You take care never to step in a puddle, avoid unpaved roads and never step on cracks, but STILL it seems your shoes wear out faster than Britney Spears' hair changes. Unlike some clothes and many accessories, shoes take a beating, and even when waterproofed and waxed within an inch of their lives, they need to be replaced on a semi-regular basis.
And shoes are notoriously eco-unfriendly, with sneaker companies accused of promoting sweatshop labor, leather tanneries spewing effluent into local unprotected water resources (especially in third-world countries where much of leather is processed and dyed), and glues and other components poisoning landfills when shoes are tossed.
So if you choose to go Earth-friendly with just one item in your wardrobe, consider making it your shoes. And then when you choose to walk instead of drive, you'll be green squared.
If you're looking for a great winter boot, look no further than the new-for-fall Timberland Earthkeepers line. Guaranteed to be waterproof on the outside, and inside, the 70% recycled lining will wick the moisture right away from your feet, keeping them warm and dry. The outsole is made from natural rubber (a renewable resource), 30% of which is recycled. They come in black, brown and even organic canvas and leather, if you're partial to the urban safari look that's so hot right now. They're even designed to be airport-friendly with minimum metal parts for the globetrotting eco-warrior (-worrier?).
Simple shoes Eco Sneaks come in fun patterns (like this one with photos by Joe Curren of Santa Barbara printed on them) and more laid-back solids. They come in hi-tops, low-tops and the surfer/slacker fave, the slip-on. The upper fabric is made of a combination of organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles (PET), making it tougher than regular cotton canvas. The lining is also organic cotton, ensuring your feet won't be cradled in pesticide-laced booties. Even the laces are made from recycled PET plastic. To top it off (or bottom it out?), the outsole is made from repurposed car tire treads, and the whole thing is held together with non-toxic, water-based cements.
El Naturalista is a Spanish footwear company that makes seriously modern shoes and boots for men. All of their styles are eco-friendly, using natural dyes, recycled polyurethane footbeds, and recycled rubber soles. They not only have a company-wide environmental policy, but they also founded a charity, called Atauchi, which benefits low-income Peruvians and donates money that goes to build schools and install solar panels.
Many people have heard of the hemp Converse sneakers, which have been around for a couple of years now. But for another street-friendly style, check out the hemp IPath sneaks. IPath is a real skateboarders' shoe and clothing company, and knowing how tough skaters are on their kicks, these should last for quite a while with just regular wear and tear. Why hemp? It grows quickly with not a lot of energy or water needed and almost no pesticides or herbicides.
And don't forget, re-soling shoes, buying new laces for an old pair and shining up those beat-up kicks are even lower impact than buying new shoes. And remember to recycle those old sneakers! Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program turns old athletic shoes into new basketball courts!
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