Sneakers are an all-time favorite, perfect for a walk around town, office wear, or a weekend hangout. Whereas many might love a new pair of on-trend kicks, the footwear industry has had challenges in making ethical and sustainable sneakers. Many sneaker brands use virgin plastic, harmful dyes, and toxic chemicals harmful to people and the environment.
However, some footwear brands are committed to making more sustainable sneakers, ensuring you put your best eco feet forward.
To help you choose shoes better for the planet, we list some of the best ethical and sustainable sneakers below.
While our traditional sneakers are durable, you’ll find many made up of synthetic materials with a negative environmental impact. Your traditional footwear choice carries a higher cost than the price tag, from plastic-based soles and uppers or unsustainable animal products, through glues and dyes.
Furthermore, many sneakers made from oil-derived synthetics do not biodegrade and draw on finite (and polluting) resources, ultimately contributing to greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
Sustainable sneakers present a better option for our environment. You might ask - are they less durable than traditional sneakers? Will they break down after a few months?
No, sustainable sneakers are both durable and stylish.
Let's look at a few things you need to look out for when shopping for sustainable sneakers.
When choosing sustainable sneakers, the first thing to look out for when shopping is the kind of material used. Sustainable sneakers come in a wide range of materials, including natural fibers and recycled materials.
Natural fibers like hemp and cotton provide excellent raw materials for sustainable sneakers, as they are breathable, durable, and comfortable to wear. Cork, algae foam, and vegan leather are other popular materials used to make sustainable sneakers.
Some sneaker brands also use recycled materials like recycled plastic bottles or polyester. Manufacturers transform plastics and other items that might have otherwise ended up discarded into useful materials to make a new pair of sneakers.
Natural materials sometimes don't hold up so well when it comes to performance. So many brands combine natural materials with synthetic binders to reduce their carbon footprint.
The next thing to look out for when shopping for sustainable sneakers is their ethics and sustainability. Are their materials sourced sustainably? Is their manufacturing process ethical? Are their employees paid for wages, and is their working environment safe?
Consider their certifications - are they a certified B corporation, or do they promote environmental sustainability?
We've carefully researched the ethical practices for each of the options for sustainable sneakers we’ve listed below. The result is some of the best options out there for you to consider when looking to kit yourself out with eco sneakers.
Whether you're looking for a good pair of sneakers for the gym, casual wear to the office, or a hangout with friends, you can check out our list of the best sustainable sneaker brands to shop for your next pair. We’ve researched their credentials and curated the list below so you can stride out with footwear that looks great and stacks up better for people and planet.
Related: With a move to more sustainable clothing options across the board, today, many innovative brands produce sustainable footwear in all sorts of sizes and shapes alongside the sneaker brands we’ve listed below. We have a list of the best sustainable shoe brands a click away for you to browse, also including more formal lines.
Elsewhere, for putting in the miles, check out our article on the best vegan running shoes, and after you’ve called it a day, chill out at home with sustainable slippers. Read on for our sneaker picks.
Best for: Everyday wear
Sustainability: Eco-friendly materials, shoe donation, Certified B corp
If you are looking for high-quality, lightweight everyday sustainable sneakers, then it's time you met the Allbirds brand
The Allbirds brand makes its sneakers using sustainable materials, including ZQ Merino wool (one of the most ethical wool brands), eucalyptus tree fibers, and shoelaces made from recycled plastic bottles. Their sneakers come with midsoles made partially with castor bean oil to reduce synthetic content.
This certified B Corp has reached cult status, selling some of the most durable eco-sneakers for men, women, and kids.
Allbirds ticks the ethical box as this company openly states where they get their raw materials from and their manufacturing process. Their sneakers come in recycled cardboard packaging to reduce plastic waste and carbon footprint. Allbirds also partners with Soles4Souls donating returned shoes to communities while reducing waste.
Best for: Everyday wear
Sustainability: recycled materials, zero waste
Thousand Fell is a sustainable sneaker brand known as the first maker of zero-waste recycled sneakers.
With their minimalist design for all genders, they make use of materials like recycled water bottles, coconut husks, and sugar cane.
Thousand Fell makes the soles of their sneakers from recycled rubber and the upper mesh and laces from bio-leather and recycled plastic bottles.
The mesh sock liner contains aloe vera that helps fight bacteria, keeping your feet healthy. You can be sure that your white sneakers from Thousand Fell stay white as they are both stain and water-resistant. The materials are sourced responsibly in local regions and made in a family-owned factory in Brazil.
Their shoe boxes come in recyclable, FSC-certified cardboard. They also have a recycling program allowing you to drop off old shoes for a new pair. Thousand Fell is also a member of 1% for the Planet and returns shoes in decent condition through their recycling program to Soles4Souls charity.
Best for: Active and casual wear
Sustainability: Eco-friendly materials (hemp fibers shoebox)
8000Kicks is the first brand to give birth to the world's first waterproof hemp sneakers. Their eco-friendly sneakers come in fun colors for both men and women.
