The Shoe Industry's Environmental Footprint: A Case for Sustainable Footwear

The awareness that we need to be managing our planet's resources and ecosystems sustainably has been growing for almost a hundred years.In the last fifteen years or so, environmental consciousness has picked up even more momentum. Environmental considerations are important when choosing a pair of shoes, as Americans throw away over million pairs of shoes every year. Are you wondering why it matters what shoes you buy? Let's look at the case for sustainable footwear.

The Impact of the Shoe Industry on the Environment

Shoes only represent less than a tenth of the apparel industry's total value. However, they're responsible for a whopping one-fifth of the environmental impact of the industry. Every year, more than 20 billion pairs of shoes are manufactured. The process of making shoes can produce and leak toxins, chemicals, and fossil fuels into the environment. Manufacturing shoes is one of the most environmentally detrimental parts of a shoe's lifecycle. Large amounts of both chemicals and machinery are necessary to mass-produce shoes. The machines require massive amounts of fossil fuels which in turn produce greenhouse gases. Each shoe produced, on average, produces 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Another environmentally costly part of the shoe lifecycle is transportation. Many of the shoes you buy have been manufactured halfway around the world and shipped to the retailers. The materials used to make shoes are also detrimental to the environment. Chemical adhesives and tanning chemicals can be easily leaked into water sources and the nearby environment. This can be very harmful to both humans in the area and nearby wildlife.

Why Buy Sustainable Footwear?

Okay, so manufacturing shoes is an environmentally costly process. Is buying sustainable footwear really any better? Yes. The extent to which this is true, though, is going to depend on the sustainable shoe brands that you're interested in. Different brands prioritize different aspects of sustainability. One brand might use recycled packaging with newly manufactured materials. Another brand might make all shoes out of recycled materials, while another might focus on entirely on-site production. When it comes to eco footwear, it can be worth it to do your research. If particular environmental issues are most concerning to you, you can look for brands that focus on the issues that matter most to you.

What Makes a Sustainable Shoe a Sustainable Shoe?

Some companies will focus their sustainability efforts in a few specific directions. Not all shoe brands will be sustainable in every one of these eco-friendly avenues.


The materials used in the manufacturing of shoes can have an effect on the environmental impact of a pair of shoes. It's important to consider where the raw materials came from. This means both in how far they have to travel and the working conditions of the people who gather the materials. The process of producing synthetic materials can be very harmful to the environment. They contribute more in the way of chemicals, waste, and carbon emissions than their natural counterparts. Some eco-friendly shoe manufacturers might use natural fibers like wool or leather. Others might opt to use recycled materials. Both of these can be good environmentally-friendly options.

Manufacturing Process

Many sustainable shoe brands are focused on having a much cleaner manufacturing process. Manufacturing is a big percentage of the negative environmental impact of shoe production. This means that purchasing shoes from these conscientious brands can make a difference.

Manufacturing Location

When products are manufactured closer to where they're sold, there's a number of benefits. One, they don't have to travel nearly as far, which reduces the carbon emissions related to the product. Secondly, it's much easier to ensure that the working conditions and wages are fair when the manufacturing is closer to home. Look for sustainable shoe brands that are transparent about their manufacturing process. This way you can peer in and know exactly how your shoes are being made and where.

Business Practices

Businesses can also affirm their commitment to sustainability through their business practices. Sustainable shoe companies frequently ship their shoes in minimal packaging. Often their shoeboxes are made out of recycled materials. Many of these companies are transparent about their approach to sustainability. Do some research to find out what steps they're taking as a business to keep their carbon footprint small. Some companies might even have achieved carbon-neutrality or have set a goal date to do so. This means that they calculate their carbon footprint and manage to reduce it to zero. This is accomplished by combining external emission reduction projects and in-house efficiency measures.

Animal Welfare Concerns

While some people might prefer leather shoes, others might be concerned about animal welfare. There are a number of sustainable shoe companies that specialize in making vegan shoes. If it's important to you to know that no animals were harmed in the process of constructing your shoes, this is something to specifically look for.

Buying and Wearing Sustainable Footwear Can Help Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

We all want to do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint. Purchasing and wearing only sustainable footwear can be a great first step in this direction. Remember, when it's time to say goodbye to your favorite pair of shoes, don't throw them out. Consider donating them to a local charity or thrift store so someone else can enjoy them. If they are just completely worn out, there are options for recycling shoes so they'll get made into a new pair of shoes. If you're convinced that you should be wearing sustainably made shoes, feel free to check us out!
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