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13 Sustainable Shoe Brands That Make It Easy To Tread Lightly

Emma Loewe
Author:
August 27, 2022
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
August 27, 2022
Our editors have independently chosen the products listed on this page. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.

In the quest to craft a more sustainable wardrobe, many of us forget to look down at our own two feet. But shoes account for quite a bit of our closet's overall environmental impact (up to one-fifth of it, according to some estimates), so they're worth paying attention to.

The next time you're in the market for a fresh pair, check out these 13 shoe brands dedicated to leaving behind a lighter footprint.

Things to look for in a sustainable shoe.

Truly "sustainable" items are those whose production can be sustained into the future without harming people (via unsafe working conditions, toxic materials, etc.) or the planet (via carbon emissions, pollution, harmful resource extraction, etc.).

Buying new products is almost always less sustainable than buying ones that have already been created. But with something like shoes—which we all need to get around but aren't as popular on the secondhand market—it can be tricky to avoid. That's where being a savvy shopper can help you find a new shoe that at least has a lower impact than other options.

As a sustainability editor, these are the criteria I look for in a kicks company that's actually putting its energy into making more sustainable shoes, not just greenwashing. It's rare that one brand is able to tick every one of these boxes, but plenty of the options on our list are well on their way.

Materials & extraction:

1. The brand is transparent about the materials they use in their shoes; it's clearly stated on their website.

2. The shoe materials are grown or created in a way that prioritizes worker health and safety (i.e., natural materials grown organically without potent pesticides, synthetic materials created in a closed-loop production process that doesn't leak toxic chemicals).

OR The shoe materials come from recycled sources like water bottles or other shoes.

OR The shoe is made from materials that would have otherwise been thrown away.

OR The shoe materials come from animals that were treated humanely.

3. No ecosystems or human settlements are harmed to clear land to grow the materials.

Processing:

1. Workers are paid fairly for their labor, and their working conditions are safe.

2. The shoes are constructed in a factory that runs on alternative energy and minimizes water waste.

3. The shoes get their color from natural or nontoxic dyes.

Shipping:

1. The brand uses low-carbon shipping options and offsets the emissions of each shipment through verifiable offset projects.

2. The brand measures the total carbon emissions of their shoes and sets ambitious but achievable goals to reduce the emissions of each pair. They track their progress and share their results in regularly updated sustainability reports on their website.

3. The brand doesn't ship unnecessary packaging. The packaging they do have is reusable and/or recyclable through most curbside programs.

Afterlife:

1. The brand takes their old shoes to be recycled (turned into another pair of shoes) or downcycled (turned into lesser-value goods like carpeting, insulation, etc.).

2. The brand resells its old shoes that are still in good condition on its website.

3. If they do end up in a landfill, the shoes will not emit toxic chemicals as they biodegrade.

4. The brand's shoes are designed to be durable, comfortable, and timeless.

Clearly, there's a lot to consider, but some certifications do the legwork of verifying that a brand is prioritizing sustainability across these key areas. A few that I trust in the shoe space are:

How we picked.

Materials

The brands on this list opt for materials that are natural and responsibly cultivated (such as ethical wool and organic cotton) or made of waste products (such as plastic bottles or recycled polyester), when possible.

Emissions

These brands are committed to reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of their business through innovative designs and take-back programs, thoughtful shipping, and low-carbon production. They are transparent about where most of their emissions come from and how they're working to reduce them.

Transparency

These brands disclose how and where their shoes are made and which materials go into them. Most of them have these claims verified through third-party certifiers like B Corp.

Style

Perhaps most important of all, these brands make durable shoes that you'll be able to walk in for a long, long time. They have timeless styles that will continue to look great on your feet no matter what the trends are that season.

mbg's picks for the best sustainable shoe brands of 2022:

Best for everyday: Pons Avarcas

Pons Avarcas
VIEW ON PonsVIEW ON Amazon

Pros

  • Comfortable and durable
  • Timeless styles that go with everything

Cons

  • Company doesn't publish sustainability goals
  • Leather styles are not vegan
Price: $
Materials: Leather, Recycled Rubber
Shoes they sell: Sandals, Kids Shoes

Allow me to introduce you to Avarcas: the traditional shoe of Menorca, Spain, that just might be the most comfortable and durable footwear out there. I personally have been wearing mine for years for practically every occasion and they still look and feel as good as new. Pons Avarcas is a Spanish family-run company making them to the highest standards from partially recycled rubber and ethically raised leather treated without dangerous chemicals. Vegan or avoiding animal products? They sell options made from synthetic leather as well (though these come with their own environmental concerns).

