6 Ethical Running Shoes You Can Actually Wear For Workouts

Olivia Burton

If like me, you have spent the last few months eating your feelings and moving like a sloth – you might be in the market for some new running shoes.

Running shoes are difficult to purchase, they need to be the right shape, the right material and more importantly, need to last (here’s a great article on 5 Signs you should replace your running shoes.

In terms of ethics and environmental practices, sneaker brands are infamous for dodgy dealings (Nike has been accused of using sweatshops since the 1970s).

It’s also important to understand how little workers get paid, for example in Indonesia, workers earn around $3.70 for a pair of running shoes that later sells in store for about $180. The toxic dyes and materials in sneakers are also environmentally harmful.

ethical sustainable performance running shoes

“Today, 99% of running shoes on the market are composed of plastics, which are 99% derived from petroleum. Our society’s dependence on plastic and oil is an ecological catastrophe.” – VEJA

As difficult as it is to get performance running shoes that are all-round perfect, there is a sliding scale. Below is a selection of running shoe brands that are closer to the top of the scale.

ethical sustainable performance running shoes

1. Allbirds – For the most eco

Listen up – I can personally vouch for the fact that these are the world’s best running and lifestyle shoes (for men, women and kids).

Eco footwear brand Allbirds was started by New Zealander Tim Brown alongside engineer and renewables expert; the B-Corp (businesses that do good).

The running shoes are unbelievably comfortable and long-lasting, made from renewable materials (eucalyptus trees) and designed for maximum cushioned support, stability and comfort whilst moving. The sole and base is designed for control, whilst also being made from sugarcane and natural rubber.

They take performance seriously, having logged thousands of miles in testing with pro athletes over a year-long period. They also take the environment seriously, with Tree Dasher style sneakers being carbon neutral.

ethical sustainable performance running shoes

2. VEJA (Condor) – For the trendiest & friendliest

The uber-trendy eco-friendly (& ethical) VEJA sneakers have now entered the running shoe world, with a wide range of very cool and brightly coloured performance sneakers.

It took over 4 years apparently to develop the first ecological post-petroleum running shoe – but meet The Condor.

The VEJA Condor shoes are not for very intense activity but are still designed for comfort and support for everyday exercise. The shoe is made from recycled plastic bottles, recycled polyester, rubber, sugar cane, and natural latex (there’s even some banana oil in there somewhere!)

Like the rest of VEJA’s range, they are made in a factory in Brazil with fair working rights.

ethical sustainable performance running shoes

3. Adidas – For the classic

In the last few years, Adidas has really upped its game in terms of ethics and environmental commitment. Especially when compared to their brand competitors. As they should considering they are a huge brand (second largest activewear brand and profit over US$10 billion a year) with influence and power to make a significant change.

They are currently rated Good by Good On You, so aren’t a completely guilt-free brand but are on to a good start. The line of performance running shoes are still made with petroleum-based products, however, they recently bought out a line in partnership with an ocean charity – ADIDAS X PARLEY.

These with upcycled plastic waste from remote islands, beaches, coastal communities, and shorelines, saving new material and pollution in the ocean.

ethical sustainable performance running shoes

4. Vivobarefoot – For the barefoot feel

The brand that connects health and sustainability with shoes = Vivobarefoot.

The brand is completely transparent on its website, with audits on supply chains, areas for environmental improvements, and chemical testing stages.

In 2019, they produced 512,000 pairs of life-changing wide, thin, and flexible shoes (made from recycled and eco-friendly materials).

There is a range of sleek running shoes that are lightweight, breathable, animal-free, and sustainable (the Ultra III BLOOM are made from algae foam). Each pair reduces 40 gallons worth of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and returns 57 gallons of clean water to the habitat.

ethical sustainable performance running shoes

5. WOMSH – For style

Now, these aren’t performance runner per se, but they are sneakers that can be worn for activities (walking to the bar counts, right?)

This sustainable footwear brand (Word Of Mouth Shoes) focuses on shoes that leave a positive impact, that are well-made, beautiful, and eco-friendly with recycled or natural materials. All shoes are also designed, produced, and packaged in Italy.

There is a range of styles, colours, and fabrics, including a vegan line made from apple fibers. The technology used in production is also state-of-the-art, including the use of renewable energy.

ethical sustainable performance running shoes

6. Reebok – For the athletic 

Reebok is one of the original pioneers of sportswear (and actually owned by Adidas). They are also the first brand to make an athletic shoe specifically for women!

They are by no means a sustainable or ethically perfect brand and you will be getting a mostly petroleum-based shoe however they have made huge strides in environmental practices.

For example, they are part of the Better Cotton Initiative, Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and partially certified by Bluesign). Good On You currently rates them as Good, which means they aren’t pure evil.

Olivia Burton

Olivia is an eco-writer, producer, science graduate & ocean enthusiast. After moving from London to Sydney, she found her love for the outdoors and recycled textiles, which led her to start writing about science and sustainable fashion. Olivia is really passionate about brands using fashion for good and innovation in the industry. She now splits her time between several not-for-profit organisations in communication roles. Olivia is also a Centre for Sustainability Leadership alumni and sits on the Fashion Revolution committee for Australia & New Zealand.