Fair Trade Shoes: Addressing Environmental Impacts in the Shoe Manufacturing Industry

The fashion industry has undeniably contributed to environmental degradation through harmful production practices that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, water waste, and deforestation. One particular area that has caught the attention of environmental activists and conscious consumers is the shoe manufacturing industry. The production of shoes not only requires immense amounts of energy and resources but also involves the use of toxic chemicals that pollute the environment and harm workers. 

Fortunately, the availability of fair trade shoes has provided an ethical and sustainable alternative for consumers who want to ensure their purchasing power is aligned with their values. In this blog, we’ll review how fair trade standards promote environmental sustainability in the shoe industry.

The Environmental Impact of Shoes: Sourcing and Production

Shoes are an essential part of any wardrobe, but the production of shoes has a significant environmental impact. From sourcing materials like leather and synthetic fibers to manufacturing and eventually disposal, shoe production has several stages that can affect the environment. 

The beginning of the process is sourcing materials. Many shoe manufacturers rely on leather as one of their main ingredients for shoes, which can be damaging to the environment when sourced from unethical sources like factory farms or tanneries that don’t adhere to fair trade practices. Additionally, other synthetic materials used in shoes such as nylon and polyester are petroleum-based plastics derived from fossil fuels that also contribute to pollution and climate change. 

The next step in production is manufacturing the shoes. This process includes cutting, stitching, and assembling the shoe components, which often requires machines that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The use of toxic glues and adhesives can also contribute to air and water pollution, as well as hazardous waste production if disposed of improperly.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the environmental impact of shoe manufacturing. One option is to look for shoes made with fair trade certification.

How Fair Trade Shoes Improve Sustainability in Manufacturing

Fair trade shoes are produced following a set of standards to ensure sustainable practices and ethical production. This includes ensuring workers receive a living wage, as well as ensuring that the materials and production processes used are eco-friendly. The goal is to ensure that all stages of the supply chain protect workers and the environment. By supporting fair trade certified farmers and suppliers, manufacturers can help achieve a more eco-friendly shoe.

Fair trade shoes are created using materials that are produced in environmentally friendly ways. This may include:

  • Organic cotton
  • Canvas
  • Natural rubber
  • Recycled synthetic materials like recycled polyester
  • Plant fibers

Responsible sourcing of raw materials is one of the biggest focuses of fair trade standards and is also one of the areas that can have the biggest impact. For example, organic, fair trade cotton is more eco-friendly as it is grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, reducing soil and water contamination. Additionally, fair trade cotton farming practices prioritize water conservation, promote healthy soil quality, and adhere to fair and ethical standards. While recycled synthetic materials aren’t quite as eco-friendly as plant-based materials, they do help reduce the need for producing more virgin raw synthetic materials (which are made from fossil fuels) by reusing materials already in existence. Many shoe companies are turning to recycled plastics and rubbers to produce new shoes.

At the production stage, fair trade shoes are made using practices that ensure that the labor process is socially responsible. This includes ensuring fair wages for workers and safe working conditions. Fair trade shoes may also be produced using less energy-intensive processes, without the use of toxic chemicals and dyes, and with proper treatment and disposal methods for wastewater and other byproducts. Finally, fair trade shoes are often of higher quality, which means that they may last considerably longer. This helps consumers avoid purchasing more shoes, which helps reduce the need for more production.

Fair trade practices emphasize transparency and traceability throughout the supply chain. By buying fair trade-certified shoes, consumers can easily identify the origin of their shoes and the journey they have taken, ensuring they meet rigorous ethical and environmental standards. Such transparency allows consumers to make informed choices and support brands committed to sustainable shoe production.

Conclusion: Other Methods to Ensure a Sustainable Footwear Industry

While fair trade certification is one way to ensure your footwear is sustainable, there are other methods manufacturers can take to ensure their shoe products are sustainable. For example, one way of ensuring sustainable shoe manufacturing is to conduct environmental audits. These audits provide valuable insight into the current state of production and help identify areas where improvements can be made to reduce the environmental impact of shoes. 

Additionally, it’s important to actively monitor the supply chain to ensure that materials are sourced from suppliers who practice fair trade labor practices and meet ethical standards. Footwear testing is also a critical part of ensuring that shoes are safe to wear, made of eco-friendly materials, and long-lasting. This includes testing for the durability and comfort of materials used to make the shoe to ensure it meets relevant standards. As discussed above, durable, high-quality shoes are more environmentally conscious, as they reduce the need for purchasing more. 

By taking these steps, companies can significantly reduce their environmental impact while still producing high-quality, long-lasting shoes.

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