Ethical Running Shoes: 15 Brands Going An Extra Mile for the Planet

Ethical Running Shoes: 15 Brands Going An Extra Mile for the Planet

Trail running in snow in ethical running shoes

It’s important to find the right pair of running shoes. Shoes that will enable you to run comfortably and safely and help you reach your personal fitness goals. 

But what about ethics? Is it possible to find trainers that tick all the performance boxes AND tread lightly on the planet, people and animals? If you’re on the hunt for a pair of ethical running shoes then this article’s for you. (Our list includes some great options for vegan running shoes too!)

Running Towards a Sustainable Future

From sweatshops and child labour to toxic chemicals and plastic pollution, the sportswear industry certainly has a dark past. The good news is that over the last couple of decades, companies have really started to address the major issues. And although there’s room for improvement among several of the top players, things are certainly moving in the right direction. 

What Makes a Running Shoe Ethical?

If you’re looking for a pair of trainers that won’t cost the earth, there are several things to consider. What materials are they made from? Who made them? And what happens when they wear out? (Which we hope won’t happen too quickly!) For vegan running shoes, you’ll also want to make sure that they don’t contain any animal-derived materials. 

Beyond Petroleum

Sports shoes are commonly made from petroleum-derived plastic. And with an estimated 22 billion pairs of shoes going to landfill each year, we have a huge problem. Fortunately, a number of brands are embracing innovations in materials science to move the industry beyond petroleum dependency. From natural rubber soles to uppers made from recycled coffee grounds, you’ll find some great examples in our list below. 

Balancing Performance With Sustainability 

The major challenge with creating ethical running shoes comes from the required performance aspect. The materials used need to be durable and able to withstand the rigours of the sport they are designed for. They also need to provide the cushioning and bounce most people expect from a performance running shoe.

Several of the brands on our list have spent a considerable amount of time investing in R&D for a sustainable solution. 

As always, transparency is key to moving things forward. Brands like Veja are honest about the limitations of eco-friendly materials. Whilst they’ve managed to reduce the quantity of EVA plastic in their shoes, they haven’t managed to eradicate it completely. 

Ethical Manufacturing: Who Made My Shoes?

Sustainable materials aside, it’s important to know where shoes are made and what the working conditions are for those who make them.  Look for brands that are either certified B Corps or that have other 3rd party auditing processes in place.

Girl running on road in ethical running shoes
Photo by jack atkinson on Unsplash

We like to see information about manufacturing clearly detailed on a brand’s website. It should be easy for customers to find this vital info.

Closing the Loop

The final thing to consider is what happens with your running shoes when they wear out. Running shoes have a lot of different components. Uppers, insoles, midsoles and outer soles to name just a few. The various components are often glued and moulded together which makes recycling a real challenge.

Thankfully, a number of brands are stepping up to the challenge and it’s great to see recycling schemes in place. For more on these, see our article on how to recycle running shoes here.

Worthy of particular mention is On’s Cyclon subscription service. Members who sign up for the service receive a 100% recyclable pair of running shoes. Every 6 months you can request a new pair. And when they arrive, you send the old pair back to On for recycling. Perfect!

Tread Lightly With These 15 Ethical Running Shoe Brands

Here are some of our favourite sustainable running shoe brands. You’ll find shoes for different types of running and terrain as well as different looks and price points. And if you’re looking for a pair of vegan running shoes, you’re in luck. Several of the brands offer shoes with no animal-derived materials so both you and your conscience can run free. 

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1.

Veja

Based: France     Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Brazil

Price: £90-£220

Sustainability creds: B-corp, GOTS certified cotton, bio-based and recycled materials, fairtrade, ethical manufacturing, vegan options

Veja’s sustainable sneakers have been spotted on various celebs, propelling them into the uber-trendy category. As one of the most eco-friendly footwear brands out there, we’re delighted to see them in the spotlight. Veja works closely with material producers, pre-financing harvests and their shoes are produced in factories with high social standards.

In 2019, Veja released their first ‘post-petroleum running shoe’ made from 53% bio-based and recycled materials. These include wild Amazonian rubber, sugar cane, castor oil and recycled polyester from plastic bottles. We love that their website gives you a full breakdown of the materials used for each part of their shoe. It’s totally fascinating! 

2.

Vegetarian shoes

Based: UK    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Europe and UK

Price: £85-£90

Sustainability creds: Ethically manufactured in the EU,  vegan-friendly

 

Award-winning vegan footwear company Vegetarian Shoes was established back in 1990 when veganism wasn’t as widely recognised. (Hence the name “Vegetarian Shoes” rather than “Vegan Shoes”!) Their vegan running shoes are lightweight lace-ups in a classic, old school style. The company is also experimenting with plant-based materials. Their hemp/cork runner uses a combination of fake-suede and hemp panels for the upper along with cork detailing. 

