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- Carbon footprints: is green labeling an effective solution to the problem of the environmental impacts associated with shoes?
- Ashby, David
- Footwear has existed since ancient Egypt when commoners wore basic sandals and Pharaoh's wore sandals with peaked toes to denote their power. Since the peaked toe sandal, footwear has symbolised power and social standing across the world---the feet of upper class women in China have been painfully bound for status and the height of your boot denoted your rank during Roman times. Much has changed over the past 3,200 years, but there still remains a correlation between footwear and social standing within our culture. Marges (2000) wrote 'your shoes are big blabber-mouths, broadcasting your deepest secrets.' Society has constructed these varied meanings, often regarding status or class and thus inherently linked to economic wealth. In 2007 the footwear industry in America was worth $59.2bn, with the average American purchasing 7 pairs of shoes each per year. The market has experienced increased globalisation over the past 20 years with China increasing its market share of the American footwear industry from 2.8% in 1985 to 83.8% in 2007. This globalisation has been facilitated through the industry operating within a laissez-fair capitalist economy, where cheap materials and labour costs allow penetration by developing countries. The laissez-fair capitalist system is itself a social construct, developing over time in a similar way to the social construction of the meanings attached to footwear. The environment on the other hand exists without name outside of our social constructions, it simply just is. Though our naming of it, that is our understanding of it as 'environment' and all that entails, is very much also socially constructed. The effects of the footwear industry on the environment as we know it are widespread. Manufacturing processes use valuable resources, such as the huge tracts of land for farming cows for leather, which is then tanned with a substance that pollutes rivers and streams (PVC may substitute leather which also has its own environmental impacts). There are also emissions from electricity generation and transportation, and the end of lifecycle disposal of shoes often into landfill. The footwear industry can also be measured on its related social and health impacts. The overwhelming majority of multinationals have relied on sweatshops and exploitation to produce low-cost footwear to be competitive in the free market. In addition, the same chemicals used during manufacture that damage the environment, are causing illness to sweatshop workers. Substances known to be harmful to humans such as Benzine, Lead and Mercury, are commonplace in the footwear manufacturing factories of developing countries. While footprint calculators may be useful in providing feedback to individuals and business as to their sustainable performance, they are limited in the information that they seek to capture regarding the myriad of daily activities which affect our footprint. This paper will look at a commonly proposed solution to the environmental problems associated with footwear, in light of the social drivers of these problems, and the opportunities for changing them.
- Publication type
- Journal article
- Research centre
- Swinburne University of Technology. National Centre for Sustainability
- Journal of the National Centre for Sustainability, Vol. 1, no. 1 (Jun 2012)
- Publication year
- Environmental impact; Environmental sustainability; Footwear industry; Green labelling; Manufacturing; Shoes; Social impact; Social status; Sustainability
- National Centre for Sustainability, Swinburne University of Technology
- Publisher URL
- Copyright © 2012.