I remember when I first got serious about running, and I went to a shoe store and the workers put me through a litany of tests: run on a treadmill; put your foot in water, and then stand on a piece of paper; walk around barefoot, you name it. The science of running shoes has become complex to the point of absurdity, but a sincere examination of how to make a more environmentally friendly running shoe has been mostly lost under all the noise. Most companies are satisfied to tweak their packaging, or else segregate eco-friendly shoes to the niche market of barefoot running shoes. The exception to the rule is Brooks Sports, Inc, with the Green Silence, the first successful running shoe that maintains comfort and performance, and best of all, minimizes its environmental impact.
A quick disclosure about my bias: I am of the school of thought that the most sustainable running shoe is no running shoe. I do a large portion of my running barefoot on the beach. Beyond that, the second most sustainable running shoe is whatever you already have. Rather than rush off to the store to get something new, run in the shoes you have until they are utterly destroyed. I did that with my old shoes, replacing the inserts as they wore down. I ran in them for almost 4 years, and logged probably close to 1,500 miles in them.
So when it was time to get new shoes, I didn’t want to rush into the decision. I did my research. I was looking for shoes that would be comfortable, long-lasting, and most of all, easy on my conscious about buying new shoes in the first place.
My research immediately brought me to Brooks. As early as 2006 they introduced a new type of midsole into their shoe, called BioMogo, which uses a natural additive to attract microbes when the shoe is ultimately thrown away. With the aid of these microbes, BioMogo midsoles decompose after 25 years in a landfill, rather than every other midsole on the market, which takes over 1,000 years to decompose. Not bad, considering that innovation was introduced 5 years ago, but the midsole is only around 15% of the shoe’s total composition.
Brooks was holding out until 2010 to unveil their true environmental behemoth in the Green Silence.
First and foremost, the shoe uses about 50% less than most other shoes in terms of materials production. For example, there’s no tongue in the shoe. It instead uses an extension of the shoe’s outer shell. Likewise, the logo is stitched onto the shoe, rather than glued down using unnecessary materials. Tweaks like these two have cut down on the amount of materials rather noticeably.
But with the materials themselves, an impressive 75% are post-consumer recycled, with some really cool innovations. The heel is largely made of recycled CDs. The mesh netting of the shoe’s shell is comprised in part by recycled water bottles, while the laces are 100% recycled. All of the glues are completely water-based, and the dyes are non-toxic.
This is all good and cool, but if the shoe doesn’t fit right, it will just be an aesthetic oddity, rather than a useful option. I tried on and sampled almost a dozen pair running shoes in the last few weeks. I’ll admit that I was hoping that the Green Silence would work well for me, because they were the shoe that I wanted to buy. But I also don’t plan on buying a replacement pair for quite some time, so they needed to really work. As it turns out, things went exactly how I had hoped. The shoe is lightweight, comfortable, and feels very durable. I’ve logged about 20 miles in my Green Silence, and the more I run in them, the more they begin to feel like a normal extension of my feet.
Brooks has thrown down the gauntlet. Eco-friendly running shoes are not just a cocktail party discussion matter. They are functional. They can last. And they can lead to a minimized impact.
For now, I’ll keep running in my Green Silence shoes with a big smile on my face. My hope is that 4 years from now, when I’m finally in need of another pair of shoes, the rest of the shoe companies have caught on.