Posted on 22 April 2010.
Americans love shoes. In fact, there are around seven pairs for every person living in the United States. That’s a lot, especially when you take into consideration the materials used to make up our favorites. Most contain a number of different synthetic and petroleum-derived materials, manufactured in China, that release toxins like the carcinogenic dioxin into the air. Factory workers are exposed to dangerous glues and tanning agents for leather. By buying shoes made from sustainable materials, you will reduce the surprising carbon cost of footwear.
• While Simple Shoes manufactures their shoes outside of the United States, they are committed to using fair labor practices and sustainable materials for their products. Their sandals, casual shoes, sneakers and dress shoes are made from a combination of different recycled and sustainable materials, including organic cotton, recycled car tires and innertubes, hemp, silk, and cork. Their packaging is as minimal as it can get, and all biodegradable.
• Earth Shoes makes casual and athletic shoes from bamboo, hemp, recycled plastic and water-soluble solvents. Their special design, called a “negative heel”, promotes leg strength and weight loss by making the heel of the shoe lower than the thick sole of the arch and toes—in effect, you are constantly walking uphill. This lowered heel is supposed to align your hips and spine, straighten your head and activate your core—so not only are you doing the earth good by wearing these shoes, you are doing you body good as well.
• Patagonia puts a lot of thought into the materials they use to make their shoes, in addition to their functionality. While they still choose to use leather in some of their products because of its extreme durability and protective properties, they reuse hides from the meat industry that would be discarded otherwise. Their tanning process strives to be as earth friendly and safe for the tanners as possible. They offer a line of vegan shoes made with all water-soluble solvents and uppers made from recycled and synthetic materials. They recycle their own rubber scraps into soles, and use Heavea latex, which has an extraction process that is actually beneficial to the tree.
But before you decide to buy new shoes, consider the greenest options of all: shoe recycling. If your shoe breaks, repair it, rather than buying a new pair—it’s undoubtably cheaper. If you really want a new pair, try buying from a thrift store. Plenty of lightly worn and interesting shoes are available at your local Good Will or Salvation Army stores.
Do your best to purchase shoes made in the United States, preferably by union workers. Don’t be fooled by shoes manufactured in the Mariana Islands, however—while they are U.S. Commonwealth, the factories there are not required to pay the minimum wage o their workers.
While it might seem silly to worry about what shoes you wear, we must consider all the ways we can limit our carbon footprint and promote fair labor practices. If each of us recognized our significant contribution to climate change and globalization, then maybe these problems could be resolved.