3.

on

Based: Worldwide (Global HQ in Switzerland)   Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Worldwide (Vietnam, China, Latvia, Portugal)

Price: £120 – £210

Sustainability creds: Recycled materials, innovative bio-plastics, ethical manufacturing, vegan, recycling subscription service for circularity

 

From small beginnings in Switzerland, On is now a truly global company. Their ethical running shoes are available at over 6,500 retail stores in over 50 countries.

They’re currently leading a supply chain coalition to reshape carbon waste into running shoes. The CleanCloud™ initiative uses carbon emissions as a starting point for the creation of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foam. The EVA is then engineered into high-performance cushioning for their shoes. It’s futuristic stuff!

They also run a brilliant subscription-based service called Cyclon for £25 a month. When you sign-up you receive a pair of 100% recyclable running shoes. Every 6 months (or 600km) you can request new ones and when they arrive you send your old ones back for recycling. With these first-of-a-kind innovations, On is setting the pace for developing a circular economy in sportswear. They’re definitely one to watch!

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels

4.

Vivobarefoot

Based: UK    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: China and Vietnam

Price: £115-£130.00

Sustainability creds: Certified B-Corp, recycled materials, vegan options, pre-loved programme “Revivo”

Founded in 2012 by two seventh-generation cobblers, Vivobarefoot offers lightweight shoes for barefoot running. All of their shoes are designed to be wide, thin and flexible, as close to barefoot as possible.

Barefoot shoes promote your foot’s natural strength and movement and allow you to feel the ground beneath your feet. If you’ve never tried barefoot shoes before, the first time can be surprising! All of a sudden you can feel each lump and bump of the terrain and it gives a totally different running experience. There is plenty of info on their website if you fancy taking a deep dive into barefoot science.

In terms of sustainability, Vivobarefoot looks to use recycled PET and rubber compounds where possible. They only use virgin materials when there aren’t alternatives available that offer the extreme durability required. Their Revivo programme gives secondhand and customer-returned Vivo footwear a new life.

5.

adidas

Based: Germany    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Worldwide

Price: £45-£220

Sustainability creds: Recycled Materials, vegan options

 

Sportswear giant adidas has really upped its game over recent years in terms of its sustainability performance. There’s been an increased use of sustainable materials, R&D into circular products and ambitious net-zero emissions targets.

Since partnering with Parley for the Oceans in 2015, adidas has offered a range of ethical running shoes made from recycled ocean waste. Their ‘Primeblue’ and ‘Primegreen’ labels mark products made with recycled materials and can be found under the ‘sustainability’

6.

hylo athletics

Based: UK    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: China

Price: £100

Sustainability creds: Natural and recycled materials, ethical manufacturing, members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, all shoes are vegan, carbon offsetting, sustainable packaging, take-back scheme, gives back via charity partners

 

Hylo Athletics are another great option if you’re looking for sustainably made vegan running shoes. Their Corn Runners are made using seven different renewable materials. Corn fibre makes up 28.52% of the shoe and is a breathable, lightweight and quick-drying alternative to polyester. Other materials include natural rubber, organic cotton and Algae Bloom™.

Eco-friendly and versatile, the Corn Runners are designed for use on the road, track or in the gym. And when you’ve worn out your runners, Hylo will recycle them and share a £10 credit as a thank you!

Out on a run in the countryside in ethical running shoes
Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

7.

adidas by stella mccartney

Based: UK    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Worldwide

Price: £140-£200

Sustainability creds: Recycled materials, ethical manufacturing, vegan options, gives back

 

Luxury fashion brand Stella McCartney has paired up with adidas to offer a range of ethical running shoes. Combining Stella McCartney’s powerful visual identity with adidas’s performance-first approach these shoes are a force to be reckoned with!

All models carry the adidas Primegreen label so you can be confident that they’re a great choice for the environment. The Outdoor Boost 2.0 is made with a minimum of 80% recycled polyester and the Ultra Boost with 100% recycled polyester. 

8.

freet

Based: UK    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: China

Price: £60-£85

Sustainability creds: Recycled materials, vegan options, gives back

 

Freet offers a range of barefoot shoes at an affordable price. They’re a great choice if you need a wide toe-box. For a glove-like feel, check out their 4+1 (split-toe) design shoes. Acknowledging the 100-year old Japanese Tabi split-toe shoes, the patented Freet 4+1 means that your big toe can move independently.

They also offer plenty of regular 5 in1 models if you’re not a fan of the split toe look! Freet is continually researching and developing environmentally-kind materials. We love that the Freet Tanga and Freet Pace have an upper made from recycled coffee grounds. This unique Flyknit is breathable, antimicrobial and quick-drying – what’s not to love!

9.

will’s vegan store

Based: UK    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Italy and Portugal 

Price: £75-£97

Sustainability creds: Recycled and sustainable materials, vegan, solar-powered factories, sustainable packaging, ‘return to recycle’ programme 

Will’s Vegan Store is a great choice if you’re looking for a pair of ethically made vegan running shoes. The company has been certified carbon-neutral since 2016 and operates a carbon-neutral supply chain using sustainable materials.

