The Sneaker Challenge


  • 1

    Here's what you'll do in this activity

    • Design an Earth-friendly sneaker. That’s a shoe that does not harm the environment when it is created or thrown away.
    • Test your sneakers: Walk, run, jump around, and see how they feel! 
  • 2

    Here are the materials to make the sneaker

    • Duct tape 
    • Scrap of cardboard 12 inches by 6 inches (30 centimeters by 15 centimeters) or larger
    • Scissors
    • Pencil/pen and scrap paper 
    • Household or classroom things that you can recycle or repurpose. The items could be natural materials, such as bamboo, straw, grass, and tree bark. The items could also be materials created by people, such as bubble wrap, rubber bands, tennis or rubber balls, sponges, rope, styrofoam, food packaging, plastic tubing, balloons, plastic shopping bags, old clothing, and binder clips (to be used as springs).
  • 3

    Plan your design

    • Consider what materials are environmentally friendly. 
    • What would feel bouncy on your feet?
    • Which materials could be recycled in your shoe?
  • 4

    Learn the parts of a sneaker

    • What are the different parts of a sneaker? What do the parts do?
    • The upper protects your foot from scrapes caused by rocks, sticks, and other objects.
    • The midsole makes your foot feel better when it hits the ground hard.
    • The outsole grips the floor or ground so you can stop or turn quickly.
  • 5

    Draw your design

    • Label the materials you would use to make a more environmentally friendly sneaker.
  • 6

    Make an outline for your sneaker

    • Trace your foot on a scrap of cardboard.
  • 7

    Cut the shape out of cardboard with scissors

    • Cut along the outline of your foot to start your sneaker design.
  • 8

    Add materials to the sneaker

    • Using tape, attach materials to the cardboard outline you’ve just created. 
    • Many designs are possible. There’s no right or wrong way!
  • 9

    Test your shoe!

    • Attach the prototype to your sock with tape.
  • 10

    Walk, run, jump

    • Wear a prototype on one foot and your regular shoe on the other. Walk, run and jump around to see how you feel. 
    • Think about the force on your foot. When you run and jump, your foot hits the ground with a force, a push or pull. The ground pushes back on your foot with the same force. (Ouch!) 
    • Does your new sneaker soften these forces on your foot?
  • 11

    Think about whether your shoes are Earth-friendly

    • Can you explain why the materials you use are environmentally sustainable?
    • What would happen to your midsoles when the sneakers are thrown away?
  • 12

    Redesign the sneaker

    • Remove the parts that did not work on the prototype.
    • Adjust or add other materials to make your shoe more bouncy and comfortable.
    • Can you replace the materials that are not good for the Earth with ones that are natural or can be recycled?
  • 13

    Did you know?

    • Inventors often test their shoes by placing them on a robot foot. Then the robot steps down thousands of times. If the sneakers survive this pounding, they are approved for sale. 
    • To make a single pair of sneakers, factories use the same amount of energy as running a microwave oven for two days straight! 
    • The special type of plastic used in shoe midsoles is the same used to make hot glue sticks.
  • 14

    Try this next!

    • Want to make sneakers more Earth-friendly? Try making the uppers from pineapple leaves. So far, shoe companies Puma and Hugo Boss have release pineapple-based sneaks.