It’s easy to overlook how our running practices could impact the planet. After all, runners spend thousands per year to race and be well enough to train. We may not even tally up those fast-fashion throwaway clothes we purchase for race day, or the gas to get us to and from our destinations. (It’s starting to add up, amiright?) 

And those two examples of how our desire to PR can hurt the planet don’t even scratch the surface. 

That’s why many running retailers have been doing their part to keep our training gear out of the landfill. Athletic brands are getting smarter. Brands such as Allbirds and many others have their entire missions wrapped around reducing a runner’s carbon footprint, and even big-boy companies like Adidas and Nike have lines made with recycled plastic. 

Retailers Going the Extra Mile

Run specialty stores are certainly realizing their unique position. Many, such as Palmetto Running Company, have been hosting plogging events, and then there is the Runkeeper App, which encourages runners to get out and clean up their communities. Retailers such as Philly Runner have also hosted events that help keep parks and waterways safe for children and wildlife. Plogging efforts are a start, but many retailers are going the extra mile. 

Take Fleet Feet of Roanoke, VA, for example, which partners with a local organization, Rescue Mission Ministries. They have a donation bin outside — the shoes in good shape will be sold at RM’s thrift shops and the ones that don’t get recycled. The mission isn’t necessarily profiting off of their stores, since residents of local shelters are given vouchers to go shop. 

Marketing director Casey Lewis says that brands are happy to donate demo shoes, which are also circulated into the store’s donation program. They are given to children in Fleet Feet’s non-profit as well. 

“We have a non-profit called Project Forward, which our owner started in 2015, with the goal of putting shoes on need-feet in Roanoke,” says Lewis.  

The program has helped countless Boys and Girls clubs, as well as local cross-country and track programs that may struggle with buying spikes and trainers for their kids. 

As far as sustainable shoes, Lewis mentions that some of their larger brands offer carbon neutral shoes, including Mizuno, and that Fleet Feet will be carrying their new sneakers.

On a Mission in Pottstown

Chester County Running Store in Pottstown, PA, is on a mission to reduce its carbon footprint. Former owner and current manager Don Morrison explains that they’ve been partnering with companies that help them to recycle donated shoes, as well as shoes that are returned but too worn down to sell. 

“That company recycles shoes that are still in good, usable condition and packs them and sends them to African schools,” he explains.

As for the shoes that are beyond use, Morrison explains that they have a recycling plant that chops the shoes and resells those rubber chips to help build things like playgrounds. “We send three or four cases of shoes every month,” Morrison adds. 

There are quite a few companies dedicated to making running carbon neutral. One such outfit is One World Running, which collects and distributes shoes in Africa, Central and South America. Some of these shoes are often given to military recruits as well who want to serve in the United States military, but don’t have the means to purchase a new pair of cross-trainers. 

Kentucky-based nonprofit Waterstep has helped people in more than 60 countries have access to clean water and the process actually involves running footwear. After collecting shoes (they prefer athletic shoes), they are resold and any profit goes towards buying purification systems, such as chlorine tanks, to help clean up water. 

Storm-ravaged areas like Puerto Rico benefit and Kenya, where more than 18 million residents lack access to safe drinking water, feel the love as well. 

There are a plethora of means for running stores to center the environment in their outreach efforts. After all, one pair of shoes donated equals one pair of shoes that stays out of a landfill a little longer.