Sustainability In Sneaker Industry Heading In Right Direction But Still Work To Do

Written by on January 17, 2019 in News Flash with 0 Comments

Over the course of their lifetime, a pair of sneakers is responsible for emissions the equivalent of 14 kg of carbon dioxide.

Given that approximately 25 billion pairs of sneakers are manufactured each year, the sneaker industry is responsible for 350 million metric tons of emissions each year.

To put that into context, Turkey is responsible for around 317 million metric tons of emissions each year.

The Good News

Thankfully, there are signs that the industry is moving in the right direction by creating eco sneakers – at least one element of the shoe is advertised by the manufacturer as eco-friendly or any related term.

Currently, 3.4% of all sneakers are classified eco-sneaker and this number has risen over the past 18 months.

There is innovation in the industry to develop new materials.

For example, Adidas has collaborated with Parley for the Oceans to create a Primeknit material to be used in sneakers that can be made from plastic bottles or plastic bags reclaimed from the ocean.

Nike has created a new dyeing process called Colordry that completely removes water from the dyeing process.

There’s Still A Long Way To Go

However, there is still a long way to go. This is partly due to a lack of understanding of where the carbon emissions come from and what can be done to reduce them.

Research suggests that of the 89 eco-sneakers currently on the market, the average reduction in carbon emissions is only 9.12%.

Some back of a napkin math shows that total emissions saved from eco-sneakers are 982,954 metric tons. Leaving the industry emissions still at just over 316 million metric tons.

Why Are The Reductions So Low?

To understand this, you need to understand where the 14 kg of carbon emissions are generated in the first place.

64% of all emissions come from the manufacturing stage. The majority of this is due to the energy-intensive manufacturing combined with the energy mix in South-East Asian countries like China, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia where the vast majority of sneakers are manufactured.

Sneaker companies have focused on materials which make up less than 30% of a shoe’s carbon footprint.

Instead, they should be focusing on improving processes to use less energy and finding a way to serve their factories with a cleaner energy mix that is not so damaging.

What Can We Do?

Firstly, don’t let this put you off from buying sustainable sneakers. After all, even though eco-sneakers cause roughly 90% of the emissions that conventional sneakers do, that is still better than 100%.

However, think before buying.

Not buying new sneakers is better than buying sustainable sneakers. If you can, use your current sneakers until they are worn out.

Next, look for sturdy sneakers that will last longer. If you can buy a robust pair of conventional sneakers that will last 2 years, you will be responsible for fewer emissions in total than if you were to buy two pairs of flimsy eco-sneakers in that time that need to be replaced annually.

Finally, make your voice heard. Next time you are shopping for sneakers make sure to contact the company and ask them about the environmental impact of their product. The response will probably be “we don’t know” because it’s not an easy thing to calculate.

But, it’s only when enough people ask and companies like Nike and Adidas realize that this information is a major factor in the decision-making process of buyers that this information will become readily available and allow consumers to make better choices.


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