There are 3 different ways a person can look at the results of MIT’s research into the manufacturing costs/processes of running shoes: 1)with great scorn because everything has a carbon cost, 2) with ridicule as it seems like a pretty stupid thing to be comparing running shoes to light bulbs, 3) enjoy the analysis for what it was really intended to be. And what’s that? The fact that building a ‘simple’ pair of running shoes might take up to 360 separate process steps with upwards of 65 different parts made out of possibly 24 different synthetic materials. Yikes!

Published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, the research says that the typical pair of running shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, a carbon footprint equivalent to keeping a 100-watt lightbulb on for one week. That might not sound like a huge amount of carbon dioxide emissions, but it becomes significant when you consider that, according to the study, about 25 billion of running shoes are sold worldwide every year. More than two-thirds (68%) of the emissions produced by running shoes stem from the manufacturing process. Materials account for another 29%. “For consumer products not requiring electricity during use, the intensity of emissions in the manufacturing phase is atypical,” the study notes. “[M]ost commonly, materials make up the biggest percentage of impact.” The large contribution of manufacturing is because of the complex nature of assembling the typical running shoe. “A single shoe can contain 65 discrete parts that require 360 processing steps for assembly,” the study reports.

I would like to add a further conclusion, that while it’s not part of the direct manufacturing process costs, it remains a cost non-the-less. And that is the hidden cost passed onto the consumer by virtue of the built-in obsolescence that is part of every pair of running shoes. MIT’s manufacturing analysis rightly didn’t include the replacement cost because that is a consumer cost not a manufacturing cost. But it is a cost that has an environmental impact as well. Running shoes need to be replaced every 400 miles which means that serious distance runners will typically go through 8 or more pair of running shoes per year.

That was one of the things that got me into the running sandal business; I got tired of buying running footware that wore out so quickly. Our running sandals have a projected lifetime of 3000 miles which is 7X that of a typical running shoe which obviously means that they are not just a better value proposition for the consumer but also that there is much smaller environmental impact cost because a) much less stuff gets sent to the landfill and b) half the weight of our sandal is recycled material .

Our sandals are just plain simple. It takes fewer than 2 dozen manufacturing process steps to make a pair. We employ 4 primary materials (for a total of 8  discrete parts); 2 of which are recycled and 2 of which are natural versus the typical running shoe that can use upwards of 24 different synthetic materials.
Our motto is  – Sustainability using recycled materials creating products that are built to last.

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