Sustainability Squared: Plant-Based Insoles that Last

by | Apr 23, 2024 | Blog, Product Design, Sustainability

How we’ve worked to make sustainability and durability equal partners in our insoles.

“Sustainable” is a feature you see everywhere, especially in the fashion and apparel industry, but to us, it’s much more than a buzzword. Sustainability and durability need to go hand in hand to achieve true success. INSITE is built around two core priorities: improving the sustainability of footwear and revolutionizing the comfort, performance, and durability of footwear at the same time. While it has, at times, felt like a lofty goal, our pursuit of this tricky combination has been supported by our own and our partners’ commitment to making it happen.

In this blog, we’ll talk about the importance of combining true sustainability with durability, the hurdles we and the industry have faced, and how we make that combination a reality in our lines of ergonomic insoles. 

The Balancing Act of Promoting Sustainability without Sacrificing Performance 

One thing is abundantly clear: the footwear industry (and the apparel industry at large) must make necessary changes to its practices to address the concerning effects of climate change. From material sourcing to manufacturing, packaging to shipping, the creation of footwear components like insoles can have negative impacts on the environment. At INSITE, it’s our mission to reduce that impact, and we’re always looking for new ways to improve. We’ve implemented plenty of practices to reduce our environmental impact, but in doing so we haven’t let durability and performance fall to the wayside. Quite the opposite, in fact; we’ve placed the combination of sustainability and durability at the forefront of our business. 

Many have tried and many have failed to make sustainable apparel that stands the test of time because, unfortunately, simply switching to “eco-friendly” materials isn’t enough. Over the years, we’ve worked by trial and error to find the right sustainable materials that support our mission of crafting truly comfortable, performance-enhancing, durable insoles. With the right partners and our eye on the prize, plus a hefty amount of data-driven research, we’ve managed to make the combination of sustainability and durability a reality. 

Starting at the Source: Our Sustainable Materials 

When looking for sustainable compounds for our insole foams, we have a couple of main requirements in mind. Number one, we need a sustainable material with real, measurable reductions to climate impact – okay, that one’s obvious. Number two, we need the farming and sourcing practices of the material to be equally sustainable. Far too many companies opt for sustainable materials without considering the other environmental impacts of the manufacturing process. And number three, the material needs to be capable of supporting our mission to create truly durable shoe insoles. It’s a tall order and we know it, but we also know that we have to make it happen to truly fulfill our goals and promises. 

Enter Susterra®, a propanediol made from U.S.-grown dent corn, and a fantastic alternative to the traditional petrochemical ingredients used for making polyurethane (PU) foam. In addition to lowering our carbon emissions and decreasing our reliance on non-renewable energy, the distinctive molecular composition of Susterra also improves the durability, elongation, and strength of the foam. 

Made by fermenting glucose taken from industrial field corn to produce 1,3-propanediol, Susterra’s molecules have longer hydrogen bonds than the petrol-based 1,4-butanediol often used in PU foams. Longer hydrogen bonds lend themselves to more flexible and durable foams – exactly what we were looking for. 

One of the best parts about Susterra, however, is their commitment to supporting sustainable agricultural practices via the Truterra™ program and lending their expertise to local and family farms so more sustainable practices are implemented in more areas. Susterra is sustainable from start to finish and their “teach a man to fish” mentality is commendable.

How We Utilize Susterra to Make Our EcoComfort® Foams

We use up to 70% Susterra propanediol to create our sustainably sourced EcoComfort PU foams, a point of pride at INSITE. With EcoComfort, it’s almost all in the name; they’re more eco-friendly than other insoles on the market and they truly enhance the comfort for the wearer. 

And while the name doesn’t mention this next part, all of our insoles are crafted to meet yet another set of standards: that of durability and performance. 

Here’s the thing: you can make apparel from any number of “sustainable” materials, but the reason sustainable apparel products often face ridicule is that they don’t hold up to the wear and tear of life. This challenge is especially an issue when it comes to performance and athletic wear; the wear and tear on those items far outpaces that of normal day-to-day life. But EcoComfort foam made from Susterra negates that issue thanks to the true durability of the end result. So when crafting insoles for our clients using EcoComfort foam, we can confidently assure them that they’ll stand the test of time (and the tests the athletes and professionals who wear them will put them through). 

How can we feel this confident when promising durable sustainability to our clients? Because of our focus on data-driven processes. Our partnership with the FORCE Lab at the University of Oregon, Cascades has been one of our strongest allies in ensuring the biomechanical success of our insoles. Every single INSITE insole is made using research insights from the FORCE Lab, which concentrates on maximizing musculoskeletal function and performance, as well as enhancing overall well-being by analyzing human movement. Their work contributes to the data-driven methodology employed by our biomechanical research team.

The Bottom Line

At INSITE, our commitment to sustainability is the driving force behind everything we do. Through meticulous research, strategic partnerships, and a relentless pursuit of innovation, we’ve successfully merged sustainability and durability to create EcoComfort insoles that not only reduce environmental impact but also enhance comfort and performance.

By starting with sustainable materials like Susterra and leveraging data-driven insights from institutions like the FORCE Lab, we’ve engineered insoles that stand the test of time while promoting health and the well-being of the environment. Our journey hasn’t been without its challenges, but by prioritizing both sustainability and performance, we’ve redefined what it means to create sustainable footwear components.

Want to Learn More?

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