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Keen Turns Agricultural Waste Into Chemical Solvent-Free Soles

Keen has been researching and working with harvested waste materials for well over a decade, but it is its latest release that Steve Workman, senior director, global product innovations, deems “the most significant environmental technology launch in Keen’s history.”

The footwear brand dropped its men’s Eldon and women’s Elsa V sneakers Thursday. The shoes—priced at $120 per pair—mark the debut of Keen’s plant-based “Field to Foot” [F2F] sole technology.

“While the science and technology behind these shoes is serious business, the product itself is fun and familiar,” Workman said in a statement. “The Field to Foot collection is classic-looking and forward-thinking—like old-school favorites but with a lighter footprint on the planet. It reinforces our commitment to detoxing the planet, while demonstrating that cutting-edge technology can be fun and comfortable.”

Developed over two years with Huntsman Polyurethane, the innovation uses agricultural waste to offset the use of petrochemicals within the shoe’s sole and eliminate the use of chemical solvents. According to Steve Burge, a U.K.-based expert on polyurethane who helped Keen develop the technology, the F2F soles are 51 percent agricultural waste. “And this is just a first step,” he noted.

“The use of agricultural waste within polyurethane is an important step toward transforming the footwear industry supply chain,” Burge said in a statement.

Thursday’s limited F2F launch also introduces Keen’s new “unbox” design. The packaging uses approximately 63 percent less cardboard than a traditional shoebox and is 100 percent biodegradable, Keen said.

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Keen's "Field to Foot" sneakers also launch the company's waste-reducing "unbox."

Keen’s F2F collection represents just the latest element in the company’s larger “Detox The Planet” sustainability push.

Earlier this month it introduced the Keen Harvest Certification Program, a scheme that classifies the company’s upcycling-centric Harvest line into three categories based on the percentage of upcycled materials each shoe contains. A Gold designation would mean a shoe is made with greater than 50 percent upcycled materials, while a Bronze certification would be given to styles with greater than 10 percent upcycled materials. November’s Howser Harvest will be the first Keen shoe to undergo classification.

Keen’s conservation platform also included its five-year journey to eliminate per- and polyfluorinated substances—materials so long-lasting they’ve been dubbed “forever chemicals” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In March, after having removed PFAS from all its products, Keen challenged all its outdoor footwear competitors who have yet to abandon PFAS to do so.

To help them along, it released a 10-step guide laying out how exactly a shoe company might eliminate the substances from its products. The six-page document offers links and contacts to testing labs, preferred suppliers and sustainability experts. It even names the non-PFC alternatives—selected after four years of research and testing—it now employs.