Running Sustainably

Running is well known to be one of the most environmentally friendly ways to excercise, and is one of the most practiced sports worldwide. 

One in seven people in the UK (14%) said running had helped them deal with stress since the first lockdown in March, with the activity proving more popular than meditation or yoga (12%). About a third said running helped them feel calmer and more positive, while one in five said it helped them to feel mentally stronger.


According to City AM, Sports Direct sold 218% more pairs of running trainers online during the lockdown than in the same period a year earlier, and Britons bought 243% more running clothing than normal.


Nike still number one in the global sports shoe market, selling a whopping $9,329,000,000 worth of footwear in 2021. Adidas come in second place, albeit with half the footwear sales of Nike, and Asics, Puma and Under Armour follow suit. Selling this many shoes is going to have an environmental impact, and here’s why. 


A number of sports shoes are manufactured with harmful chemicals that are released into the environment. They are sometimes disposed of in harmful ways, such as incineration or dumping them in landfills, which exposes our environment to these toxic chemicals. Sports shoe production is exceptionally carbon intensive, accounting for 1.4% of the global greenhouse emissions, which is significant given that air travel is responsible for 2.5 percent of all emissions. Considering that trainers have to endure much more than a regular pair of shoes, the durability aspect is very important and when it comes to performance, unfortunately, synthetic materials hold up better than natural ones. 


So, you’re always going to need running shoes – what can you do to mitigate the impact your shoes are having on the environment? Firstly, choose your brand wisely. Many of the big players in the market are starting to become much more aware of the sustainability of their apparel, and it couldn’t come soon enough. Nike are currently pushing their ‘Move to Zero’ campaign, which they say is their ‘journey towards zero carbon and zero waste to help protect the future of sport’.  With their clout, it’s important that they’re seen to be doing their bit to support the move towards a more environmentally way of producing and recycling products – apparel labelled ‘sustainable materials’ is made from at least 50% recycled content, and shoes with the same label are made from at least 20% recycled content by weight. Nike are also tapping renewable energy sources for its factories and aiming for carbon neutrality, and in 2018 they were recognised by Textile Exchange as the brand using the most recycled polyester in the industry for the sixth year in a row; from 2010-2018, the brand turned 6.4 billion plastic water bottles into footwear or apparel. Really impressive stuff. 


In 2015, Adidas teamed up with the environmental initiative Parley for the Oceans to release the first performance shoe with an upper made from marine plastic waste and deep-sea gillnets (fishing nets that are hung vertically so that fish get trapped by their gills). Runners Need also operate a ‘Recycle my Run’ scheme, where your old trainers can be handed in and exchanged for £20 towards a brand new shiny pair of wheels. To clarify, that’s new trainers, not a new car. 



There are lots of new brands who have sustainability as their central ethos, Allbirds produce running shoes made entirely from natural materials and have created a strong client base in a short period of time. Superga sell vegan, eco-friendly and cruelty-free performance and fashion shoes, and On Running use technology to continuously improve the materials and manufacturing process for their environmentally friendly running shoes. 


The main point here is that, perhaps, it’s worth investing in a really fantastic pair of trainers which will last you longer. It’s easy to find the cheapest shoe on the market and go for those, swapping them out the minute they get scuffed or muddy. It’s just not the best way to keep your carbon footprint under control, and actually it’s really not very good for your running in general. Shoes which are appropriate for your foot, gait and running style are going to be beneficial, and prevent injuries. Runners Need have experts in every shop to help you find the right shoe for you, and teams are geared up to answer any questions you might have about sustainability. 


I ran the London Marathon last week and have to give them kudos for their attempts to reduce their impact on the environment. All kit bags were made from 100% recyclable sugar cane and Lucozade was provided in disposable paper cups on the course. Buxton water also made their bottles smaller, and runners were encouraged to drink, drain and drop so that the plastic could be recycled. Impressive for such a large scale event. 



Enjoy the research – there are some companies out there doing fascinating things. 



This blog post was contributed by Beth Henry, who works for This Is London Magazine. They are currently publishing online at as well as through their social channels; 

Instagram: @thisislondonmag

Twitter: @thisislondonmag 


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