Q: I'm looking for a pair of running shoes. Any suggestions on where to get a pair that's eco-friendly/cruelty-free?
A: Forget jogging - deciding what shoe to buy is enough to make any conscious consumer sweat. And with good reason. It's an industry in which sweatshops and harsh chemical use are the rule. Toxic glues, pesticide-drenched cottons and petroleum-based rubbers (rather than the natural biodegradable variety) are the order of the day. And if the shoes aren't made of chemically tanned leathers left over from the meat industry, they often use that horrid plastic, PVC, that emits hazardous dioxins during manufacture and incineration.
None of this is good for the environment, the people who make your shoes or the creatures that give their lives for them. But short of going barefoot, rest assured, there are ways to put a little heart back into your soles.
Just know that we can't promise that a company is sweatshop-free - even worker rights activists refuse to make those kinds of guarantees. So we'll just stick to what we know for sure - your shoes' ecological footprint.
When shopping for running shoes, it's impossible not to come toe-to-toe with the big brands on the market. You'll be happy to know that Adidas, Asics, New Balance, Puma, Reebok and Nike have all started eliminating PCVs and ozone-depleting volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Adidas and Puma gear, for instance, is nearly PVC-free.
Looking to take the beef out of your bounce? New Balance (on Yonge, Bayview or Bloor West) makes many leather-free runners and walking shoes starting at $120. Make sure to double-check with the sales person on which ones those are. But note that reps couldn't promise the glues are animal-free. And if you'd rather ditch big brands altogether, why not go for the most anti-corporate street shoe in town? Adbusters just started selling its Blackspot sneaks online this week (www. adbusters.org). The rubber sole might be synthetic, but the Converse-style shoes are made of organic hemp with a 70 per cent biodegradable toe cap. Ecolution (available at Roach-O-Rama on Baldwin and Toronto Hemp Company on Yonge) makes a whole line of organic hemp shoes and sandals priced anywhere from $34.95 for slippers to $103.95 for black lace-ups. Their Huaraches sandals have recycled tire soles, and all shoes have hemp detailing and laces.
All you fashionistas with heart, check out U.S.-based Shoes with Souls at www.shoeswithsouls.com. They sell a line of funky shoes, sandals and sneaks for both men and women called Deja. They're PVC-free, made with recycled carton insoles, natural rubber soles and use coconut shell for buttons. Plus, they use eco-friendly water-based glues and have good environmental policies in place at their factories. The Web site also features an even funkier line of vegetarian knee-high boots and retro pumps called Daya, but they're not as eco-friendly.
What is it with vegetarian sexpots and shoes anyway? Both Heidi Fleiss (www.heidifleiss.com) and Pamela Anderson are pushing their own lines of cruelty-free Uggs. (Pam's are coming out later this fall.) However, they make no claims to be particularly eco-friendly.
Though not so trendy, Birkenstock also makes some veggie sandals and clogs (available at The First Step on Alcorn from $115). And leather or not, all Birks are made with leftover cork from the wine industry, natural latex, solvent-free glues and are fully repairable and re-soleable (available at Walking on a Cloud, in Don Mills Shopping Centre and others, from $130).
For top-notch comfort and a little (OK, a lot) more money, non-vegans might consider slipping into Mephisto walking shoes. Yes, they're leather, but they use vegetable dyes, toxin-free glues, natural rubber and no plastics. Shoes start at $300, sandals $150, at Mephisto by the Foot Shoppe on Bloor and Walking on a Cloud.
And since their name sounds kind of green, we thought we'd check out Ecco, another line of extra-comfy shoes and boots. Turns out they, too, use vegetable dyes, a water-based finish and are freon-free, though their soles and insole foam are synthetic. (They're available at Walking on a Cloud stores starting at $150).
By the way, while the blue box might not take your old shoes, second-hand shops like Goodwill do. Or send unwanted sneaks (all brands accepted) to Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program. They grind 'em up and turn them into basketball and tennis courts as well as track and playground surfaces (www. nikeorganics.com).
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