Written by Kevin Smith (@OfficialKLS)
Spring is finally here. The sunny, warm weather gives sneakerheads a perfect excuse to un-DS all that heat that's been stowed away during the winter. This new season also brings Earth Day (not to be confused with 4/20), a time when we’re reminded to think about our planet and its preservation.
Typically on Earth Day, we’re told to recycle more— i.e. making sure to throw trash in the right colored container. But this year we should think about how the planet is affected by the thing we love: sneakers.
So, is being a sneakerhead bad for the environment?
The short answer is yes, kind of. Actually, any product that's produced in mass quantities is going to create waste, so there's a lot of other things that harm the environment, too.
While actually collecting shoes doesn’t directly impact the environment per se, the process to make shoes does. Most sneakers are made from non-renewable materials, and the manufacturing process can contribute greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. See, global warming.
While actually collecting shoes doesn’t directly impact the environment per se, the process to create shoes does.
In a report for Runners World, writer Florence Williams described the runner’s (and sneakerhead’s) carbon footprint, “ … With a few rare exceptions, our shoes are made exclusively from heavily processed crude oil. We're wearing a gusher."
Over the years, shoes have evolved and packed in new technology. But these technologies come with an ecological price. Williams explains, “Consider the fundamental technical challenges of building a running shoe. Basically, it's a bunch of petrochemical components that don't want to stick together. Getting them to adhere well enough to handle the forces of running requires intensive mechanical and chemical processes.”
The manufacturing process may have an impact on the planet, but it surely isn’t going to stop sneakerheads from collecting new pairs. But we can do a lot to personally reduce our carbon footprint and still maintain our sneaker habit.
When sneakers finally make it to the consumer, they usually aren’t disposed of or recycled properly. Consider donating or recycling shoes instead of just tossing them in the trash.
A lot of brands are doing a part in helping make this process easier. Nike, for example, has been a proponent of sustainable products since it debuted its “Reuse-A-Shoe” program in the '90s. The initiative takes donated, worn out athletic shoes and grinds them down to create a new material called Nike Grind. Nike Grind is used to make sports surfaces like courts, turf fields, and running tracks.
Another way to think more environmentally friendly when it comes to shoes is to go easy on the leather and rubber. Sustainable elements were incorporated into all of adidas' performance products that were produced in 2013, according to the brand's 2013 Sustainability Progress Report. The company is putting a focus on simplifying the production process by choosing a less energy-intensive methods, like reducing the number of colors.
A brand that's set a goal to be the most sustainable in the world is Puma. It was only a few years ago that it cut down on sneaker boxes and turned to recyclable bags to package its products. It also launched the first sustainable sneaker store in Bangalore, India in 2012.
TOMS Shoes is a great example of a shoe company using sustainable materials and manufacturing processes. But it’s unlikely that everyone will abandon Air Jordans and start rocking rare TOMS, unless there's a collaboration with Supreme.
Look sneakerheads: You're probably aren’t going to kick the habit, because you're in too deep. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be mindful of how our hobby is impacting the planet and our environment.
Recycling and donating sneakers is just the beginning. We should also try to think about how our other favorite things are affecting the planet too. Our cars, our clothes, even our iPhones all could potentially be bad for the environment, too.
I’m not saying we should all turn into Captain Planet, but maybe try copping one less leather pair a year or bike to work instead of drive your kids and grandkids may thank you later.