5 Ways to Know You’re Buying an Earth-Friendly Shoe

As Earth Day rolls around on the calendar, it is an annual reminder to look for ways to protect the planet. But the question always remains: What’s the best way to make a difference?

For consumers, one important way is with your wallet — by buying products that are made using eco-friendly materials and techniques.

When shopping online, it’s easy to identify sustainable footwear, since e-tailers typically provide detailed descriptions of the products. In stores, though, it can be more challenging, but knowledgeable salespeople can help. And many brands will advertise their earth-friendliness on their shoe boxes or with hang-tags on the shoes themselves.

Below are 5 things to look for if you want to buy an environmentally conscious shoe:

1. Vegetable-tanned leathers — These are leathers that have been processed using tannins from natural vegetable materials, such as barks, leaves or fruit. This ancient technique has been adopted as an alternative to the widespread chrome-tanning technique, which utilizes chromium sulfate, a reportedly carcinogenic substance.

Bed Stu
Bed Stu's harness bootie in veg-tanned leather
CREDIT: Courtesy of Nordstrom

Bed Stu’s harness bootie handcrafted with veg-tanned leather, $255; nordstrom.com

2. Water-based glues — These adhesives, often used to bind the sole and upper of the shoe, are typically low in VOCs, volatile organic compounds — or, in layman’s terms, toxic chemicals — and are formaldehyde-free. But water-based glues are made from a range of substances, including animal bones and hides, so for vegans who want to avoid glues altogether, look for shoes that are welted or 100 percent stitched.

3. Renewable cork — The material, found on wedges and footbed sandals, is made from cork oaks, which grow in such countries as Spain, Portugal and Morocco. During harvesting, farmers don’t cut down the trees but simply remove the bark, making it a fairly sustainable process. In fact, a cork tree can live up to 300 years and be harvested every nine years.

Vaneli cork wedge sandal.
CREDIT: Courtesy of 6pm.com

Vaneli cork wedge sandal, $42; 6pm.com

4. Natural latex — While your first image of latex is probably anything but natural (doctors’ gloves, perhaps?), it is actually a milky substance produced by numerous plants, including rubber trees. The fluid, once tapped from the tree, is processed to make any number of items, including rubber flip-flops.

Gurus sandal in mint green
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

Gurus flip-flop in mint green, $30; ilovegurus.com

5. Recycled tires — More and more outsoles are being made with recycled tire rubber. In many cases, the recycled bits make up only about 5 percent of the finished product, but Austin Rubber in Texas has developed a technique that uses a larger percentage. Look for those soles on its own Tredagain footwear and other brands.

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