In 2007, over 300 million shoes were thrown away in North American landfills. So why not lighten the load for the environment, starting with your feet?
There are a number of vegan, cruelty-free, biodegradable, recycled, and cruelty-free leather options, but which are the best solution for the earth? Options include non-leather (or "vegetarian") shoes or ones made entirely without animal products (a "vegan" shoe).
The greenest footwear is made from natural, biodegradable materials like hemp, cotton, coconut, and sustainably-produced latex rubber (since rubber trees aren't chopped down in the harvesting of the rubber gum).
For dressier, many leather-look-a-like shoes from synthetics are an option. Some synthetic shoes include breathable products made without toxic PVC or contain a high proportion of bio-degradable materials.
Recycled footwear, made from recycled materials like old clothing to car tires, is the greenest of the green.
Wearing gently-used shoes from thrift stores also reduces your carbon footprint.
Many major manufacturers like Timberland, Nike and Patagonia have introduced product lines of "cruelty-free" leather, fair-trade sourcing of materials, using vegetable-dyeing and non-toxic tanning processes, and including some recycled materials.
Transparency, with labeling regarding environmental impact and factory location for footwear, has been pioneered by Timberland, so consumers can make informed choices. "Greenwashing" or fake environmentalism is lampooned by several media, with Vancouver-based Adbusters often in the forefront.
Traditional Shoe Manufacturing methods are less "green"
Traditionally-cured leather products use a tanning and dying process that uses formaldehyde, chrome, cyanide and other dangerous chemicals. These contribute to water pollution, greenhouse gases, and health risks to workers.
As well, the manufacturer's labor practices and overall company philosophy often focuses on lowest-cost sweatshops that abuse workers in developing countries.