Best slip-on: Cariuma

Cariuma
VIEW ON Cariuma

Pros

  • B Corp Certified
  • Comfortable and durable

Cons

  • Company doesn't publish sustainability goals
  • Some styles are not vegan
Price: $$
Materials: Leather, Cork, Recycled Polyester, Recycled Bottles, Rubber
Shoes they sell: Sneakers, Slip Ons

Cariuma's minimalist sneakers and slip-ons are designed to be super breathable and comfortable; perfect for a long day on your feet, no break-in needed. Bonus: Many of them are machine washable so they'll stay looking fresh no matter what you put them through. Made with natural and recycled materials like bamboo and plastic bottles, they also leave a light footprint. As a B Corp certified company, Cariuma offsets the carbon emissions of its shipping and plants two trees for each pair of sneaks they sell.

Best recyclable: Thousand Fell

Thousand Fell
VIEW ON Thousand FellVIEW ON Bloomingdale's

Pros

  • Use innovative materials
  • Designed to be recycled

Cons

  • Limited styles (but that's intentional to make them easier to recycle)
Price: $$
Materials: Recycled Rubber, Cotton, Sugarcane
Shoes they sell: Sneakers, Slip Ons

Thousand Fell is on a zero-waste mission, and the brand designs each pair of its shoes to be recycled and worn by someone new. To incentivize the process, the brand charges customers a $20 "recycling deposit," which gets returned when they send in their old pair. As for the shoes themselves, they're a crisp white with cool detailing and innovative materials. Think insoles made from recycled rubber yoga mats and biobased plastics made from coconut husk and sugar cane.

Best for men: Allbirds

Allbirds
VIEW ON Allbirds

Pros

  • Resells gently used shoes for a discount
  • B Corp Certified
  • Shares the carbon footprint of its shoes

Cons

  • Limited styles (though they are expanding)
Price: $
Materials: Wool, Sugarcane, Tencel Lyocell
Shoes they sell: Sneakers, Running Shoes, Kids Shoes, Flats, Slip Ons

Allbirds made a splash on the sustainability scene when it launched its comfy, minimalist merino wool sneaker back in 2016. Since then, the brand has continued to up the ante with renewable materials like sugar cane, emissions reduction goals, and an open-sourced Carbon Calculator. Now, Allbirds collects its old shoes that are still in good shape and resells them for a discount on the ReRun platform—a treasure trove of sustainable secondhands for him and her.

Best sandals: Nisolo

Nisolo
VIEW ON NisoloVIEW ON Amazon

Pros

  • B Corp certified
  • Climate Neutral certified
  • Publish a carbon footprint and Sustainability Facts panel for each shoe

Cons

  • Don't ship internationally
Price: $$
Materials: Leather, Recycled Polyester, Recycled Cotton, Recycled Bottles, Rubber
Shoes they sell: Sandals, Sneakers, Heels, Flats, Mules, Slip Ons

Nashville-based shoe company Nisolo has taken impressive steps to become a leader in the footwear industry. For starters, the certified B Corp guarantees living wages for all of the people who help create their products, and they're transparent about the environmental impact of their shoes. Like, really transparent. Peep each product's Sustainability Facts panel (cleverly modeled after the ubiquitous Nutrition Facts label) to get a rundown of how it measures up across 200 sustainability metrics on a 100% scale. Any emissions the Climate Neutral company does emit are offset through investments in the Amazon Basin.

Best boots: Christy Dawn

Christy Dawn
VIEW ON Christy Dawn

Pros

  • Made from waste materials
  • Timeless styles

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not vegan
Price: $$$
Materials: Leather
Shoes they sell: Sandals, Boots

Christy Dawn's signature breezy dresses show just how chic deadstock (left over from the manufacturing process) fabric can become. The California-cool brand's leather shoes now do the same. Crafted from leather that was deemed slightly too imperfect to sell, these one-of-a-kind shoes transform "waste" into timeless classics that will literally never go out of style. As one reviewer puts it, they are "the granny boots of dreams."

Best for special occasions: AERA

AERA
VIEW ON Saks Fifth AvenueVIEW ON AERA

Pros

  • B Corp certified

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Vegan leather is made from synthetic materials
Price: $$$
Materials: Cotton, Polyester
Shoes they sell: Sandals, Boots, Heels, Flats

AERA is one of the few luxury shoe companies to have a B Corp certification for its commitment to sustainability. The vegan brand uses mostly virgin materials—many of which are petroleum-derived—to replace the look and feel of leather, which is not ideal. But they do conduct life-cycle assessments on their shoes to figure out the rough emissions of each pair, then offset all of it and then some (hence their "110% sustainable" pledge).