Their sneakers come from hemp plant fibers - one of the most sustainable materials in the world, using no pesticides and less water than cotton.
8000Kicks include antibacterial and anti-microbial insoles. Its outsoles come from bloom foam algae, reducing the number of harmful algae in marine environments.
The brand claims that each pair of sneakers uses 50% less CO2 and less water than your typical sneakers. They source their hemp from France, China, and Romania. They then produce their shoes in factories in Portugal and China. You can read about these factories on their website.
8000Kicks also ships their shoes from the USA and UK to reduce their carbon footprint.
Best for: Active or casual wear
Sustainability: PETA-approved vegan sneaker
Ecoalf is a brand passionate about protecting the planet and claims to have removed over 500 tons of plastic waste from the environment, including millions of plastic bottles and tons of fishing nets.
Based in Spain, Ecoalf is the first fashion brand to become a certified B Corp in Spain. They make a wide range of sneakers with their fashion lines from 100% recycled polyester, plastic bottles, and 100% recycled nylon.
The Ecoalf supply chain has at least one OEKO-TEX 100 certification or Bluesign certification. Their sneakers come in zero-waste packaging made of recycled cardboard boxes. They also use dye-free recycled paper.
Ecoalf donates 10% of all its profits to the Ecoalf Foundation, committed to waste management and participating in environmental education initiatives.
Best for: Casual wear
Sustainability: Certified B Corp, natural material (wool), ethical production, fair wages
Baabuk makes one of the most comfortable and stylish sneakers around.
This family-owned business has been unstoppable, making the most ethical designs available in low or mid-rise designs. Their sneakers come in ethically sourced wool, soft Merino inner lining, and TPU thermoplastic sole.
Baabuk guarantees safe working conditions, zero child labor, a higher salary than average, and equal employment opportunities for women. They make their sneakers in a historic factory in Portugal famous for using hand techniques and old machinery for over 100+ years.
Beyond their ethical and sustainable wool, Baabuk offers a repair kit to help you extend the life of your shoes. This repair kit comes for only $5. (For more information, check out our guide to repairable shoes)
Baabuk also organizes fundraisers donating to various causes, including sending slippers to frontline workers in Switzerland.
Best for: Running or everyday wear
Sustainability: Organic, zero-waste, vegan shoes
Veja is a popular sneaker brand recognized for its signature ‘V’ logo. Veja creates high-quality and sustainable vegan sneakers completely cruelty-free and follow ethical standards. Their cooperative cotton growers receive wages 30% - 50% above the world market price. Veja makes its sneakers with eco-friendly materials like wild rubber and organic cotton. They come in minimalist designs suitable for your everyday casual look.
Best for: Casual wear
Sustainability: eco-friendly materials, plant-based insoles, recycled shoebox
Cariuma makes the most good-looking and comfortable sneakers equally great for the planet. Their sneakers come in different styles, from slip-ons to low tops through high tops.
Cariuma uses natural materials like cotton, rubber, and bamboo. Their bamboo comes with an OEKO-TEX certification, and they harvest them following FSC standards.
The company taps its rubber ethically. Their cotton also comes with a GOTS certification. Their sneakers come with insoles made from plant-based materials from sugarcane, cork, and mamona oil. Their vegan options use GRS-certified rPET (recycled from plastic bottles).
Cariuma follows International Labour Organization (ILO) guidelines, providing fair wages while caring for its workers' health and overall well-being. They also work exclusively with ethical factories.
Each pair of shoes comes with a protective toe cap making them comfortable and durable. Cariuma plants two trees in the founder's homeland in Brazil with every sneaker you purchase.
Best for: Activewear
Sustainability: cruelty-free, recycled, and upcycled materials
Based in Vancouver, Canada, Native Shoes makes a range of bright-colored fun patterned sneakers suitable for adults and kids.
Native makes its shoes using microfiber vegan leather. Most of their sneakers still use EVA for their midsole and outsole to ensure better performance. So you want to be on the lookout when shopping.
However, their Jefferson Bloom Line incorporates harvested algae biomass into their sneakers. The process restores 80 liters of filtered water with each pair of sneakers made.
Native Shoes make their sneakers in factories located in Vietnam and China. They also state they follow strict ethical standards, ensuring fair wages and working hours.
Their sneakers also come in recyclable packaging.
Native Shoes initiated the Remix Project, which aims to manage the shoes' lifecycle. The project also aims to offer free returns and a recycling program. All their returned shoes go to community projects, including building playgrounds.
Best for: Everyday use
Sustainability: recycled materials (recycled plastic and recycled cotton)
Nothing New is a sustainable fashion brand that vows to make the best sneakers using nothing new. Their sneakers are either all-natural or 100% recycled materials. Amazing right?
They make simple sneakers in various solid-color designs for both men and women. The upper part of their sneakers comes in 100% post-consumer Global Recycle Standard certified plastic and cotton canvas sustainably sourced.
The soles come from recycled fishing nets, and the outsoles from recycled rubber, natural rubber, and recycled cork.
Their laces and labels come in plastic, and their sneakers have a fully stitched construction (no glues).
