Beyond The Finish Line: The Environmental Cost Of Super Shoes

Your super shoes might be leaving a bigger footprint than you think

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Although carbon fiber race shoes might be that extra edge you need to run a personal best, there’s no doubt they come at a cost, one that goes far beyond the price tag.

The Adidas Adios Pro Evo 1 made headlines earlier this year after carrying Ethiopia’s Tigist Assefa to a new world record of 2:11:53 at the Berlin Marathon.

Adidas claimed that their new super shoe was lighter than any other racing shoe on the market, coming in at a mere 138 grams. The new Adidas shoes were also packed full with other advanced technologies from the company.

adidas evo

However, the biggest downfall for these shoes is that at the steep cost of $500, they’re only going to last you one marathon. Most other carbon fiber-plated super shoes also have a short lifespan, but the new Adidas shoe is by far the shortest.

A recent study at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain found that carbon-plated super shoes are only durable for 150-200 miles, whereas more traditional running shoes last anywhere from 300-500 miles.

After Assefa broke the previous world record by around two minutes, runners around the world have been dying to get their hands on a pair, regardless of the steep price tag or the farther-reaching impact they had on the environment.

Caroline Stuart, marathoner and member of the Green Runners group told CBC, “Runners love their clothing and their shoes. They really do. They love the new colors. They love when something is advertised as helping them go just a little bit faster.”  

What many don’t consider is the consequences super shoes have on the environment.

In this article, we’ll go over the environmental impact carbon-plated super shoes have on the environment and ways you can reduce your footprint with your running gear.

Production Process

The production of the carbon fiber plates found in super shoes involves energy-intensive processes, including the use of high temperatures and often harsh chemicals

The energy used in these processes often comes from non-renewable sources, which exacerbate the environmental impact of carbon plates.

The processes used in making carbon fiber plates contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

Super shoes are also designed with high-performance factors, like weight and efficiency, at the forefront. In order to create the fastest shoes, companies will use materials and manufacturing techniques that have a more significant impact compared to traditional shoes.

Limited Recyclability

With its complex structure, carbon fiber is also a challenging material to recycle and requires a specialized recycling process. If it is not properly recycled, carbon fiber will end up in landfills, and with its slow decomposition, it will contribute to long-term waste challenges.

There is also a lack of widespread and accessible recycling infrastructure for both shoes and carbon fiber, making it less likely that people will properly dispose of their super shoes once they rack up the miles.

Short Lifespan

It’s no secret that racing shoes don’t last as long as traditional shoes. Although you won’t typically wear super shoes to do your daily miles, the wear and tear still add up quickly, especially during the race season.

Considering all the elite runners will likely sport a fresh pair of super shoes at every race, the demand for these products will remain high.

Simply put, the more super shoes we go through, the greater the environmental impact. And with such a short lifespan, we’re certain to see super shoes continue being purchased at a remarkable rate.

What Can You Do?

There are plenty of little things you can do, in terms of super shoes and general running gear, to reduce your environmental impact.

Firstly, consider if you really need to buy the latest and greatest super shoe. 

We can’t deny that putting our feet in the same shoe that broke the world record is a pretty cool feeling. However, if you’re not vying for a world record or a potential podium at an elite event, consider if the environmental impact of buying super shoes is worth it.

If you do feel the urge to buy super shoes, consider taking the extra time and effort to recycle them appropriately once you’ve worn them out. This little bit of extra effort can go a long way in reducing your environmental footprint.

Finally, in terms of running gear in general, consider buying used gear from a second-hand store or doing a clothing swap with your running buddy. These are both great ways to not only help the environment but also save a ton of money on new-to-you running gear!

Let us know what you think about the environmental impact of super shoes and what your best tips are for reducing your environmental impact!

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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