News and Notes

Vegan Shoes from Reebok, Inconvenient Emissions Truth of Euro 2020, Eco-Athlete Graham Zusi of Sporting KC


In today’s TGIF News & Notes, we look at the planned 2020 introduction of vegan running shoes from Reebok, dig into the emissions issues raised by a continent-wide Euro 2020 soccer/football tournament, and talk with Eco-Athlete Graham Zusi of Major League Soccer’s Sporting KC. 



The number of people eating vegan, plant-based diets has grown dramatically over the last decade. Reebok, a division of Adidas, is betting that people will also want to run in performance shoes made from plants.

With its announcement that the Forever Floatride GROW shoe will be available next fall, Reebok is taking a major innovative step in sustainable footwear. The new shoe replaces traditional materials with plant-based alternatives. The upper is made from eucalyptus trees, the sock liner uses algae-based foam, and the outsole replaces petroleum-based rubber with the natural variety.

Per a mostly positive review by Dan Roe in the December 4 edition of Runners World, “Most notable is the midsole: Traditionally the epicenter of a shoe’s environmental impact, the midsole of this shoe is constructed with castor beans.”

That environmental impact is significant. “Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), polyurethane (PU), and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) are found in the majority of [midsoles], and all derive from fossil fuels,” noted Roe. “They’re toxic to manufacture, toxic to burn, and don’t biodegrade quickly, meaning we’ve all left piles of dead running shoes in our wake.”



GSB’s Take: Kudos to Reebok for making a major advance with GROW. Still, the athletic footwear world still has miles to run before making a truly sustainable running shoe.

“Materials are only a portion of a running shoe’s total emissions,” wrote Roe. “MIT researchers found that 68 percent of emissions come from the manufacturing process, which includes processes like molding and sewing that don’t go away with organic materials.”



Euro 2020 — basically the Men’s World Cup of Europe — will for the first time not be played in just one or two host countries. Instead, the tournament, which will run from June 20 to July 20, will be contested in 12 cities across the continent, from Dublin, Ireland to Baku, Azerbaijan, 3,251 miles away.

UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, has acknowledged the carbon emissions impacts arising from the greatly expanded tournament footprint and is doing something about it: The organization will offset 405,000 or so tons of carbon that Euro 2020 will release.


Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan. It will play host Euro 2020 group stage matches, as will the Dublin Arena in Ireland, 3,500+ miles away (Photo credit: Trip Advisor)


Rory Smith’s November 29 New York Times insightful and important piece about the environmental impacts of the far flung Euro 2020, “Soccer Can’t Avoid Climate Change Forever,” put it this way: “Some 60,000 trees, UEFA has said, will be planted across the continent, by way of apology to the atmosphere and those future generations.”

Reporting about a sports team or governing body dealing with the emissions created by travel to and from an event by buying offsets is about as far as stories like these go. I should know; I’ve written some of them.

But Smith went much further, bringing up an uncomfortable and complex issue, not only for soccer, but for all sports (BOLD my emphasis):

At some point, and one not too far down the line, we will have to ask what other changes need to be made, beyond minimizing travel during major tournaments. It is not an easy subject to discuss. There are no easy answers. But it is one that we cannot ignore forever, and one that cuts, really, to the heart of the whole problem around climate change: how much of what we enjoy, of what we are used to, are we prepared to change, and possibly to sacrifice, for the benefit of the future?


GSB’s Take: The questions surrounding what sports can and will do about emissions, beyond offsetting, will only continue to grow in frequency and volume. Watch this space.



Graham Zusi is a Major League Soccer rarity, having played his entire career (11 seasons and counting) with one franchise, Sporting Kansas City¹. The 33 year-old right back who has made 55 appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team is also an environmentalist.

That makes him a rarity of another stripe, Eco-Athlete.

GreenSportsBlog caught up with Zusi recently for a brief volley about his efforts on behalf of Sporting Kansas City’s environmental initiatives.

GSB: What kind environmental groups have you worked with? What environmental causes have you promoted?

Graham Zusi: In 2018, Sporting Kansas City partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to form Sporting Sustainability, an initiative that focuses on food waste prevention. When I heard about Sporting’s partnership with TNC, I jumped at the opportunity to help educate others on how they can also live a sustainable lifestyle.


Graham Zusi (Photo credit: Sporting Kansas City)


GSB: I like that Sporting Sustainability is locally focused and it takes on climate change. From its mission statement, the initiative “aims to raise awareness around the impact of food waste prevention, including greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural land use.” What are your thoughts on climate change?

Graham: Unfortunately, we are rapidly approaching a global climate crisis, and poor treatment of the environment and environmental decisions have contributed to that. I am proud that Sporting Sustainability and TNC are doing what they can to educate, inspire and evoke environmental change.

GSB: How has your interest in the environment been received by teammates?

Graham: All of my teammates have been very supportive of my efforts. They understand the importance of fostering a healthy environment, especially since we are people who tend to spend lots of time outdoors.


Graham Zusi prepares to launch a shot (Photo credit: Sporting Kansas City)


GSB: How about Sporting KC fans? How have they reacted to your environmentalism, passion for climate change? Have there been any negative reactions or interactions with climate change deniers?

Graham: Like my teammates, Sporting fans have shown tons of support. When I embraced the opportunity to get involved with The Nature Conservancy and Sporting Kansas City, lots of fans were complimentary and encouraged me to continue my involvement.

In terms of climate deniers, fortunately, I haven’t come across any of those situations. While I’m respectful of everyone’s opinion, I am dedicated to doing what I can to promote factual discussions about climate and help create a healthier environment.

Thing is, many lifelong habits are formed at a young age. If we can use our platforms and youth programs to educate kids about the science and instill habits that encourage positive environmental actions, their futures will be much brighter.


GSB’s Take: Zusi’s environmental activism is terrific. I expect there will be many more MLS Eco-Athletes, and soon. After all, the league’s largely Millennial and GenZ fan base is increasingly demanding climate action.

With that as backdrop, GSB hopes that Zusi and his environmentally-inclined MLS brethren, will lean into climate change more forcefully. 


¹ Sporting Kansas City was known as the Kansas City Wiz during Zusi’s first two seasons with the club, 2009-10.



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