Eco-sneakers are still killing the planet, just a little slower [Study]

by Danny McLoughlin

Eco-sneakers are still killing the planet, just a little slower [Study]


The Adidas NMD_CS1 Parley Primeknit is made from recycled plastic bags retrieved from the ocean.

With the threat of climate change becoming more real in people’s minds over recent months and years, consumers have begun to re-evaluate their decisions to see what sustainable choices they can make.

It seems the sneaker industry is only too aware of this. Recently a number of sneakers advertised as eco-friendly have been released. Currently, 1 out of 29 pairs of sneakers has at least some sustainable element to it.

On the surface, this appears to be good news. The sneaker industry is tuning in to the needs of consumers in a way that can help make the world a better place.

However, the carbon emissions attributed to these eco-sneakers are only 9.12% less on average than the emissions of a standard pair of sneakers.

And they cost an additional $48.79.

This raises questions about the intentions of the sneaker companies. Are they really interested in reducing their environmental impact or is it just a way to cash in on the latest trend — sustainability?

Where do the Carbon Emissions Come From?

To best understand whether the sneaker companies are serious about sustainability, you first need to understand the environmental impact of a standard pair of sneakers.


An MIT study completed in association with Asics looked at the carbon emissions of a pair of sneakers in detail.

It concluded that, over the course of their lifetime, a single pair of sneakers is responsible for emissions equivalent to 14 kg of carbon dioxide.

This is split between four stages of the sneakers lifecycle:

● Materials processing – 4.0 kg

● Manufacturing – 9.5 kg

● Logistics – 0.2 kg

● Usage and end of life – 0.3 kg

As you can see, only 4.0 kg of the total 14 kg of carbon emissions created is due to the materials used in the shoe.

That’s what makes it surprising that 100% of the shoes advertised as eco-sneakers can be classified as eco-sneakers because of a more sustainable material used in either one or two parts of the shoe.


The majority of the emissions (64%) can be attributed to manufacturing processes. A large amount of the emissions in this part of the lifecycle can be attributed to coal energy used to power factories in South East Asian countries where the sneakers are manufactured like China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

So, instead of focusing on introducing cleaner forms of energy to power factories or improving factory processes to require less energy, it’s a surprise to see sneaker companies focusing almost exclusively on materials.

Surprising until you realize that turning plastic bottles diverted from landfill into a material that can be used to create the upper of a pair of sneakers is sexier and much easier to sell than a factory that uses wind power instead of coal power.

What’s Going on Behind the Scenes?

To really understand the intentions of Nike and Adidas, it’s essential to read their sustainability reports.


Exactly because factory processes and energy policy aren’t as sexy as creating new materials. Maybe these things are going on behind the scenes and they are just not making a lot of noise about it.

Well, there’s good and bad news.

The good news is that there is some innovation happening.

For example, Nike invented a new process that allows them to dye polyester without using water. This will save approximately 100 – 150 liters of water per kg of textiles dyed.

Unfortunately, this is the exception. Not the rule.

In fact, Nike’s entire approach can be summarized by their ‘moonshot objective’ to double their business while halving their environmental impact.

Looking at the finer print, talk of reducing environmental impact by half means reducing the environmental impact per unit of stock sold by half. If you are doing this and selling twice as much stock, you are essentially polluting at the same rate.

Nike’s use of per unit figures may be practical in terms of measuring and reporting, but it is distorting the net pollution that Nike as a company is responsible for.

That’s because putting time, effort and resources into making processes more efficient and enforcing stricter environmental policies on outsourced manufacturers is hard. It will bite into profits and for corporations, profit is the most important thing.

What Can We Do When Buying Sneakers?

As consumers, we need to be aware of the math when shopping for sneakers.

The average American buys three pairs of athletic footwear each year. That equates to roughly 42 kg of carbon emissions each year.


The best way to reduce this is not to buy sustainable sneakers. Instead, try buying fewer pairs of sneakers.

By purchasing three pairs of eco-sneakers each year, you will reduce your carbon footprint by less than 4 kg. However, by only purchasing two pairs of standard sneakers you are automatically cutting your carbon emissions by 14 kg.

