Making kind choices in your everyday life.

The hunt for ethical running shoes

Posted by on Jan 25, 2015 in Shopping | 18 comments

It’s Not Easy Being Green” – Kermit the Frog


Six decrepit pairs of my old running shoes









Thanks, Annette from “I Give You The Verbs”, I have stolen your fabulous Hoist the Hangers ! idea where one displays their hoarder-ish collection of wares – in my case, old running shoes – on their hills hoist. It is that time of year when many people are enthusiastically minimising their belongings. We work at a snail’s pace in our house at any time when unsavoury chores such as decluttering are involved, but there has been SOME movement in recent times. I have diligently and responsibly disposed of 6 old pairs of running shoes from our scary, “stuff” filled back shed. 

As for the dilemma of how to dispose of these shoes in the most environmentally responsible way possible – rather than just turfing them out the front for council pick up day as I would have done probably a year ago, read on. Did you know that running shoes are estimated to take over 1000 years to break down? With the current modern western trend of trading in ones running/walking shoes after clocking up around 500 km, that is a mind boggling number of shoes all going to land fill. So, what are the alternatives?

For the serious runner (not I!) who replaces their shoes regularly, they can be donated to Soles for Souls (most pick up points are in SA and VIC – other States can mail their shoes there) who send these “lightly worn” shoes to disadvantaged people overseas.

Alternatively, for the more worn, hole riddled shoes, like mine, Nike have a Reuse A Shoe program which coverts your old runners into sports surfaces and the like around the world. So, that’s what I did….it was the easiest thing in the world (aside from looking like a bag lady on the train!). There was a deposit bin in the main Sydney Nike store, full of other people’s smelly old running shoes. I just popped them in and away I went.

Now for the hard part….my 5-10km per day walking regime is wearing out my current New Balance joggers after only, frustratingly, about 4 months (I must walk with a very vigorous/enthusiastic stride perhaps?) so I am on the hunt for a new pair but this time they must meet my rigorous tread kindly criteria. For me this means no leather, non sweat shop produced, durable (so I don’t have to replace them so freakin’ often) and made with some kind of recycled material. Hmmmm,  not such an easy feat it seems.

My shopping bible, Shop Ethical has a big black cross (criticising everything from poor working conditions for the people making the shoes to having a low rankabrand rating which calculates many factors towards the brands sustainability) next to all of my previous purchases – Nike, New Balance, Mizuno and Brooks which makes me feel like an environmental, sweat shop supporting vandal. Nike are on my never, ever again list (and why I was happy to give my smelly old shoes to them to deal with) after their continued endorsement of the dreadful New York Jet’s Michael Vick – convicted of being one of the ring leaders in a revolting dog fighting ring in the US. Plus they have a dubious history for child labour etc.  If only Etiko and FYE did athletic shoes – they are highly ethical companies but only do the casual, converse style shoe who’s lack of support does little for my crotchetty ol’ ankles and knees.

I have stalked a few sites such as this diligently researched one (concentrating on vegan athletic shoes and worker’s conditions) and have weighed up all the conflicting and copious amounts of information floating around the internet. I have hardly been spoilt for choice but the most ticks in the boxes important to me goes to :

For running shoes (should I ever decide to take up jogging again) – US brand, Newtons. They are 100 % vegan, use recycled material where possible and seem to have fair and responsible conditions in place for their workers. They come in bright, pretty colours too !

For power walking, my exercise of choice –  my vote had gone to “Long Walk” from Vegan Wares in Melbourne – that was prior to my partner veto-ing this choice on the basis of their decidedly unattractive appearance and the fact that they are man shoes. They had appealed as they are, obviously, vegan, used approved factories in India where the workers are paid fairly and they are custom made for durability for long walks in urban settings (ie on footpaths). I must add that Vegan Wares do have a lot of gorgeous looking shoes in stock but their walking shoes are not one one of them.

So, faced with the threat from my partner of always walking alone if I wore the “Long Walk” shoes, I have decided that Merrell will be the most likely contender for my power walking shoe of choice. They have vegan options and appear to have a good social, philanthropic and environmental rap as outlined in this article (along with Adidas who rate well too) Plus there is an outlet shop close to where I live. 

Who ever envisaged that the hunt for a little pair of running / walking shoes could be a minefield ?!








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  1. Sarah @ Sarah's Heart Writes

    This has been such a timely post for me Ing. I am on the lookout for an ethical walking shoe to compliment my year of health which involves me walking a lot more. After watching a documentary on sweatshops that horrified me so much, I have also decided to make it a year of ethical buying. I have been looking at Merrell, but wondering if they are indeed ethical, so thanks for looking into it for me. Good luck with your walking 🙂

  2. Tread Kindly

    Thanks Sarah, I have not committed yet (to Merrell) so please let me know if you find anything “kinder” in regards to the sweatshop issue. I had you very much in mind as I wrote this, after you shared those sad sweatshop videos. I am looking forward to following your year of ethical buying and walking loads health kick (definately my favourite way to exercise !) x

  3. Life With The Crew

    Really informative post Ing. I am a runner who tends to hang onto shoes maybe longer than I should for the main reason that I don’t know how to dispose of them! You have solved my problem. We don’t have a Nike store nearby, so I’d have to save a couple of pairs for a trip, but still better than throwing them away if we’re heading in that direction anyway.