Nothing New is completely carbon neutral and works with carbon offset partners. They also have a program that allows you to send in worn-out shoes for free and get $20 off when buying a new pair.
Best for: Fashionable wear (luxury brand)
Sustainability: Vegan materials
Stella McCartney is an entirely vegan brand that sets the standard for sustainable luxury wear in the fashion industry. The British designer, Stella McCartney, uses responsible and sustainable methods and has done so for almost two decades.
The brand makes its sneakers from recycled polyester, repurposing plastic waste and using up to 50% less energy than virgin polyester. This brand emphasizes reducing waste across the entire supply chain. The brand is also a Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) member.
Most of the brand’s shoes and products are vegan. However, the brand still experiments with other materials like wool. You can find these sneakers in various styles and designs for men and women.
Best for: Outdoor activities
Sustainability: Banana fiber, natural cork, recycled materials like recycled PET
Founded in 2016, this ethical sneaker brand makes an impressive line of affordable and super-comfortable sneakers. They are perfect for any outdoor activity, including running, hiking, walking, gyming, and so on.
Saola uses synthetic leather made from Recycled Gold standard-certified PET and PU at a ratio of 40/60 for the uppers. All their sneakers use organic cotton lace as well as insoles with an upper layer of cork and outsoles made from recycled algae foam.
Soala has its factory in southern China, with one of its founders permanently stationed in Asia to examine and ensure ethical and sustainable practices.
Named from one of the rarest animals in the world, Soala is a member of 1% for the Planet, with 1% of their proceeds going to the Mwalua Wildlife Trust, working to promote wildlife conservation.
Best for: Casual wear
Sustainability: recycled materials
This Italian brand, founded in 2014, produces sustainable footwear using traditional craftsmanship, ethical production, and environmental practices. Womsh selects its raw materials from renewable sources like apples for its line of vegan shoes.
The brand also uses metal-free non-toxic tanned leather, ensuring the safety of people and the environment.
Womsh collects and recycles old sneakers for making floorings used in children’s playgrounds. They make their packaging from recycled cardboard and line it with corn-processing waste paper.
Best for: casual or fashionable wear
Sustainability: Natural raw materials like hemp & cotton, a carbon-neutral supply chain
Rothy’s is a vegan shoe brand that makes some of the best sustainable and stylish shoes. They make a collection of durable, fully machine-washable sneakers, meaning you can wear your sneakers without worrying about their durability or performance.
Based in San Francisco, Rothy's makes its eco-friendly materials, including repurposed plastic water bottles and algae.
Their line of shoe products uses low-impact dyes and water-based glue. Its production happens in a workshop in China, monitoring its entire supply chain and striving towards more sustainable practices. Rothy's sneakers come in sizes from US 5-13 for women.
Best for: Casual or streetwear
Sustainability: upcycled ocean plastic
Trash Planet is a UK-based brand that makes its sneakers using recycled mesh obtained from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester. This mesh comes partly from upcycled marine plastic collected from ocean clean initiatives.
Their sneakers have a removable insole made from recycled PET tree fibers. It also recycles old soles to make new pairs.
Trash Planet manufactures each pair in a factory that runs on renewable energy alone.
Trash Planet also offers a take-back program where you can drop off your old sneakers in exchange for 15 pounds off your next purchase.
Trash Planet further commits to reducing carbon by planting 15 trees for each pair of shoes you purchase.
Best for: Casual wear
Sustainability: Recycled ocean plastic, bamboo lining, cork
Made from 100% vegan materials, Løci makes a wide range of sustainable sneakers.
Its shoe lining comes in bamboo, making it strong and very breathable. Their insoles and midsoles are made of cork, making your sneakers both antibacterial and odor-free.
Løci also makes distinctive shoes using recycled ocean plastic sourced from the Atlantic Coast of Africa and the Mediterranean.
Handmade in Portugal, Løci partners with the finest craftsmen and workers who share the vision of sustainability, accountability, and transparency. Every pair of sneakers averts 20 plastic bottles from ending up in the ocean.
Also, 10% of their profits go to ocean conservation charities committed to protecting the sea.
Løci claims to be a “Purpose over profit” brand.
Best for: Casual wear
Sustainability: Fairtrade certified, Certified B Corp
Etiko offers a range of some of the best sustainable sneakers made from organic cotton, free of toxic chemicals, and 100% vegan.
This Fair Trade-certified company derives its brand name from the Greek word for ‘Ethical’ and proves its commitment to ethical production. They make durable, sustainable sneakers perfect for a casual day out. Their products support human labor rights for workers, cotton growers, and their families. They also ensure premium wages for all their employees.
About 300 million shoes get thrown out every year, contributing to harmful carbon emissions, textile waste, and environmental pollution.
For any unsustainable sneaker brands, dig a bit deeper, and you may find unethical practices that expose workers to harmful chemicals causing diseases.
Thankfully, we have a choice to shop from sustainable sneaker brands taking tangible steps towards more ethical and sustainable fashion.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.