The best thing you can do is wear your sneakers until they are no longer usable.

That’s why it can sometimes be better to buy a solid pair of standard sneakers over a lightweight pair of eco-sneakers.

Your carbon footprint will be smaller if you can make a standard pair of sneakers last two years than if you have to buy two or three pairs of eco-sneakers that have worn out in that time-frame.

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Ron Long
January 19, 2019 2:17 am

But if the eco-sneakers smell like smoked salmon I want them.

Bryan A
Reply to  Ron Long
January 19, 2019 8:18 am

Better yet, if they taste like Smoked Salmon you can have something to feed to your EcoLoon friends after they wear out

Ron Long
Reply to  Bryan A
January 19, 2019 8:38 am

Good idea Bryan, because after they wear out they will smell like smoked salmon and strong cheese! Best of both worlds!

January 19, 2019 2:40 am

Gordon Bennett, this has got to be a spoof.

Reply to  Julian
January 19, 2019 6:43 am

what the shoes or the article?

This raises questions about the intentions of the sneaker companies. Are they really interested in reducing their environmental impact or is it just a way to cash in on the latest trend — sustainability?

The “intentions” of a company is make a profit. That is the way consumer capitalism works. They are not enviros or philanthropists, they are a business.

That is what a lot of these marxists don’t seem to get. You can not dismantle consumer capitalism just by screaming “carbon” at the sky.
All this fake alarmism will do is render obselete perfectly good and serviceable vehicles, machines and other items and force us to buy new “green” ones.

That means increasing consumer spending and wasting OUR hard earned money, making poor people poorer and rich people richer. That is the problem when you lie about your real aims and present a false crisis to attempt to reach your goals.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Greg
January 19, 2019 6:13 pm

Progressive socialism is looking more and more like government controlled capitalism to me.

January 19, 2019 3:00 am

“The best way to reduce this is not to buy sustainable sneakers. Instead, try buying fewer pairs of sneakers.”

This is what the Big Green Blob want for us now, so we all get so poor from energy poverty, that we will only have 1 pair of shoes and/or soon be shoeless. Recycled water bottles for shoes, and then soon we all go barefoot. This is the plan of the Big Green Blob.

Reply to  Earthling2
January 19, 2019 3:24 am

Recycled bottles for clothes, recycled clothes for bottles, and finally, fuel for a power station. It’s all very Green.

Reply to  Earthling2
January 19, 2019 8:43 am

Three pair of shoes a year? If mine don’t last at least a year, I get a different brand next time.

Nothing to do with ecology, shoes are expensive and I expect them to last.

Reply to  Earthling2
January 19, 2019 10:02 am

There IS an alternative way to signal your sneaker virtue …

comment image

So THATS how all the plastic bags make their way into our oceans … off the feet of surfers

kent beuchert
January 19, 2019 3:36 am

This has gone way beyond ridiculous. This unintentional farce.

January 19, 2019 3:49 am

The average American buys three pairs of athletic footwear each year. That equates to roughly 42 kg of carbon emissions each year.

WOW, somewhere along the line, I must have stopped being the average American! Perhaps I get 1 pair of athletic footwear every couple of years.

Curious George
Reply to  Ken
January 19, 2019 7:48 am

Would it be 42 kg of diamonds, of soot, of carbon dioxide, or 96 kg of carbon dioxide containing 42 kg of carbon?

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Curious George
January 19, 2019 5:48 pm

Where did you get 42 from?
Don’t say 6*7.

Curious George
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
January 20, 2019 4:27 pm

Ken has 42 kg of carbon emissions. You are right, I botched it, it should have been 154 kg of CO2. The point is what exactly do “carbon emissions” mean?

January 19, 2019 3:50 am

3 pairs a year?
at the prices for trendy brands thats nuts!
it takes at least 2 to 3 years of near daily wear in one pair for me to wear soles to “had it”
and I consider I am pretty rough on my footwear
and those are the cheap crap noname low cost versions

only reason I would ditch sooner is having them literally so full of grass seeds i cant wear them for itching, the trend for the nylon mesh inserts…gee I wish that would cease

Reply to  ozspeaksup
January 19, 2019 6:44 am

Stop using your sneaker to hide your stash then ! 😉

Reply to  ozspeaksup
January 19, 2019 9:18 am

Walmart for me… I spend less in a year than the difference per pair the article cites.

