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Do ‘sustainable’ running shoes actually perform? We put 3 brands to the test

Photography By Studio Veja, Allbirds, Reebok

There are a few key things to look for when choosing a new pair of runners: comfort, support, performance and style. For us, there’s another important factor. What the shoe is made from.

Most athletic shoes are made from a combination of synthetic materials: ethyl vinyl acetate (EVA) and polyurethane for the midsoles; knit polyester, nylon mesh and PU leather reinforcements for the upper; and carbon rubber or blown rubber for the outsoles. Basically, a bunch of fossil fuel derivatives. 

A number of brands have stepped up to experiment with alternatives, using new technology and materials to design shoes with a lower impact on the environment. But the question is do they actually perform?

We knew there was really only one way to find out, so we set a challenge for three lucky staff members: run five kilometres in a “sustainable” running shoe and report back with an honest review. Here’s how they went.

STUDIO VEJA

STUDIO VEJA

Katelin, Editorial Assistant, experienced runner 
Shoe model: Veja Condor 2 Alveomesh Natural Dried-Petal
Materials:

Made from 100 per cent recycled plastic-bottle upper; sugar cane and recycled plastic insole; Ricinus (castor) oil heel-support insert; sugar cane and banana oil midsole; natural latex from Brazil and synthetic latex (70 per cent) L-Foam cushioning; and Amazonian rubber, rice waste and synthetic rubber outsole.  

What Veja says about the shoe:

“The Condor was created in 2019 as the first post-petroleum running shoe. This season we extend, sharpen and improve our line to meet the needs of the runners’ community thanks to their feedback. Designed to be highly versatile, the Condor 2 is the go-to shoe for long runs, easy runs, and recovery sessions. Combining maximum comfort and a very secured feel, it is the most reliable partner to enjoy the run.”

Katelin, what do you think of the actual shoes and how they perform for running?

Well, first off, I love the design. I feel like they’re one of those running shoes that you can exercise in, but then if you want to stop for brunch they look sleek and stylish. So very happy with the aesthetic.

The Condor 2s are super comfortable. I’ve previously owned Nikes and Asicses and I would say the Condor 2s feel like an in-between of the two: more comfortable than the Nikes, but not quite as comfortable as the Asicses (which are high performance running shoes). The fabric on the upper is thin and breathable, which is good for longer runs in warmer times of the year. They’ve also got quite a wide base at the top of the shoe which I found great for balance. The only downside for me was the inner sole; it is very flat. I need more arch support so, after a while, I actually took it out and put my own orthotics in.

In terms of performance, they’re really lightweight shoes, which is great. After a while, heavier shoes definitely start to drag on your feet. For a short 5k run, they felt great, and I adjusted better to them once I put my own orthotics in the sole.

Do you think you’ll run in them regularly?

To be completely honest, I think I would run in them regularly if I didn’t have Asicses. They will likely remain my default shoes for longer runs. But for walking, short runs and functional training, I’ll be wearing my Vejas.

Would you recommend the Veja Condor 2s?

Yes, they’re definitely good running shoes for beginner and intermediate runners, people aiming for that 5–7k run. If you’re an advanced runner looking for something to wear for longer than 10k runs, they might not be ideal. But again, they’re really versatile so a great pair to have for all-occasion training (and wear).

Shoes were purchased by the reviewer. Endorsement is her own. 

ALLBIRDS

@ALLBIRDS

Elizabeth, Commercial Director, beginner runner  
Shoe model: Allbirds Women’s Tree Dashers
Materials:

FSC certified eucalyptus tree upper, ZQ merino wool heel lining, bio-nylon eyelets embroidered directly to the internal structure, castor bean insole, SweetFoam midsole made with the world’s first carbon-negative green EVA, and SweetFoam and natural rubber outsole.

What Allbirds says about the shoe:

“Our most technical shoe yet, the Tree Dasher reimagines the traditional running shoe with natural materials engineered for serious performance.”

Elizabeth, what do you think of the actual shoes and how they perform for running?

The Tree Dashers come in heaps of colours and mine are all black, which I love. They look like really cool, sleek running shoes, but they’re also a bit of a fashion statement. Like Katelin, I wanted a pair of shoes I could run and walk in, but also wear to Pilates or out for breakfast.

They are super lightweight and very breathable; you can almost see through the fabric upper. One thing that is structurally quite different is that they don’t have a separate tongue. So the eyelets where you lace up are stitched directly to the shoe. That has taken some getting used to. I feel like I’m missing a bit of support when I run, so I think I’ve been lacing them too tightly to try and lock my foot in, which has caused a bit of discomfort afterwards. That said, these are definitely more comfortable and supportive to run in than my Nikes. 

Do you think you’ll run in them regularly?

I’ve been using the Couch to 5k running program and I’m definitely closer to the couch end than the 5k end. I would describe myself as a beginner but I really want to be a runner, so I bought these to give myself a bit of a push. But I do plan to keep running in them regularly!

Would you recommend the Allbirds Tree Dashers?

I would definitely recommend these for people who are aiming for that 5k run. I’m admittedly not super involved in proper running techniques and needs, and I don’t know whether these would actually meet the criteria for long-distance running. But they’ve served their purpose for me personally and their versatility has been a massive plus. I feel like I don’t need several pairs of shoes for different things. I now have shoes I can comfortably run 5k, do interval training and walk in.

Shoes were purchased by the reviewer. Endorsement is her own.

REEBOK

REEBOK

Courtney, Features Writer, beginner runner  
Shoe model: Reebok Forever Floatride Grow Shoes 
Materials:

Lyocell (wood pulp) upper, castor bean midsole, Bloom algae EVA foam sockliner, and natural rubber outsole.

What Reebok says about the shoe:

“Feel good about your run. Lace up these women’s running shoes, made with at least 50 per cent plant-based materials. The castor bean midsole provides the same high-performance, lightweight, responsive cushioning as Floatride Energy, and the BLOOM algae EVA foam sockliner adds comfortable cushioning. The Lyocell upper is made with wood pulp, and the natural rubber outsole is flexible and durable.”

Courtney, what do you think of the actual shoes and how they perform for running?

These are definitely unlike any other shoes I’ve owned. They’re a lot “chunkier”; the midsole is thicker and it’s a wider model. But the extra cushioning does add to their overall comfort. The wood pulp upper is nice and breathable and gives a bit of extra room for your foot to expand when running or exercising in warmer weather. 

In terms of their performance as running shoes, I do rate them. I’m also a beginner – I haven’t run consistently for (many) years. But they’ve helped me get back into it and hit that 5k goal. I feel like they work really well for a light jog or slow pace. I don’t know how I’d feel running in them if I was ever to up my pace or distance (right now I’m only averaging 5k in about 35 minutes).

Do you think you’ll run in them regularly?
I think so. They’re a little roomy for my liking, but I think that space will come in handy going into summer. But they are comfortable and highly supportive running shoes. I’ve also done some long walks (like 10–15k) in them and they felt great.

Would you recommend the Forever Floatride Grow Shoes?

Yep! They’re great all-purpose shoes and I haven’t had a problem running 5–7k in them. They’re far more comfortable than the previous two pairs I’ve owned and because they are so cushioned, I’ve found they’re also really good for high impact and interval training. So, like Katelin and Elizabeth, I’m really happy to find something with that kind of versatility.

Shoes were supplied by Electric Collective. Endorsement is her own.

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