Make your shoes last longer and become a greener runner 

Love running? Worried about climate change? Here’s how we can all do our bit as runners when it comes to the environment.

Like every run, the battle against climate change starts with that first step. Some runners will be passionate about combating climate change, and their efforts will escalate into the equivalent of an all-consuming marathon. Others will take a more Parkrun-like approach and think about it occasionally. But, says ultra runner and author Damian Hall, we should all be thinking about the environment and, as runners, doing our bit – however small that may be – to make a difference. 

Damian Hall and Nicky Spinks running in the Welsh mountainsCredit: Paul Larkins
Damian Hall and fellow runner Nicky Spinks spend much of their time caring for the environment

A runner’s path of discovery

For many years, Hall flew around Europe running some of the world’s toughest and most spectacular races. He’d regularly find himself in the Alps in France, Italy or Switzerland; indeed, when I contacted him one afternoon, he replied from the top of a mountain, saying he’d have to get back to me as he was halfway through a 100-mile (161km) race.  

He is truly dedicated to running. And now, while that dedication is as strong as ever, he has turned much of his passion to something that we are all becoming increasingly aware of: climate change. 

He has seen how runners can play an active role in the battle to save the environment. “Running is well brill,” says Hall. “It brings real happiness, health benefits, meaning and Strava kudos to millions. It has a relatively low impact compared with some sports and activities. But it could definitely be better.”  


How we can all help combat climate change

Travel for runners

Thinking about your travel when it comes to running is a good starting point to do your bit to battle climate change, says Hall. “Running itself is a carbon-neutral transport, of course, but I’ve found I can get to races I used to fly to by using the train. However, now that I know more about the environmental cost of travel, I simply don’t want to race abroad so often anymore,” he continues. 

The numbers associated with travel and carbon emissions don’t make for good reading, but Hall says, “in most cases, a train journey will create around a quarter to a third of the CO2 emissions of a flight. Fossil fuel-powered cars aren’t much better than flights; the bigger they are and the fewer passengers they transport, the worse the greenhouse gas and they have wiped out all gains made by electric and hybrid vehicles. However, four in a car can produce similar emissions to a train journey, so lift-sharing and car-pooling for races is a genuine carbon saver.” 

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What runners wear matters

Again, using Hall’s calculations, the clothing industry looks like it needs to make some changes. And while brands are making headway in this area, Hall’s own research suggests that “69% of our clothes are made from fossil fuel”. 

Hall is understandably passionate about all of this, and he’s not asking you to be an ecowarrior and glue yourself to the road. No, his goal is all about awareness and encouraging us as runners to look at how we can do our own bit to help. 

For instance, he’s keen to draw our attention to his research, which he says shows that the running shoe industry produces 23 million shoes a day with a huge carbon footprint, thanks to a manufacturing process that involves 360 different steps. As a result, carbon footprints of running shoes range between the equivalent of 18 and 41 kg of CO2 per pair. “That’s worth saying again out loud. Those shoes are almost all made from plastic [fossil fuels], almost all are non-recyclable.” 

“This stuff is complex and not always easy to fix. Spearing awareness is the first step.

What runners eat can make a difference

It’s worth pointing out that Hall is a vegan and, as a result, has looked at the meat industry, which he’ll tell you is not an environmentally friendly setup. “Meat and dairy alone are responsible for 18% of global carbon emissions, more than travel. Beef is by far the worst offender, costing the planet 99kg (218lb 4oz) of CO2 just to produce 1kg (2lb 3oz) of meat, which is crazily inefficient,” he says, explaining why he has embraced a vegan life. A quarter of our footprint comes from food, and it can be reduced by more than 70% by cutting out animal flesh. “Yes, there’s far too much plastic packaging in the world, but it’s the food in the packaging that’s the most important thing – with almost all meat and dairy being worse for the planet than plants.” 

What we can do as runners

To me, it’s fairly simple: do your best with the Big Three of travel, kit and diet,” says Hall. “No one is or can be perfect. We’re just seeking progress. But above that, we need to push for systemic change and be a little bit activist. Talk to anyone who’ll listen, but especially friends and family, and join The Green Runners. 


Damian’s thoughts 

  • “Brands tell us we should bin our shoes after 300 miles (482.8km) in case they injure us, which no studies conclusively prove.” 
  • “The most sustainable kit is the stuff we’re already wearing. We need to buy less and make it last longer.” 
  • “A quarter of our footprint comes from food, and it can be reduced by over 70% by cutting out animal flesh and juices.” 
  • “Brands: Make less. Make things that will last. Help us extend the life of kit.” 
  • “Almost none of this stuff is our fault.” 

One runner making a difference

“How I made these changes myself”

Claire Maxted, a runner and co-founder of Trail Running magazine, agrees with everything Hall is doing. “Amplifying our voices is one of the most important things we can do, but there are also practical, personal tips that Damian has inspired me to incorporate into my daily life at a time when I was becoming jaded. 

“Do the tiny little things we each do even matter when large industries are pumping out fumes, chopping down the rainforest and polluting the water? The answer is yes, so I continue to do the following and encourage others to do what they can too. Every little helps.”

1 Use public transport, a bike and your feet for as many journeys as possible. 

2 Continue recycling, but also try to reduce consumption in the first place and repair what you already have.  

3 Lift-share to running races (I’m currently in the car with my running club buddy Bryan on the way to the Lakeland 50!) 

4 Reduce meat and dairy consumption to follow a more plant-based diet.  

5 If you menstruate, use reusable sanitary products like a mooncup or period pants, rather than single-use tampons or sanitary towels.  

6 Refill your laundry liquid, washing up liquid and liquid hand soap containers. 

7 Donate to Wren every month, which uses the money to offset carbon emissions with various projects.

8 Encourage others around you to do what they can too, and amplify our voices with communal action.

Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins


Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors.

But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide. In fact, he’s still very competitive. In 2022 he ran in the World Masters’ Mountain Running Champs in the over-55 age group and is now looking forward to moving up a category and taking on the 60-year-olds.

He’s also part of the England Team Management set-up in road running as well as being an England team coach in the U18 age group for track and field athletics. Currently, he coaches a group of athletes ranging from 13 years old to 55 at his local club.

Outside of work, Paul loves cooking and driving classic cars. He’s owned everything from a 1966 Ford F-250 pickup to a clapped-out 1987 Porsche 944. He’s married to Elaine and they have a West Highland White Terrier named Benji, who’s not that keen on being timed for every run!