What are Eco-Friendly Shoes and How Are They Made?

Eco-friendly shoes how are they made
Bronagh Loughlin

Bronagh Loughlin

What’s the carbon footprint of our kicks? Brands are officially manufacturing more eco-friendly shoes to support sustainability demands…


Environmentally-conscious shoes are a popular topic of discussion that has spurred from the world’s increasing awareness on how clothing impacts the health of our planet. But what is an eco-friendly shoe? And how are they made in a way that keeps people, animals, and the environment at their centerfold as opposed to their not-so-friendly counterparts?

Lets find out.

Why eco-friendly shoes are taking the world by storm

Shoe production has a significant impact on the planet. The manufacturing of sneakers alone accounts for around 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions – a big no-no in a world that’s racing to reach net-zero.

Given the impact shoe production has on the Earth, it is no surprise that many brands are now releasing ethical footwear options for sustainable shoppers.

What are eco-friendly shoes?

eco-friendly shoes in carboard box
photo credit: Unsplash

It seems only fitting to ‘kick off’ by answering one question: What are eco-friendly shoes? 

To truly gauge what we mean by eco-friendly shoes, we need to understand what makes an item of footwear eco-friendly in the first place.  

The term refers to items of clothing and shoes that are not harmful to the environment. Obvious, but given its definition, eco-friendly shoes are indefinitely going to cause far less harm to the Earth than shoes that lack this eco-stamp of approval.

So, how does footwear get its environmentally-sound status?

There are so many elements that make a shoe sustainable. It all comes down to its environmental footprint. 

A shoe’s sustainability status is determined by several factors, including materials used, the working conditions in the factory where they are produced, as well as the process itself. Said process considers everything from sourcing the fabrics to the point where the shoe arrives in the hands of the customer. 

To be an eco-friendly shoe, the entire production of the shoe must have zero impact on the planet.  In addition, sustainable materials must be used when producing eco-friendly footwear. The factory where they are produced must have good working conditions and pay staff a decent living wage. Overall, the brand must create a safe working environment.

Sustainable materials used in eco-friendly footwear

Allbirds eco-friendly shoes
photo credit: Allbirds

Second to production, materials play a huge role in the sustainability status of footwear.

Materials are incredibly important when it comes to its sustainability status. This is because materials determine the functionality of the final product. Ultimately, if we can pair functionality with sustainable materials- it bodes no reason to use any material that isn’t the better choice.  What’s more, materials give an idea of how sustainable a pair of shoes are just from their ethical quality. Some materials used to create environmentally-friendly footwear include upcycled or natural fibres and recycled materials. 


Natural fibres refer to anything that comes from an animal or plant. Some examples of natural fibre fabrics are organic cotton, wool, flax, hemp, and eucalyptus. However, not all natural fibres are sustainable. For instance, leather falls into this category. Leather comes from cattle, and cows are responsible for around 62% of agricultural emissions. Not only that, but we all know that leather production and ethics aren’t exactly a match made in heaven.  

Safe to say, leather is not a sustainable material, and shoes made using leather are not environmentally friendly. Cotton is also a culprit. It requires a considerable amount of water to create cotton clothing. One t-shirt alone requires around 2,475 litres of water. That’s enough for one person to drink for three and a half years. By contrast, hemp, a natural, sustainable fibre, requires very little water and land to grow. 

Repurposed materials are also a sustainable option for shoes. Repurposed materials refer to a product that is made using by-products from other processes. This is an excellent approach to clothing production, as it helps brands minimise their waste. 

Unique repurposed materials are often found amongst the nuwave vegan footwear trend. Many vegan shoes are made using apples, pineapples, and cacti. They essentially replicate man-made leathers, and several brands have been using these materials to make their faux leather products. Mushroom shoes, for instance, are something that is undoubtedly on the horizon. 

How are eco-friendly shoes made?

Closeup of sewing machine
photo credit: Unsplash

Choosing eco-friendly materials like the ones mentioned above is the start to manufacturing an environmentally sound shoe.. By implementing sustainably sourced materials across the supply chain, manufacturing automatically gets a green tick. 