January 19, 2019 4:17 am

Two things:

1. I wouldn’t pay $48.79 for a pair of sneakers, much less buy a pair that costs an “additional” $48.79.

2. This whole article is premised on ‘carbon’ emissions. Recycling waste plastic to make the sneakers is truly eco-friendly when the harmless (or even beneficial) CO2 is ignored. However, if the plastic is actually recovered from the ocean as advertised then the energy wasted in collecting them must be huge.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  ScarletMacaw
January 19, 2019 6:30 pm

Scarlet: I guess you don’t buy shoes very often. These days $48.79 is nothing.

Bruce Cobb
January 19, 2019 4:38 am

Yeah, I’m envisioning eco-businesses springing up, whereby villagers get paid to collect plastic bags and dump them in the ocean so they can be “recovered” by Addidas, all so that upscale folks get to virtue signal (at a price) about how “green” they are.

January 19, 2019 5:25 am

Those who have ever been skeptic about abilities of propaganda and the themes of 1984 will be paying a carbon tax either, directly or indirectly, in their lifetime. And they likely will still be skeptics.

David Chappell
January 19, 2019 6:23 am

I don’t buy sneakers, period, so I feel very virtuous.

However, I am intruiged by “slaveged leather” (3rd figure). Is it some BDSM cast-off?

nw sage
Reply to  David Chappell
January 19, 2019 5:25 pm

Slaveged leather is clearly a politically correct term for something produced by the LGBTQ etc community.

January 19, 2019 6:50 am

As consumers, we need to be aware of the math when shopping for sneakers.

Since shutting down the entire US economy would reduce global warming by about 2 millikelvin in the next hundred years, I’d guess “doing math” on buying sneakers should be within everyone’s grasp.

Tom in Florida
January 19, 2019 6:50 am

The main thing I want from my “sneakers” is that they give me excellent support while jogging. I use Asics Gel and they cost about $100. There are Gels with a lower price but the ones in this price range perform as I need them to perform. When they get worn, I use them for regular wear and buy a new pair for jogging, about every 6-8 months. Not having foot problems is the purpose and in the long run less expensive.

Reply to  Tom in Florida
January 19, 2019 7:58 am

Well, it’s -34C with a windchill of -46C here in Manitoba this morning. Time to put on my light-weight, eco-friendly, expensive plastic sneakers and go for a long walk on the snow-covered walking path near my home. Frozen feet are a small price to pay for saving the planet. We all have to do our part.

Garland Lowe
Reply to  Tom in Florida
January 19, 2019 8:54 am

So the comfort of your feet is more important than saving the planet. Just think about all the CO2 you are spewing from all that hard breathing. Running is bad for the planet. There should be laws against it. What about the polar bears? It’s all about you, you don’t give a whit about anyone or anything but yourself.
Just responding to your comment from a Climate theologian point of view. Hope you enjoy your sneakers, they sound very comfortable. Have a great day. “Run Tom Run”
PS Polar bears are doing just fine.

Reply to  Tom in Florida
January 19, 2019 8:57 am

Or you could learn how to run properly.

January 19, 2019 6:52 am

Next up for eco-loons: Green-anodized tin-foil hats.

Reply to  beng135
January 19, 2019 8:46 am

But the un-anodized hats reflect sunlight better. Gotta do our part for geo-engineering dontcha know.

Steve O
January 19, 2019 7:12 am

If the corporate world wants to make money from the virtue-signalling desires eco-warriors, and can penalize them by an additional $48, c’mon brah, let’s not spoil it for them.

January 19, 2019 8:04 am

The Statista web site shows a 2017 USA market size for athletic footwear as $20 an average price of $ 60 per pair. This amounts to 330 millon pairs / year or 1 pair / person / yr assuming a USA population of 328 million. The 3 pair / yr / person figure cited would be more consistent with one third the number of purchasers

Reply to  jodarr
January 19, 2019 3:22 pm

One third the number of purchasers…..?
New born babies are unlikely to to purchase athletic footwear nor are wheelchair -bound dementia sufferers [closer to my demographic than new born babies].

