Sustainable Running? Start Here!

Love to run but worry about the not-so-sustainable nature of your running shoes? Are you looking for lightweight running gear that is made with sustainability in mind?


Liz de Vries

3/10/2022 4 min read

Key points:
  • For a long time, running shoes, clothes and accessories weren’t made with the planet in mind.

  • Running gear is now increasingly sustainably made, with a growing number of eco friendly brands to choose from.

  • Although running shoes can’t go in your kerbside recycling, there are limited options to repurpose and even recycle them.

Running is a highly accessible sport which makes you fit and strong and is a proven mood stabiliser. You can do it just about anywhere and at any time, no gym membership, car travel or expensive equipment required. But does that make it sustainable? Are the shoes and outfit you wear when you hit the trail or tarmac made with the future of our planet in mind?

If like me, you love to run but worry about the carbon footprint of your running shoes; if you want to find good quality purposely designed clothing, made with sustainability in mind, let me share some of my finds. 

Running Clothing

It’s wonderful to see how more and more brands are creating functional running gear. We checked Good on You’s brand ratings and found the following options, all rated ‘good’.

Patagonia sell trail running shorts, tights, long and short sleeved tops and socks for men and women. Their clothing is made with recycled polyester and fair trade sewn.

Dharma Bums create versatile, high performance active wear for various activities, for both men and women, and all of their range is sustainably made. Passionate about sustainability, the team at Dharma Bums are well aware a lot more can still be done, and they remain on the path of continuous improvement.

If you prefer to exercise in soft stretchy bamboo clothing, check out Boody’s website for shorts, t shirts and tanks, and soft sloppy joes and hoodies. Boody create their active wear with organically grown bamboo.

Greek brand VV Conscious Swimwear have just launched their Pélagos (‘small sea’) Collection of crops tops and tights. Their clothing is made with recycled yarn and their prints explore the ecological connections between the Caretta Caretta sea turtle, Medusa Jellyfish, and Phytoplankton Algae, and shine a spotlight on these creatures' current plight caused by human activity.

1 People make tights, crop tops, t shirts and socks from certified eco textiles and pride themselves in the durability and high quality of their clothing.

Sports bras

While all the above clothing brands make planet friendly sports bras and crop tops, they are mostly low and medium impact. For those who prefer a high impact sports bra, we found Adidas By Stella McCartney's Truepace High Support Sports Bra. Far from cheap, this bra is however specifically designed for running. It's made primarily with recycled polyester. Adidas by Stella McCartney is rated 'good' by Good on You.

Patagonia’s Switch Back Sports Bra offers high impact support for A/B cups, medium impact support for B/C cups and low impact for C/D Cups.

woman running on a trail

Running shoes.

For me personally, the biggest sustainability dilemma with running has always been the fact that while running shoes do a great job for about 500-600 kilometres, they then quickly deteriorate and have to be replaced to prevent foot and leg injuries.

Of course old runners can still be repurposed as walking shoes, and subsequently gardening shoes for years longer. However, if you do a lot of running you can easily churn through four of five pairs of shoes a year. That is a lot of gardening shoes!

So beyond repurposing (and doing a lot of gardening), what can you do to minimise the carbon footprint of your runners?

Buy sustainable shoes

Veja creates sustainable running shoes for a neutral gait. Their Marlin is a lighter weight performance oriented shoe, while the Condor 2 provides durability and cushioning for every day runs.

Allbirds running shoes and trail running shoes are made with (certified) recycled materials and are flexible and durable.

Adidas by Stella McCartney Ultraboost 20 are lightweight runners with the adidas responsive Boost midsole. They're made with among others recycled ocean plastics.

After you retire your shoes - donate, repurpose, recycle.

Once you’ve covered approximately 500-600 kilometres in your shoes, no matter how well they’re made, you will find their ability to support your feet declines.

If they’re still in reasonable condition, you could opt to donate your old running shoes. Make sure they haven’t got any holes in them and the soles are not fully worn down. They also have to be clean and tied together. Shoes for Planet Earth is a not for profit that takes donations of running shoes.

You can also repurpose your retired runners as walking shoes, use them for low impact exercise activities, or as gardening or painting shoes.

Last but not least: recycle

Upparel are on a mission to bring circularity to the textile industry. They are textile recyclers who also accept shoes. Both JD Sports and Nike also have limited shoe recycling programs in Australia. JD Sports in their own stores, and Nike in some Rebel Sport stores.

Images via Pexels and Janelle Keys Photography.

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