The sneaker brands in particular seem to have come onto the green path (read more here) and are presenting one product innovation after the other. This is not bad per se, but as so often when something is used in an inflationary way, it also loses credibility. Converse has now launched its Canvas-Upper model in 100% recycled polyester, which is made from used plastic bottles. The American brand Everlane launched its sneaker brand Tread by Everlane two months ago. Its mission: "Make the world's most sustainable sneakers." The German fashion label DjNN'S wants to launch the first sneaker in early 2020 that combines maximum sustainability and recycling–both in terms of materials and manufacturing conditions.
Rens, a start-up sneaker brand from Helsinki that is looking for financial support on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, has developed a sneaker that consists of coffee grounds and recycled plastic and is therefore sustainable and waterproof. Several manufacturers such as Adidas (Adidas x Parley), Nike (Flynit) or Camper x Ecoalf produce from recycled plastic waste.
But how sustainable are sustainable sneakers really? In the case of Everlane, who advertise with the slogan "Make the world's most sustainable sneakers," this seems questionable. The brand itself puts the total emissions per pair at 51.5 kg CO2. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that an average pair of standard sneakers is responsible for 14.0 kg of CO2 equivalent emissions over its lifetime. Despite less plastic consumption and support for projects that actively seek to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases, Everlane's Tread Sneaker is still 367.9% worse for the environment than a standard sneaker. Greenwashing sends its greetings.
For Danny McLoughlin, sneaker industry expert and co-author of the athletic shoe review website RunRepeat.com, there is a clear answer to the question of whether eco sneakers are really sustainable: "No. Not at the moment. There would need to be significant changes to factory processes, the energy mix in the manufacturing process e.g. cleaner energy and a way to recycle the sneakers effectively before they could be seen as truly sustainable. This is on top of all the interesting work that has been done around materials–such as Nike Flyknit, Adidas Parley range, Nike Flyleather and Everlane's more sustainable leather."
The fact that sneakers are made from recycled materials and that there are product innovations that offer alternatives to traditional materials such as spider silk, coffee grounds or Pinatex, a natural leather alternative from cellulose fibers obtained from pineapple leaves is a good development, but one should not forget that even the "greenest sneaker" still has a significant impact on the environment in terms of production, shipping and disposal. McLoughlin also sees a problem in the vague interpretation of the term "sustainability": "This is the biggest problem because no-one knows. Eco', 'sustainable', and 'green' don't really mean anything. Under FTC guidelines there are no restrictions on what 'sustainable' means. Companies such as Adidas have realized the environmental impact they are having and how this impacts on their overall sustainability objectives and have really started to put some time, money and effort into looking at how they can reduce that impact."
Eco sneakers don't save the world, that's for sure. The most sustainable thing you can do as a consumer is to buy less sneakers or only when the old ones are really worn out and broken. That would significantly reduce the CO2 balance. And let's be honest, bringing the word sustainability into connection with consumer goods is paradoxical in itself. Because in the end there is only one thing that is really sustainable: not consuming.