Best leather: WODEN

WODEN
VIEW ON WODEN

Pros

  • Use unique waste materials
  • Durably made and timeless

Cons

  • No men's styles
  • Could be more transparent about materials and processing
Price: $$
Materials: Leather, Fish Leather, Cork, Recycled Polyester, Algae, Recycled Rubber
Shoes they sell: Sandals, Sneakers, Boots, Rubber Boots, Kids Shoes

WODEN, standing for Works of Denmark, is a Scandanavian company selling ruggedly timeless sneakers and boots. The brand uses innovative materials including leather made from fish skins—a waste product from the fishing industry that gets destroyed 99% of the time. The leather is then treated in a tanning process that's low in carbon emissions and toxic chemicals. Other materials you'll find in their naturally soft and supportive shoes include algae, recycled polyester, cork, and recycled rubber.

Best variety: Reformation

Reformation
VIEW ON Reformation

Pros

  • Climate Neutral certified
  • Offers a variety of styles
  • Take-back recycling program for store credit

Cons

  • Could be more transparent about material sourcing
Price: $$
Materials: Leather, Recycled Cotton, Suede
Shoes they sell: Sneakers, Boots, Heels, Flats, Loafers, Mules, Platforms

Cool-girl-certified Climate Neutral company Reformation discloses its emissions reduction goals, factory locations and conditions, and sustainability progress report on its website—though it could share more about where its raw materials come from. From leather platforms to cowboy boots, they have an extended line of shoes that adhere to their standards of ethical and transparent production. The latest addition is their recycled cotton canvas shoes printed in fun designs. Once you wear yours out, Reformation will give you a $25 store credit to recycle them.

Best running shoes: Veja

Veja
VIEW ON Veja

Pros

  • Use responsibly sources & recycled materials
  • Follows fair trade principles
  • Certified B Corp

Cons

  • Not all of their materials are sustainable (though they are transparent about what these are)
Price: $$
Materials: Leather, Recycled Polyester, Recycled Rubber, Suede, Bioplastics, Natural latex
Shoes they sell: Sneakers, Running Shoes, Kids Shoes

Looking for a running shoe that will fit just right, provide the perfect level of cushion, and not pollute the environment with tons of plastic and rubber? Meet Veja's runners, an extension of their cult-favorite line of minimalist white kicks. The B Corp–certified brand swaps the petroleum-derived plastics and virgin rubber of typical sneakers for bio-based and recycled materials that will feel great on your feet and look downright cool as you flash by.

Best flip-flops: OluKai

OluKai
VIEW ON OluKai

Pros

  • B Corp certified
  • Philanthropic component

Cons

  • Not all materials are sustainable
  • Not vegan
Price: $$
Materials: Leather, Polyester, Rubber
Shoes they sell: Sandals, Flip Flops, Slip Ons

An ode to Hawaiian design, OluKai shoes have a breezy look and a tough and durable finish. They are made to last with leather that looks better with age but also do have some parts made from virgin plastic and rubber. The B Corp–certified company has a strong philanthropic component, and a portion of proceeds from each sandal sale goes toward conserving the cultural heritage of Hawai'i.

Best sneaker: ACBC

ACBC
VIEW ON ACBC

Pros

  • B Corp certified
  • Offers a take-back recycling program

Cons

  • Limited styles
Price: $$
Materials: Cork, Algae, Recycled Rubber, Bioplastics, Hemp
Shoes they sell: Sneakers

ACBC (Anything Can Be Changed, for the uninitiated) is an Italian footwear company "founded in 2017 with a mindset of 2030." Their clean, simple sneakers prioritize natural materials—down to the jute-fiber brown laces—and each pair makes an environmental statement with unique lettering and imagery. Based on ACBC's latest CO2 analysis, each pair has about half the carbon footprint of a traditional sneaker. When you're done with yours, the brand will collect them (and any other old shoes you have lying around) to be recycled.

Best machine washable: Kengos

Kengos
VIEW ON Kengos

Pros

  • Made of mostly plant-based materials
  • Machine washable
  • Easy to recycle

Cons

  • Limited styles
Price: $$
Materials: Cork, Cotton, Rubber
Shoes they sell: Sneakers

Always struggle to keep your shoes clean? Kengos vegan sneakers are a breeze to wash. Just throw them in the machine on a cold setting and let them air dry. Each pair touts a unique look that's designed to be completely glue-free. Yep, the bottom soles are laced on to make disassembly a breeze. Once Kengos collects their used shoes from you, they take them apart and repurpose the parts they can into new shoes, composting or recycling the rest.

The takeaway.

If you're going to buy new shoes, be sure to opt for a pair that will stay with you (and out of the landfill) for as long as possible. This list of 13 brands is a great place to start your search for sustainable footwear that deserves a spot in your capsule wardrobe.

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Emma Loewe
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.