And making up for them you have sneakerheads who skew the curve to the right

And if we all were frugal in our purchasing employment of poor factory workers in Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines would crash [unless you bought New Balance which are still made in the US I believe]

Be sensible and the poor starve, be eco-irresponsible and provide employment for poor workers.

John the Econ
January 19, 2019 8:05 am

“We are living in an era of woke capitalism in which companies pretend to care about social justice to sell products to people who pretend to hate capitalism.”

Clay Routledge

Reply to  John the Econ
January 19, 2019 9:01 am

+1 🙂

Garland Lowe
January 19, 2019 8:30 am

Do I care about my carbon footprint?
The more the merrier, just ask a tree.

January 19, 2019 8:39 am

From the second bar graph:

Slavaged leather?

Really, don’t these guys employee editors anymore?

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  MarkW
January 19, 2019 9:01 am

The editors are too busy patting each other on the back for their choice in sustainable shoes.

Reply to  MarkW
January 19, 2019 1:45 pm

Damn…….First thing I noticed when I read this tonight.

Curses MarkW

Jeff Alberts
January 19, 2019 9:02 am

This article can be pretty much ignored, because it treats CO2 as a pollutant.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
January 19, 2019 9:10 am

That’s what I was going to say. “The planet,” meaning the biosphere, depends on carbon dioxide.

Johann Wundersamer
January 19, 2019 9:26 am

“Your carbon footprint will be smaller if you can make a standard pair of sneakers last two years than if you have to buy two or three pairs of eco-sneakers that have worn out in that time-frame.” — +++

Michael Jankowski
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
January 19, 2019 10:37 am

If you actually wear sneakers for any sort of activity, two years is too long. They may still look good, but not investing in a new pair is not doing your feet and legs any favors. Three years from manufacture is generally considered the maximum useful life for athletic shoes, and that includes time it spent on a shelf or in a warehouse. Actual use reduces that maximum useful life rapidly.

Reply to  Michael Jankowski
January 19, 2019 12:31 pm

“But there are too many gullible consumers”

Michael Jankowski
January 19, 2019 10:31 am

It is easy to see through the eco-marketing, just as it is easy to see through fake corporate morality of companies that use child and/or basically slave-labor to increase profits. But there are too many gullible consumers and activists.

January 19, 2019 1:25 pm

Better still, do not ever buy or wear sneakers. This will help the planet and civilization too.

January 19, 2019 3:12 pm

Just because some high profile person, think Hollywood , says a particular shoe is good for you, and collects a nice sum of money for the endorsement, it does not really matter what the shoe is made of Eco wise. All that matters is what is the effect on your feet.

Still any CO2 resulting from the manufacture of such shoes is good for the Planet.

If a manufacturer of shoes, or to that matter any goods or services, can be improved by calling it Green, , then so be it. Just as long as he does no then have to pay the Green movement a payment.


January 19, 2019 6:43 pm

Green athletic shoes. Green athletic shoes. Everybody is talking about green athletic shoes.
“You MUST buy green athletic shoes!”

Sheeple that I am, I went out and bought a pair of green athletic shoes.

Patrick healy
January 20, 2019 6:25 pm

An interesting aside which may not have been observed before.
Over here in the EUSSR, we have yet one other crazy EU dictat.
A few months ago my beloved wife retrieved ONE of her pair of winter walking shoes.
They had lain hidden in the dark cupboard since last winter. As we were walking in the city the soles of her shoes began to collapse under her.
We managed to reach the shoeshop where she bought them, and she told them what she thought of their expensive shoes.
They asked if the shoes had been stored in the dark since purchased. When answered yes, it was pointed out that all synthetic soles must be biodegradable according to EU rules.
This then is a nice little earner shoe makers thanks to the global alarmists.

Reply to  Patrick healy
January 21, 2019 12:15 am

Details? We blame the EU for many silly directives but I can’t find this one. Are you sure it wasn’t just a good excuse by the retailer to avoid honouring the guarantee?

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