Their Oakes Cross Running Trainers were developed for three times world record holder Fiona Oakes. Built for rugged trail running, the durable Vibram rubber injection outsoles provide extra grippy traction. Perfect for taking your runs off-road.

Plus 10% of proceeds support Fiona’s Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary. You can also send your running shoes back for recycling with their ‘return to recycle’ programme. 

Girl running on road near mountains
Photo by Josh Gordon on Unsplash

10.

innov-8

Based: UK    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: China

Price: £88-£170

Sustainability creds: Sustainable packaging, gives back via charity donations and community volunteering 

 

Innov-8 offers a range of ethical running shoes featuring the pioneering use of graphene to strengthen the soles. Graphene is scientifically tested to be 50% stronger, 50% more elastic and 50% harder wearing. Durability is a key focus for Innov-8. They want to ensure that their shoes withstand the rigours of the sports they were designed for. They’re also on a mission to increase the number of sustainable materials used in their products. 

11.

allbirds

Based: US    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: China, South Korea, Vietnam

Price: £120-£130

Sustainability creds: Certified B Corp, natural and bio-based materials, responsible manufacturing, sustainable packaging

 

Allbirds craft their shoes from natural materials, like merino wool and eucalyptus trees. Their running shoes come in a range of gorgeous colours and we think they look great!

Their Tree Dashers have a knitted, one-piece upper made from FSC® Certified eucalyptus trees. The dual-density SweetFoam® midsole is made with the world’s first carbon-negative green EVA. And they even sport a removable sock liner made from castor beans!

Allbirds have also teamed up with adidas for the FUTURECRAFT.FOOTPRINT project. The initiative aims to create a performance shoe with the lowest carbon footprint on record. It’s super exciting to see these types of collaborations that demonstrate how businesses can work together for a greener future. 

12.

nike

Based: US    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Worldwide

Price: £50-£295

Sustainability creds: Recycled materials, Fair Labor Association (FLA) Workplace Code of Conduct certified.

 

Nike is also taking steps towards greater sustainability. They say their goal is to use as many recycled materials as possible without compromising on performance, durability and style.

Their most expensive model, the ultralight Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature is made with at least 50% recycled content.

And at the opposite end of the price scale, their Nike Revolution 6 Next Nature is made from at least 20% recycled material. We’re excited to see what the leading sportswear brand will do next. 

Photo by Cam Adams on Unsplash

13.

giesswein

Based: Austria    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Europe

Price: £144

Sustainability creds: Responsibly sourced renewable materials, sustainable production

 

Merino wool innovators, Giesswein make natural, high-tech wool fabrics that they use for their ethical running shoes. They only use high-quality, mulesing-free wool that meets their high standards for animal welfare. Their method of processing wool produces zero waste and they recycle up to 90% of the water used in production. To top it off, their machinery is powered by 100% renewable energy, pretty neat! Merino wool is antibacterial and thermo-regulating, so you can throw out your socks and stay sweat-free. Check out the Wool Peak, their merino wool running shoe and say goodbye to smelly feet! 

14.

reebok

Based: US    Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Worldwide

Price: £45-£100

Sustainability creds: Plant-based materials, recycled materials

 

The global sportswear company Reebok has been in business for over a century. We’re pleased to see they’re making some great eco-friendly moves.

Their REEGROW collection of running shoes is made with at least 50% plant-based materials. The Floatride Energy Grow shoes have an upper made from Lyocell (wood pulp) and an outsole made from natural rubber. The castor bean midsole provides high-performance, lightweight and responsive cushioning without relying on petroleum.

Reebok is also increasing the amount of recycled materials they use. Their REECYCLED collection includes running shoes made from at least 30% recycled content.

15.

la sportiva

Based: Italy   Ships to: Worldwide

Made in: Italy, Romania and China

Price: £110-£180

Sustainability creds: Bluesign® member, vegan options, gives back

 

La Sportiva is a mountain gear specialist that sells trail running shoes. In 2012, they became an official Bluesign® member. This certifies that their textile supply chain complies with the internationally recognized environmental and social criteria endorsed by Bluesign®.

The company has also set up recycling systems that enable the re-use of approximately 50% of their waste material. It’s certainly a move in the right direction. If you’re looking for vegan running shoes that are suitable for off-road then check out their Mountain Running® shoes. They come in a great range of colours too!

The Perfect Pair of Ethical Running Shoes

The ultimate sustainable sneaker has to tick a lot of boxes. It needs to fit perfectly, enhance your game, stand up to the rigours of performance AND tread lightly on the planet.

The above brands each have their own take on the performance aspects. Where they find common ground is their belief that design-led innovations need to balance both performance and sustainability. 

Looking for some ethical activewear to go with your running shoes? Read our round up of the best here

Did you find the perfect sustainable running shoe? Share your story in the comments below. 

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