There is no doubt that the footwear industry is big business. The global athletic footwear market alone is expected to exceed 95 billion US Dollars by 2025. As it grows, so does the demand for footwear that is environmentally and socially sustainable. A recent survey by Certilogo found that more than 70% of consumers are concerned about the sustainability of their fashion purchases, and research by Simon Kucher Consultants found that 1 in 3 people are willing to spend an average of 25% more for sustainable products.
Unfortunately, many footwear companies have been slow to adopt sustainable practices. Let’s explore the sustainability challenges of the shoe industry and how brands are transforming their processes toward sustainability.
The environmental and social impact of the footwear industry
Like the textile industry, the shoe industry has a significant environmental impact:
- The production of footwear requires large amounts of water, about 8,000 liters per pair;
- The manufacturing process involves the use of chemicals, such as adhesives and tanning chemicals, which may leak into the environment through the discharge from the factories;
- The footwear industry is a major consumer of energy. From growing the crops to operating the machinery employed, shoe companies consume fossil fuels which produce greenhouse gases. According to a study by Quantis, the industry is responsible for 1.4% of global emissions;
- Another source of pollution is transportation of the shoes from the factories to the resellers;
- Finally, most of the shoes are not recycled and end up in landfill.
The footwear industry also has a significant social impact.
The vast majority of footwear is produced in developing countries, where workers are often paid very low wages. In addition, often working conditions in factories are poor and workers have to work long hours in dangerous or harmful environments. Some brands in the footwear industry have been known to employ child labor in their supply chain. All this leads to an impoverishment of the communities in which the factories are located.
Finally, the use of leather also raises ethical questions.