J500 Media and the Environment

Green Footing Part Deux: Local Shoe Subdue by travisjbrown

Yesterday I took a broad look at America’s shoe problem

Now I’d like to take things down a notch and look at the shoe bid’ness on the local level.

Arensberg’s Shoes has been operating in Lawrence since 1956. The family-owned store sells about 8,000 shoes a year.

I worked as a sales associate at Arensberg’s for 11 months. I have the utmost respect for the store and the management. They are the only shoe store that I have ever been to where the employees genuinely care about the health, comfort and satisfaction of their customers. However, I think the business could make simple changes that would significantly alter their environmental impact.


Almost all purchases are placed in yellow plastic bags. In the olden days, the sales associates at Arensberg’s used to tie boxes with string so that the customer could simply carry the boxes out holding the string. A spool still sits on the front desk in case their is a shortage of bags, but it is rarely used.

Towards the end of my shoe selling career, I started asking customers if they would prefer their boxes tied. To my surprise, many opted out of using a plastic bag. They were fascinated by this archaic technique and appreciated the extra effort.

If employees began asking customers if they would prefer a bag or a tie, I think the store would use far fewer bags – helping the environment and their expenses.



The Sherlock Holmes Society of Canada

I was baffeled by the amount of people who asked me to throw away perfectly good shoes. They would come in to buy new shoes because their sole had worn down, or worse – because a lace had snapped in two. Lordy Mae!

I think the Arensberg’s, as well as all Lawrence shoe stores should put a highly visible sign at the front desk that advertises BKB leather (a local shoe repair shop) and be more open to letting people know that they can easily and inexpensively repair most worn down shoes.


Each pair of shoes are shipped to Arensberg’s in large cardboard boxes. Each individual shoe box is filled with oodles of packaging and mutltiple wads of paper are stuffed into each shoe to maintain the shape. There’s also usually a cardboard divider between the two shoes and tissue paper wrapped around each shoe. Almost all of this packaging will be taken out of the box and thrown away

This store could greatly lower their impact by recycling the packaging that comes from each opened shoe box.


I must give kudos to Arensberg’s for selling Timberland and Simple brand shoes – two companies that are use eco-frieldy and recycled materials, and are working to change the sustainability of the shoe industry.

I think they could expand their eco-friendly shoe selection and make a special section of the store dedicated to lower impact shoes. In addition to providing customers with the option of going green, it would also raise awareness about the environmental impact of the shoe industry and what to look for when trying to avoid shoes with a large carbon footprint.

-Travis Brown

P.S. Here’s a fun tip: The inside of a banana peal is a great non-toxic alternative to shoe polish.


7 Comments so far
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I think these are really great tips on greening the store, and I am particularly fascinated with the string vs bag concept.

There is , however, a problem I see in shoe stores, as well as book stores… the UNWANTED. I have done a bit of “dumpster diving”, around Lawrence and have been amazed by the amount of usable waste stores put out.
For example, shoe stores (I don’t remember if Arsenberg’s does this) SLIT the sides of the shoes they throw away. What shocked me was that they even slit the sides of baby shoes !!!! This extends to books as well, covers are stripped of them and tossed.

These perfectly usable objects have already gone through the production line, and have effected the environment and the people who put them together, only to be put in the landfills.

I understand that companies don’t want others to profit off their products, but what about donating things that can’t sell, or recycling the books?

Comment by julianat

Great post, Travis.

I own Nike’s. They aren’t hush hush either; they are yellow. Bright yellow.

Wearing bright yellow Nike’s is like wearing a target at a shooting range. Somehow Adidas, Reebok, Converse and others have seemingly received less criticism Nike though they all have an enormous environmental impacts. And while Nike has made some effort to address environmental issues with their Considered line, it’s still slim pickings.

The biggest issue for me is style. Like Jeff can’t bring himself to drink Iwig’s local, rbgh-free milk, I can’t find any pair of Simple shoes that I like. I’ve looked far and wide for other eco-friendly shoes, but nothing fits my taste.

I’m still looking though and there seems to be some effort from Lakai and others in the skating industry (though I’m far from a skater). Lawrence’s own skate shop, White Chocolate, has some supposedly eco-friendly “synthetic shoes” that I need to investigate further.

We’re all guilty of something and this is the probably one of the better cases of style over substance I can think of. But in an effort to improve, my next pair of shoes most likely won’t be from any of the big shoe companies.

Unless Nike reissues some Considered Terminators…

Bobby Grace

Comment by bobbygrace


Your 4 Rs are genius. You have really thought about what Arensbergs can do to become more eco-friendly. Would you consider passing these suggestions on and reporting back to us?

One of the reasons your suggestions are so convincing is because you used to work there. When I read about your respect for the organization and your experience within it, I feel like you really are committed to a change that will be good for the business and the planet. That makes for highly effective environmental communication.

Great job.


Comment by j500

That is absolutely ridiculous. Throwing shoes away? Slitting them?. I know that Arensberg’s definatley doesn’t do that. They actually end up selling almost every shoe they bring it… it’s just a matter of lowering the price so much that they’re basically giving them away.

I’m going to have to investiage this, though. You’ve intrigued me. Hmmm…

-Travis Brown

Comment by travisjbrown

So how green are green shoes?
This Fox News report has some interesting insights.

Comment by Simran Sethi

Hi Everybody

Grizz here from Simple Shoes. Sims asked me to check out the blog. Great action and good discussion. We at at Simple are proud of what we have done with the shoe making process in the front end for sure. The back end is definitely challenging, and people do tend to get sick of clothing or fashion well before they are really worn out.

We are proud to say we are looking into some other methods of a takeback prgoram, and when we are ready to roll it out I think you’ll be overall surprised.

We do donate a lot of our shoes and samples to an organization called Soles for Souls who donate shoes to disaster driven regions and third world nations. Not like that is a perfect solution yet, but better than filling up the landfill.


I do think it is best to use any of your items until they are finished, and if you don’t like them, maybe a friend will!

Also – unfortunately the fox reporter used a bit of freedom describing our shoes – he said we only used 50% recycled rubber – not sure where that came from. We do use recycled car tires – which we are finding outlast the uppers on the ecoSNEAKS, when normally it is the sole that first wears down.

Also – to respond to Bobby’s point about the flack Nike got back in the 90’s, it was because they were the last to join the industry in a consumer lead initiative to clean up and address human rights. The other big guys like Reebok and Addidas addressed the issue early. Now Nike is doing some impressive stuff in the new millenium with their shoe recycling program (they grind up old shoes and make them into tracks for underfunded high schools).

Comment by Grizz

Have extra shoes in your closet you do not wear? Donate them to Soles4Souls. Check out http://www.giveshoes.org for more information!

Comment by wayneelsey

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