We runners like to think that we tread easy on the planet. Unlike skiing or cycling or golf, at its most basic level, our sport doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment beyond running shoes.
With that in mind, it might shock you to learn that the average pair of synthetic running shoes has an environmental footprint of between 11.3 and 16.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of leaving a 100-watt bulb burning for an entire week!
Most of that comes from the manufacturing process. For all their apparent simplicity – running shoes don’t use electricity or require sophisticated whizz-bang components – our footwear of choice contains multiple materials and typically involves over 300 different steps to manufacture and assemble. And yes, many of the Chinese and Vietnamese factories where shoes are produced these days are powered by coal.
I give you these stats, not to bore you (I hope not anyway!), but rather as a way to start a conversation. About how runners and run specialty stores like The Runners Shop inevitably play a part in stressing the environment. And also how, by recognizing our role, we can begin to take the edge off by making a few small, but significant, changes.
Only 18 months ago climate marches were going on all around the world. There seemed to be a contagious determination to demand that governments and businesses take climate change seriously. And to act. Then Bang. Covid-19 showed up to spoil the party.
Looking back on the past year, many surprises came our way, both good and bad. Excitedly, we welcomed many new runners into the fold. But here we were in the middle of the biggest running boom in decades, and we were shuttered up tight. Talk about frustrating!
Pivoting as quickly as possible, our business shifted largely to online sales. The “Shop Local” movement became a lifeline. The support we received from the Toronto running community was incredible.
And it wasn’t just local local. Runners across the county made it their mission to support smaller independent businesses like TRS. We have been amazed by some of the addresses we have shipped shoes to this year: the Yukon, the Magdalene Islands, Salt Spring Island, Paradise Cove NFLD, and everywhere in between.
This both saved the day and led to some guilty moments as we saw a massive spike in packaging and shipping. We may all be advertising “free shipping” but we know it’s not really free. Not to our business. And certainly not to the planet.
As a small business owner, I’m eager to do what I can to keep my business strong, but I want to try and keep the planet strong too.
There’s only so much a customer can effectively do online. We know it has often been exasperating for our customers to try to figure out what shoe they want or what size they need. So, in addition to our curb-side pickup, we also offered a welcome mat and a handy try-on bench. Better to come on by to try shoes on than to have multiple sizes shipped back and forth. Mile 1, our local delivery service, has helped us out as well, with drop offs and pick ups for those customers who are not quite sure of their size.
We are also being more environmentally conscious by continuing the practice, established by former TRS owner Elaine McCrea, of collecting your worn shoes and donating them to shelters and other social service agencies. This stops old shoes from ending up in landfill. And, if you don’t want to donate your shoes, why not try to find ways to reuse them. Gardening, anyone?
As consumers, you can play a bigger role, not just by shopping local, but by demanding brands do more to address their environmental impact. More and more running shoe companies now have genuine sustainability programs in place to streamline their manufacturing processes, reduce packaging, and even speed up material breakdown if your old shoes do end up in the garbage.
A good example is Brooks Running. As part of their broad commitment to sustainability, Brooks has developed the BioMoGo foam compound. Found in all Brooks shoes, including the ever popular Ghost and Adrenaline models, BioMoGo is a patented midsole foam containing a nontoxic natural additive that encourages anaerobic microbes to munch away 50 times faster once it hits an active, enclosed landfill. The company’s considerable efforts to foster “running responsibly” may well be one of the reasons that Brooks recently beat out Nike to become the No. 1 women's performance running brand today.
In addition to Brooks, we’ve recently added Swiss running shoe brand ON Running to our shoe wall. Acknowledging that the footwear and apparel industry accounts for about 10% of global GHG emissions, ON Running is focusing on using better materials, reducing their carbon output, and contributing to the circular economy (the idea that products should live in a loop, not a landfill).
While a single Toronto running store can exert only so much control over offshore manufacturing processes, we believe we can and should encourage all runners to make smarter, more sustainable choices. As we hopefully move past the worst of Covid, let’s spare a thought for this planet of ours.
And let’s all do our part by adopting the motto: Shop with thought!
Words to Run By
“Our running shoes have magic in them. The power to transform a bad day into a good day; frustration into speed; self-doubt into confidence; chocolate cake into muscle."
Mina Samuels, author of Run Like A Girl