Do You Have Green Feet?

The environment has been an extremely hot topic over the past few years (just look at how central of an issue it was during the 2008 presidential campaign), and industries across the board are responding – including the footwear industry.

According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, in 2006 alone, U.S. consumers purchased 2.4 billion pairs of shoes. Granted, this was the year the U.S. population passed the 300 million mark, but we’re still looking at an estimated average of eight pairs of shoes purchased by each U.S. resident that year. And the fact is, for the bulk of history, shoes have been manufactured at a high environmental cost – resulting not only from actual production, but also from transportation. So what’s being done about it, and what can you, as an individual, do to contribute to the success of the eco-friendly footwear movement? There are a few options available – both before and after shoe purchase.

Before you Buy. The shoe industry has several players, large and small, that have responded to the call of the green movement. In fact, several have been in the game for longer than many of us realize. Take, for example, Nike, who in 1993 established an internal team, the Nike Environmental Action Team (N.E.A.T.) (now part of the company’s Corporate Responsibility Division) dedicated to the direction and coordination of Nike’s global environmental programs. The company has also joined with Levi Strauss & Co., Starbucks, Sun Microsystems and The Timberland Company to form Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), an organization calling for strong U.S. climate and energy legislation in early 2009. But Nike isn’t the only one making a concerted effort to go green. Brooks has a section of its Web site dedicated to the green movement, The Green Room. And just last year, Brooks introduced BioMoGo, the world’s first fully biodegradable midsole foam for footwear. According to The Green Room, once a pair of Brooks shoes with BioMoGo has reached an enclosed landfill, it will begin to biodegrade. In roughly 20 years, the midsoles will be completely converted by common soil microbes into useful humus and nutrients. That’s about 50 times faster than a standard midsole degradation. (Traditional Ethylene Vinyl Acetate(TM) [EVA] midsoles can last up to 1,000 years in a landfill.).

New Balance maintains U.S. production factories, helping to eliminate the carbon footprint other manufacturers cause in transporting their footwear the thousands of miles to get to the United States.

Timberland takes a creative approach in providing a “nutrition label” on each of its shoe boxes, which lets consumers know “exactly what went into making the shoes” – from chemicals to recycled content.

But it isn’t just the shoes getting the attention of the manufacturers; it’s also the packaging. Several manufacturers are also investing in biodegradable shoe boxes and filling. There are several other companies leading the way in providing greener footwear options as well – Birkenstock, ecco, END, Flat Tire, KEEN, Mephisto, Patagonia and Teva, to name a few.

So before you buy those shoes you’ve been wanting, check out the manufacturer’s environmental practices, and determine for yourself whether they fit with your personal goals.

Your Shoes Have Lived a Good Life. Now What? The average advised life expectancy of a pair of shoes is six months – doesn’t seem very long before sending your shoes off to the landfill, right? But there are options!

There are several programs worldwide dedicated to the donation of shoes that may have a little life left in them after all, including RecycledRunners.com and Soles4Souls, and a host of other worldwide programs that can be found at Run the Planet. And for those shoes that aren’t at all fit to be worn, check out true recycling options such as Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program.

Doing Your Part One Shoe at a Time. Despite the progress being made toward more eco-friendly footwear, the sector still represents less than four percent of the overall footwear market, according to Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group. Therefore, when it comes time to purchase a new pair of shoes, and you want to go green, do your research; talk with your podiatrist about eco-friendly brands he or she recommends. And remember to keep your feet’s best interest at heart. You don’t have to sacrifice comfort and support for the good of the environment; you can have both.

Copyright (c) 2009 Dr. Jennifer Feeny

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