The environmental impact of the shoe industry

03 June 2021

The environmental impact of the shoe industry

The environmental impact of the shoe industry

What you choose to wear on your feet has never been more important. Ever considered helping to save the amazon rainforest by wearing sustainable vegan shoes?


As consumers, we have been bombarded with advertising demanding that we must buy endlessly. Advertising chooses to ignore our needs and draw only on our wants, but what if we lived in a world where we only consumed the essentials? Both the planet and us might just be better off. 


There is hope the level of sustainability within the fashion industry is moving in the right direction, and the shoe industry is thankfully starting to follow suit. From production through to end-of-life, shoes have a big impact on the environment. 


“it takes up to 40 years for a shoe to start to decompose in landfill”


According to a study by Quantis, the footwear industry is responsible for 1.4% of global GHG emissions. This is a staggering statistic, especially when you consider that air travel is responsible for 2.5% of emissions. It is predicted that the worth of the global athletic footwear market alone is expected to exceed 95 billion US Dollars by 2025, up from 55 billion in 2016. Therefore, with the footwear industry continuing to expand, unless more changes are made towards sustainability, the impacts on the planet are only set to get worse. 

However, luckily, thanks to initiatives of some caring companies, and increasing demand from consumers (particularly GenZ and Millennials), shoes are being made in more innovative ways which are kinder to planet earth. Even some market leaders within the shoe industry have made a start by exploring digitization to make better use of materials and create new futureproof footwear. For instance, by utilising 3D printing technologies to ensure less materials are wasted.


Although this is a great start, smaller brands seem to be leading the way by not just making a few of their shoes sustainable, but their whole brand. This includes ethically sourcing materials, production being in fair-working environments, and to the best of their ability avoiding harsh chemicals and water use. These alternative methods help to reduce the carbon footprint of shoes and cause less damage to the environment.


Unlike regular cotton, certified organic cotton is a 100% sustainable material. It’s grown without the use of pesticides from non-genetically modified seeds, and harvested from regularly rotated fields which are irrigated with 80% rain water. Regular cotton in contrast persistently overworks the fields, uses harsh chemicals and drains water resources. Organic cotton helps to combat climate change as it produces significantly less carbon emissions and is also safer on your skin. You can check out some of our beautifully made organic cotton shoes here.


“the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon is cattle farming, and 50% of all leather products made today are shoes”

Since it takes up to 40 years for a shoe to start to decompose in landfill, shoes made from innovative, sustainable materials are a key step to tackling the environmental crisis. Piñatex is a material made from the leaves of pineapple plants. These leaves would have traditionally been discarded or burned as they are a by-product of the fruit industry. Therefore, what would have otherwise been waste, creates a new income for farming communities and even offers a natural fertiliser or biofuel from the leftover leaf once the fibre has been stripped from it. This totally earth-friendly product is free from harmful chemicals, animal products, and requires low water use, but yet still it is an incredibly durable material.


Many people don’t realize just how many animal deaths are at the hands of the shoe industry, let alone the way they are treated. Considering that the main cause of deforestation in the Amazon is cattle farming, and 50% of all leather products made today are shoes, it is clear leather shoes are contributing to destroying precious habitats. When you consider that the amazon plays a vital role in maintaining the stability of the earth’s atmosphere by replacing carbon dioxide with oxygen, you can see why the amazon, often called ‘the lungs of the earth’, needs to be saved in every way it can. Opting for vegan alternatives to leather shoes, such as Piñatex or Vegan leather shoes (which by the way look the same, if not better) will give you eco bragging rights. 

Another contributor to a more sustainable shoe industry is cork shoes. The cork material, harvested from cork oak trees, is 100% sustainable and has a hugely positive impact on the planet. The farming of the cork staggeringly has a negative carbon footprint (you can’t get better than that!). Cork shoes have a raw but radiant look, as well as being naturally waterproof. They’re a sustainable, vegan shoe you won’t be able to deny.


So how can you be part of the solution?


You have the power as a consumer to invest in products that align with your values and beliefs, so next time you’re looking to purchase something, check out that brands' ethos: are they acting sustainably? Are they vegan?


Education is also a powerful tool in navigating change, learn as much as you can, and share it with the world. Join community groups where you can come together with like-minded people, and as they say, ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’.


Since the time we have to stop climate change is running out, we must act now to make a difference. Remember: shop sustainablyethically, and vegan, and only buy what you need. It will feel good on your conscience and minimize the harm to the planet. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, we promise!


Have a great day!


The NAE Team 


Madeleine Bird

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