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Best sustainable running shoes for 2023

Sustainability is more important than ever. Take care of your footprint with our picks from the best sustainable running shoes on the market right now

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The relationship between us and what we wear is evolving, and it’s becoming increasingly important for us to know where we stand with our shoes.

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Below, we highlight some sportswear brands that are making strides towards a more sustainable future for our footwear. We examine the features that make each shoe more sustainable, as well as the technology that can enhance your running performance.

It’s worth noting that before purchasing new shoes, you should consider whether you truly need them. If your current pair can still withstand some miles, it’s a good idea to hold on to them.

However, if you do need to dispose of your old shoes, you can check out Recycle Now for recycling options in your area.

Why do sustainable running shoes matter?

Conversations around sustainability have been gaining momentum, with growing pressure on clothing and footwear brands to adapt their manufacturing processes. However, actual progress towards sustainability has been slow.

Clothing sales have doubled from 100 to 200 billion units a year since 2000, and the fashion industry is estimated to be responsible for around 8-10% of global carbon emissions.

Fast-fashion giants like ASOS and SHEIN are particularly culpable, with ASOS adding up to 7,000 new items to its website each week, and SHEIN reportedly adding between 2,000 and 10,000 styles to its app daily between July and December 2021, according to an investigation by Rest of World.

However, it’s important to recognise that these fast-fashion juggernauts are not the only brands responsible for the industry’s impact. The sportswear industry also has a role to play, and so do our spending habits as enthusiasts.

What can make running shoes more sustainable?

When evaluating the sustainability of a pair of running shoes, there are several factors to consider:

  1. Recycled materials: Recycled polyester, rubber, and foam can help to reduce waste and the need for new resources, as well as decreasing the brand’s carbon footprint.
  2. Biodegradable components: Biodegradable materials can help to reduce the amount of waste a shoe creates, throughout the production process and the disposal of the shoe.
  3. Sustainable manufacturing practices: Brands can adjust their manufacturing process to reduce water consumption, use renewable energy, and implement closed-loop production systems.
  4. Extended life: The more miles we can get out of a shoe, the smaller the environmental impact. More durable materials, or the ability for a shoe to be repaired, can contribute to a shoe’s longevity.
  5. Reduce packaging: Using less material, or using recyclable or biodegradable material, can help to reduce waste from packaging.
  6. Take-back programmes: Companies can encourage customers to send their old shoes back to the manufacturer for recycling or repurposing.

Best Sustainable Running Shoes

New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v12

While New Balance may not be at the forefront of sustainable practices, they have implemented their Green Leaf Standard across a significant number of their products in both apparel and footwear.

For footwear, the standard requires the upper to be made from at least 50% environmentally preferred materials, and the midsole/outsole to contain 3% bio-based or 5% recycled content.

‘Environmentally preferred materials’ are defined by their physical characteristics, including recycled content or sustainable sourcing practices. To meet the standard, all cotton and leather must come from preferred sources, and at least 50% of the polyester used must be recycled.

New Balance’s top-of-the-line running shoe, the Fresh Foam X, boasts a Hypoknit upper which they claim meets their 50% benchmark, and a midsole made from 3% bio-based foam known as ‘Fresh Foam’.

The shoe is designed to provide a supportive feel with targeted support for long runs, thanks to added cushioning in the natural flex zones of the foot.

Salomon Index 02

The second iteration of the Index series, the Index 02 was first released in February 2023. The shoe is designed to be disassembled, separating the upper from the sole for easy recycling, allowing Salomon to make new products with the material, such as their alpine ski boots.

Once you have bought a pair, you can register the product on their website, use the shoes for as long as possible, and then send them back to the brand via their return service.

This circular economy-based design aims to reduce the shoe’s environmental impact. Oliver Mouzin, manager of Salomon’s Footwear Sustainability, claims that their life-cycle analysis shows that “the impact of the shoe is lessened by 44 percent”.

In terms of performance, the Index 02 features a mesh upper with a varied weave, which they claim offers more support, durability and flexibility.

Salomon have also reduced the weight compared to the previous model, reducing a UK men’s size 8 from 288g to 263g.

Asics Gel-Nimbus 25

Asics’ Gel Nimbus 25 boasts several sustainable features. The knitted upper is made from 75% recycled material, which Asics claim provides a soft and breathable feel for the foot.

The sock liner is produced with a solution dyeing process, which Asics state helps to reduce water usage by 33% and carbon emissions by 45% compared to conventional dyeing technology.

There’s also attention to the midsole, which is made from their FF Blast Plus Eco material, consisting of 20% renewable sources. Asics claims this material provides advanced cushioning, with a responsive toe-off.

On Cloudsurfer 7

One of the latest running shoes from On Running, the Cloudsurfers, uses dope dyeing ― a process that they claim requires 90% less water than standard dyeing techniques. The shoes no longer feature plastic overlays, and the entire shoe’s total recycled content stands at 30%.

The Cloudsurfers also include On Running’s CloudTec Phase midsole, designed using computer technology to test how the sole reacts when running. They claim the result is a sole designed to provide a seamless transfer of weight from the heel to the toe, offering a soft feel when running.

Brooks Ghost 15

Brooks’ newest running shoe, the Ghost 15, is part of the brand’s goal to reach zero carbon emissions by 2040, in line with The Paris Agreement.

More than 90% of the Ghost 15’s upper is made from recycled materials. They state that this adjustment to the process ensures that their CO2 emissions are reduced to 9.27kg per pair, or equivalent to eight plastic bottles.

In terms of performance, it’s fitted with Brooks’ DNA LOFT v2 cushioning, which is said to enable a soft landing while remaining lightweight (278g in a men’s size 8 UK).

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There’s also a 3D-fit print designed to hug the foot and ensure a snug fit, with enhanced breathability.