According to The Guardian, some shoe soles last 1,000 years in landfills. Therefore, if you want to be part of the solution, it is best to ensure your shoes won’t contribute to the plastic problem if they end up here. A factor of all eco-friendly shoes is their plastic-free soles. After all, plastic is why these shoes stay on the planet for so long.


High street brands use plastic in the soles, but it is possible to find 100% fairtrade rubber instead. This type of rubber is made of natural materials that do not threaten the planet. A vital step when creating sustainable products is to ensure the footwear is being made in an ethical factory. 

Fast fashion factories exploit workers and are entirely unethical. Creating products that are kind to the Earth is essential, but it is also important that we treat each other with respect. Therefore, for a brand to be considered sustainable, it’s production process must prevail over factories that foster unsafe, and non-comfortable working environments. 

Eco-friendly shoe brands should also avoid harsh chemicals and dyes, be mindful of waste, and work to reduce their carbon emissions. In summary, eco-friendly shoes are made with all considerations for the environment.

The footprint of our kicks

Person wearing high top sneakers
photo credit: Unsplash

If you’re not concerned about the carbon footprint of our feet, you should be. Shoes are universally worn by everybody, and around 20 billion pairs of shoes are manufactured each year to accommodate our daily wear. 

Footwear production and shoes pose several threats to our planet. Most of which prove difficult to combat.

Fossil fuels used during production, and toxins as well as chemicals used in shoe production are two of the biggest polluters to our natural planet. In addition, the amount of carbon dioxide that is released accelerates climate change at one of the most alarming rates in history. 

With our linear economy, so many shoes end up in landfills, where they continue to clog our waterways and litter toxins into the undergrowth. It has been found that, on average, the production of one pair of shoes equates to 30 pounds of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to leaving a 100-watt light bulb switched on for a week. 

Why are eco-friendly shoes a better choice for the planet?

Sitting in nature with sneakers

If you are trying to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, your wardrobe is the best place to start. In particular, what you wear on your feet. There are many reasons why eco-friendly shoes are a better choice for the planet, and it starts with their production.

Eco-friendly shoes are made of entirely natural materials and do not require a lot of resources. The materials are often biodegradable, which means the product breaks down and does not remain on the planet, causing further damage. 

Additionally, many brands utilise recycled raw materials when creating eco-friendly shoes. Using what is already on the planet enables us to reduce waste and CO2 emissions, save electricity, decrease water consumption, and conserve natural resources. 

These alternatives are also generally cruelty-free, an important ethos for those who love animals and strive to protect them. Sustainable footwear brands are aware of the impact shoe production has on the planet. They work tirelessly to ensure their entire production process has the least possible impact on people, animals, and the environment. 

The process includes everything from creating the product to when it arrives in the customer’s hands. When you buy eco-friendly shoes, whether online or in-store, they often come with less wasteful packaging, which significantly helps in minimising waste, which is a common problem we face. 

On that note, environmentally-friendly shoes are also a great response to our plastic problem since most are free from plastic. For conventional shoes, the soles are made of plastic, which causes them to stay on the planet for so long and not break down. Choosing to strut in eco-friendly kicks, you make a choice that protects nature, respects humans and animals, and allows you to take a step towards change. 


Eco-friendly shoes allow us to lead a more sustainable lifestyle fashionably. What better way to fight against climate change than with a stunning pair of kicks that pose zero threats to the health of our planet? In saying that, it is vital to identify what shoes are eco-friendly shoes and which aren’t as there is a lot of greenwashing out there. 

If you are an e-commerce shoe brand looking to protect the planet, we may be able to help you. Our partnership programme sees us team up with like-minded brands who want to make a difference. With each sale via their website, we distribute a portion of the proceeds to carbon projects that work to remove carbon from the atmosphere, store it, and protect rainforests.

eco friendly shoes, what are eco friendly shoes?, what are eco friendly shoes made from, ethical shoes, sustainable shoes, where can i buy sustainable shoes, how do they make sustainable shoes, what is a sustainable shoe, what makes a shoe sustainable, eco-conscious shoes, brands that make eco friendly shoes,  vegan footwear, what are vegan shoes made from, shoes made from vegan leather, what is vegan leather made from, shoes made from  cactus leather, shoes made from  pineapple leather, what is the carbon footprint of a pair of shoes, how much carbon dioxide is created from shoe manufacturing