As a runner with a social conscience, I try not to trample our planet. My clothes are secondhand and recycled and I fuel up with organic whole foods. Naturally, I was intrigued by Brooks' Green Silence, billed as one of the most environmentally sound running shoes available.
Launched earlier this year in a unisex model, the Green Silence is now in its second run, with male- and female-specific models and fresh colors. To size up its performance and ecological footprint, I road tested it and chatted with two folks involved in the design: Derek Campbell, future concepts manager, and Scott Jurek, sponsored athlete.
The Green Silence is light on materials use, having just half as many pieces as comparable styles. It takes 41% less energy to make. By weight, it's almost 60% recycled (52% post-consumer content), including soles, laces and many parts of the upper. The outsole is High Performance Rubber Green (HPR Green), made from sand, not petroleum. The shoes' hues come from non-toxic dyes and they're made with water-based adhesives, reducing volatile organic compounds by 65% and protecting the environment and workers' health.
To minimize waste at the end of the line, Brooks incorporated biodegradable components such as the 'BioMoGo' midsole, insole and collar foams. A non-toxic additive allows microbes to break the foam into non-toxic byproducts in a biologically active, enclosed landfill. Though this takes 20 years it's a vast improvement over the 1,000 years estimated for standard midsoles.
This isn't Brooks' first foray into greener kicks. BioMoGo debuted in 2008, and is used in all shoes with the MoGo midsole, while HPR Green and recycled content are widely incorporated across its footwear lineup. Campbell noted that the Green Silence is innovative in being Brooks' first "360 Sustainability shoe, manifesting environmental guidelines in each piece," an approach the company plans to extend. Brooks complements its environmental efforts with other good practices including volunteerism, philanthropy and a robust supplier audit and engagement program to ensure good labor practices in manufacturing.
Performance-wise, the Green Silence is a winner. I racked up 270 miles across road training runs up to 24 miles, road races ranging from 9k to a marathon, track and road interval workouts, and a 20-mile mountain trail run. I also wore it biking and walking around town.
As soon as I put them on I felt like running, and reached new personal records racing in them, always a plus. The asymmetrical lacing system and mesh upper help customize the fit, making them really comfortable. They're lightweight (women's 7.5 weigh 6.25 ounces) yet offer great cushioning, support and stability that held up as mileage increased. The midsole has a springiness that left me feeling free and buoyant. Style-wise, they regularly captured positive attention, offering an opportunity to educate others about its environmental attributes and the potential for more sustainable products in general. They're definitely excellent for running --training and racing, short or long distance -- or walking.
It certainly helps that Scott Jurek, a world-class ultrarunner, 7-time winner of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run and U.S. record holder for the 24-hour run, helped design it. Jurek is uncompromising about performance and believes sustainably-minded footwear can deliver the best, stating, "We can design with a less is more approach, use recycled and sustainable materials and build a shoe that doesn't wear out as quickly. BioMoGo retains cushioning better than traditional EVAs and HPR Green is more durable than petroleum-based rubber. For performance racing, we're not sacrificing anything with the Green Silence." He wore the Green Silence in the 2010 IAU World 24 Hour Championships, logging over 165 miles to break the standing U.S. record.
Brooks' Green Silence is good news for runners and the planet. Hopefully, it's a sign of more to come from the industry. Admittedly, even the most consciously designed shoe eventually becomes unusable. Check out Brooks' tips for extending your shoes' life, then donate, recycle or even plant things in them to close the loop. Happy trails!
Note: Brooks gave the author a free pair of Green Silence shoes to test. To maintain independence, the author donated the equivalent value to environmental causes.
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