    • Tread Kindly

      Thanks Katie, I was only thinking of you this morning (after reading about your claw episode with the rabbit !) and wondering what you would with your shoes as I know you are a runner and environmentally minded. Puma apparently do a similar program for the disposal of the shoes but they don’t appear to do it Australia. Am glad I could help !

  4. Stephanie

    Oh thank you for this super informative article! I’m glad I just bought some Merrell boots and love them. I can’t wait to check out all your recommendations.

  5. One Small Life

    oh! haha! Those long walk shoes really are quite hideous! I’m so disappointed that I didn’t wait for this post – I just bought new running shoes a few months ago and I found the task of finding ethical ones impossible. I went with the best of a bad bunch on the Shop Ethical list, but how I wish I had known about Newtons – so cute! so affordable! so ethical! I’m very tempted to buy a pair, but now knowing that my current ones will take 1000 years to break down (what the actual hell??) I won’t be buying a new pair until these are ready for donation. At least I know where to go for them now though. Thanks again Ing! x
    ps. How do you go buying shoes online? I’ve not done it before, is it tricky to get a good fit etc?? x

    • Tread Kindly

      Thanks Kate for the re-affirmation about the hideous-ness of the long walk shoes…I was worried that I was being vain and fickle ! I will re-evaluate when I am maybe 75 or something !! Yes, I am loving the look of Newton’s too – they do have an Australian face book page where I have asked them a question about where I can try them on etc. They have not replied as yet – I too would much prefer to try them on and once the perfect shoe was found, then do the on line ordering. I will keep you posted for your next pair ! x

  6. Jane

    I never thought about an ethical choice when it came to running shoes. Im not sure why as I do try to buy ethical when I can. although admittedly I could do a lot better! Once my shoes run out (excuse the pun) I will have a look at the newtons! Thanks for a great informative post!!

  7. Tread Kindly

    Neither did I Jane….it really does become a never ending cycle when we look at what we can all be doing better / kinder / simpler etc etc. I am far from perfect too and there are many areas of my life which I could improve upon in the ethical stakes but at least we are all giving it a go hey ? Thanks so much for commenting and, yes, Newtons look good !

  8. pia

    Ing I had no idea about how long running shoes take to break down. Plus, I wear Brooks and when they get worn out I’ll be coming back to this post to go with your recommendations. Can you do a post and let me know how you find your new walking and running shoes? Are they comfy and doing the job well?! Another terrific blog post, thank you so much for all the fantastic information.

    • Tread Kindly

      Thanks Pia ! I am still shuffling along in my threadbare shoes but am planning on making my purchase this weekend so will keep you posted on how they stand up to my footpath pounding. Thanks for you lovely and encouraging words x

  9. Cindy

    Thank you so much for your post!

    I needed new running shoes and couldn’t get over the idea to run while having shoes on my feet that carry child exploitation and environment damage with them. I started looking online at ethical options but it took me about 2 hours and I was losing hope.

    I then found your post and it enabled me to order Newton runners from a shop based in Brisbane (Milton). I am so grateful for your sharing!! The shoes are comfortable, they have a great look, and I know that each step I make with them is a vote for ethical working conditions and care for the environment. I recommend checking out the Newton website, they have a page explaining how they meet their global and social responsibility. Also, they are B corp certified, which you may want to check out as well. It is basically a certification that shows they meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance.

    How beautiful! Thank you again and have fun shopping and running everyone 🙂

  10. Felipe Pinzón

    Thank you very much for your post!!! I had also been in the hunt for an ethical option for hours until I found your post. In my case I need them for work, I walk and stay stand for around 3 to 4 hour per day and it is impossible to stand. I am trying to become and ethical consumer and I also use the Shop Ethical app. I gonna give it a try to the “unattractive” long walk, I think they are not that bad. Thanks a lot again you were really helpful.

    P.S. sorry for my English, I’m not a native English speaker 🙂

    • admin

      Thanks Felipe for you kind words. Good luck with the Long Walk choice – I hope they make the hours on your feet easier (-:

  11. John B

    Hi – Thanks for the post! But I’m noticing some pretty serious conflicting information in some of the things you recommend. You say that Shop Ethical is your shopping bible – but if so, shouldn’t you be avoiding the Merrell brand? It’s owned by Wolverine, and Shop Ethical gives an “F” rating to the only two Wolverine brands they rank (Sperry and Saucony) – citing, in both cases, problems with the parent company, including “Supply chain practices in China” and a low ranking for “commitment to zero deforestation.” Unless you know otherwise, I’d think these complaints would apply to Merrell too, although Shop Ethical doesn’t rank them. Here’s the page:

    The article you point to that recommends Merrell also lavishes all kinds of praise on Columbia Sportswear, which Shop Ethical also ranks with an “F” – citing, besides problems in China again, “Sweatshops in El Salvador” and “Greenwashing.”

    Looks as if that article on is getting a lot of things wrong, or else Shop Ethical is – or they have extremely different ways of weighting their data. Any thoughts? Should the recommendation of Merrells should be changed?

    • admin

      Fair call John. I am wondering if Shop Ethical has been updated since I wrote this post 2 years ago. A quick google search shows a lot of conflicting info out there with this one giving a much better synopsis of Merrell and it’s parent company. I do like Merrell’s commitment to providing an extensive vegan line but an F rating on Shop Ethical, I agree, is concerning. I guess that this shows that a broad and questioning mind is always required when shopping ! Thanks for the comment.

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