses around 75% recycled material that comes from things like old t-shirts, scraps, and plastic bottles. Its sock-like fit hugs the foot and helps create a comfortable but structurally-sound fit.

In the midsole, Nike Grind (their recycled compound) is blended with other foams for a comfortable, stable, and stylish-looking sole.

PROS:

  • 25%+ recycled materials
  • Space Waste Yarn upper
  • Blended Crater Foam midsole
  • Deconstructed design

CONS:

  • Some may find the Space Hippie to be too bulky for their liking
 

Reebok

Reebok is another brand that has committed to becoming more sustainable. Their goal is to have 100% sustainable products by the year 2030.

They measure their sustainability by the following metrics:

  • [REE]GROW: 50% minimum recycled materials.
  • [REE]CYCLED: 30% minimum of the upper is recycled.
  • Better Cotton/Organic Cotton: Sustainable cotton.
  • Color With Care: Eco-friendly dyeing processes and dyes.
  • Vegan: No animal products used.

9. Reebok Floatride Energy Grow

The Floatride Energy Grow is Reebok’s featured [REE]GROW product, and it’s created with a minimum of 50% recycled materials.

It’s also made from some interesting materials. The highly-cushioned Floatride Energy Foam midsole is created out of castor beans, and provides good energy return while absorbing shock to protect your feet and leg joints.

Bloom algae in the footbed provides a bit of sponge. The light square-knit mesh upper uses eucalyptus bark to provide an effective combination of breathability and stability.

Natural rubber on the outsole offers great traction and is quite a bit more sustainable than synthetic rubber.

PROS:

  • Minimum 50% recycled materials
  • Floatride Energy Foam midsole
  • Eucalyptus bark mesh upper
  • Bloom algae footbed

CONS:

  • May run slightly large (+- half a size)
 

ASICS

ASICS has worked hard to reduce their carbon footprint over the last few years. They’ve managed to reduce the carbon emissions of their supply by an impressive 30.8% and a 25% reduction in their direct operations since 2015.

The company has also achieved 23.5% renewable electricity in their various business facilities. Another achievement is more than 95% of their running shoes containing recycled material in 2021. They’re aiming to have replaced ALL their standard polyester with recycled polyester by 2030.

Their main goal is to achieve a net-zero status by 2050, and their targets have been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.

ASICS is also the first Japanese brand to join The Fashion Pact, which places emphasis on protecting the oceans, mitigating the effects of climate change, and restoring biodiversity.

10. ASICS Gel-Nimbus 23 Earth Day

The ASICS Gel-Nimbus is a fairly sustainable shoe on its own, but the Earth Day model is even more so. It’s made from recycled materials and has everything a runner may need for a plush and comfortable ride.

The Gel-Nimbus Earth Day has excellent stability features. It should help to prevent pronation to an extent, although runners who pronate severely would be better off using a proper stability shoe.

The Trusstic System in the sole is a hard, resin section that’s designed to prevent twisting. This helps to stop the arch from falling inwards by maintaining a firm platform underfoot.

In the midsole, FlyteFoam Propel cursing offers an exceptional mix of soft, comfy padding and springy energy return. It’s also 55% lighter than their other foams, so you’ll feel light on your feet at all times.

One of the best features of the Gel series is, obviously, the Gel cushioning. The Gel-Nimbus 23 has gel units in the heel and the forefoot, for the most comprehensive shock-absorbing properties.

PROS:

  • Made from recycled materials
  • Trusstic System for stability
  • FlyteFoam Propel cushioning
  • Rearfoot and forefoot gel units

CONS:

  • May not be quite as durable as other shoes
 

FAQ

Why is Sustainability Important for the Production of Running Shoes?

The production of running shoes actually has a negative impact on the environment. It’s not really the shoes themselves, although they typically aren’t biodegradable. But more than anything, it’s the manufacturing process.

For example, creating one pair of regular running shoes is said to produce 30 pounds of emissions! Imagine how many pairs are produced on a daily basis… And how much damage is being done to the environment?

Thankfully, a number of brands are realizing how detrimental these processes are and are taking steps towards creating more sustainable gear. The brands we’ve mentioned above are creating more ethical products, as well as ensuring the safety and health of those working for them.

The Wired Runner