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Performance Meet Sustainability with
Mizuno's Wave Neo Collection
Doctors of Running Sustainability Project, Volume 4

By Bach Pham, Content Manager

In our fourth edition of the Doctors of Running Sustainability Project, we spoke with Tina Danforth, Product Manager of Footwear, Sportstyle, and Apparel at Mizuno and Stephen Pifer, Mizuno's Marketing Manager, about the new Wave Neo line. The Wave Neo Ultra and Wind are the brand's new models working to bridge the gap between a sustainability and performance. In this feature, we go over Mizuno's path towards these shoes and their carbon neutral goals for the future.

About the Doctors of Running Sustainability Project

In this long term series, we'll be talking with companies, researchers, and forward-thinkers on the subject of footwear sustainability. In 2019, it was found that over two billion running shoes were purchased in the calendar year. With running shoes as popular as ever, they bring a unique problem as far as waste is concerned. While clothing tends to have ways to breath new life through repair and reuse, footwear currently has a fairly definitive end-of-life. Sustainability, however, has quickly become the focus of footwear brands in the past two years as more and more new materials and technology have entered the market in an effort to tackle the issue.

Editor's Note

This discussion was not a sponsored piece with Mizuno. We appreciate Tina and Stephen for their time and willingness to share the story of their Wave Neo line.


"It started four years ago," says Tina Danforth, Product Manager of Running, Sportstyle, and Apparel at Mizuno.  "At that time we did have the Rider Neo and Sky Neo, and those were kind of pinnacle of performance. We wanted to shift that to the pinnacle of everything, which is a brand showcase of sustainability and performance at the same time."

Mizuno is unique in the sustainability space. They are one of the larger sporting good companies that have actively been part of the discussion for over 30 years. In 1991, they launched the Crew21 Project which aimed to push the company to think about sustainability far before it was cool. They adopted things like simplified packaging, recycling in-house, and took on green projects worldwide. 

"It [Crew21] stands for Conversation of Resources, Environmental Way for the 21st Century," says Stephen Pifer, Marketing Manager at Mizuno.

"This started at our headquarters in Osaka. Basically we're aware that creating footwear puts pollutants into the atmosphere and we need to do something about that. We were one of the first brands leading the charge of sustainable business practices at our factories we are working with and making sure it's not only fair labor, but also are we not harming the environment any more than we ought to be when we are creating our products. We did a lot of things to make sure the factories we were working with were energy efficient and things like that. That I say would be the jumping off point."

When people think of Mizuno, they often think of running. Their work goes well beyond that though.

"We're known as a running company, but we do a lot of things globally as well," says Danforth. "We make turf in Japan. Work uniforms. We use recycled materials for all sorts of projects, like recycled pellets for the turf they make. It expands broadly out of saying like just a pair of running shoes. It encompasses all of that."

The company has set a goal of going completely carbon neutral by 2050. This includes everything from running to baseball, golf, team sports, swimming, and more. Running has an even faster goal of 2027, largely in part to the extremely fast pace they have set with the creation of shoes like the Mizuno Wave Neo Ultra and Wind.

"It really started about four years ago," Danforth explains. We got together as a global team. We asked what's the first step of product - okay, a shoe box. So we were like okay, let's start there. Our shoe box is 90% recycled, let's go to 100%. Next?"

"Basically it set the stage for running overall and how we were going to work that," says Danforth. "At that time we did have the Rider Neo and Sky Neo, and those were kind of pinnacle of performance. We wanted to shift that to the pinnacle of everything, a brand showcase of sustainability and performance at the same time. That allowed us to push ourselves as a brand with these products. That's when we really started developing that to start focus sustainability and performance. It became a tenure plan. We know we're going to start this process; what's the next step and what's the next step. There are many next steps past this process for sure. We're not stopping here, but it started as a product perspective four years ago."

The Making of the Wave Neo Shoes

The construction of Mizuno's new models began at the materials level. Well before the Wave Neo models seen today, small, incremental changes helped spur on the design that would lead to the Ultra and Wind. Things like laces and the knit upper material were already areas Mizuno had been working on to incorporate recycled elements.

"There were small clicks that had happened; it just came upon us that these things were already setting us on the path," says Pifer.

The midsole was a bigger challenge though. Mizuno tested several materials before settling on their castor oil infused midsole called Mizuno Enerzy Lite.

"We had farmers in India that had beans they were throwing away," Pifer explains. "We were able to save them and add a polymer to this castor bean oil and create a sustainable and biodegradable wave plate. I would say things like that kickstarted."

"It really did start with the farmers and our connection with Arkema," Danforth says. "We did test a couple of other materials, but from testing point of view, castor performs better than anything we were able to find. The other midsole in the bottom layer of the wind is from a company called Bloom. They basically recycle algae blooms and turn it into foam. Sticking with that performance mindset, whoever we worked with, it was important that the material would be just as durable as our midsoles now and perform just as well. You can source a million different sustainable materials and they may break down faster or they might not have the responsive rate which our consumers expect. That was the two main reasons that we partnered with Arkema and Bloom. They were able to inject that Mizuno DNA into the product while still hitting those sustainability measures."

The Wave Neo Wind features a slab of this new foam with their classic wave plate in the heel. While it takes some cues from the classic Wave Rider, Mizuno aimed to make the Wind stand out as a fun performance trainer.

"We wanted to have some Rider DNA, but we didn't want it to feel like a Rider brother or sister," Danforth explains. "We wanted to live on its own. To some folks, it might feel like a supercharged Rider. It has a lightness and quickness to it that the Rider may feel more like the trainer and this is actually kind of has a balance into that lightweight category. It's a substantial trainer as well when it comes down to it. We wanted it to have a unique proposition in it as well. It has the Mizuno Enerzy Lite, which has never been in a Rider before, because it is super lightweight and has a different kind of deformation feel to it compared to the Rider. It has a pop and lightness which separates. That knit bootie as well; it has a one-piece knit bootie that fits really well. It's not easy to do, providing both volume and yet feeling snug and secure."

The other noticeable part of the Wind that stands out is its ultra aggressive outsole, which gives it bite on the run. It is the one part of the shoe that Mizuno did not fully convert to sustainable materials in order to preserve performance.

"That outsole is a material called G3," Tina says. "Our older fans may remember it in the Elixir or Ronin - shoes of the past. This version is the softest version of G3 we've ever been able to create. It's also in the Rebellion, but here a much softer version that's introduced here. We love G3 because we feel it's our best gripping material. On wet, slick surfaces, you have a lot of confidence. It's a material that is the most superior from a grip point of view. We have used it for years, but here it's refined."

While the Wind provides a more classic option, the Ultra dips into modern trends by providing a max cushioned offering that packs Mizuno DNA from top to bottom.

"From a strategy point of view, our two categories are propulsive and floating," says Danforth. "So that's how we kind of categorize the two. There's a lot of noise in the floating category right now, so again all of these high cushioned shoes. For us we wanted to make sure we can service two customers: our Mizuno loyalists who prefer that Neo Wind, but also the new consumer that want that soft, responsive ride and make sure we are able to strategically service those customers."

"The Ultra is interesting because we knew we wanted it to be in our floating category and we knew we wanted to put our three best proprietary materials in there. It's the only shoe that has Mizuno Enerzy Lite, Enerzy, and Enerzy Core. We wanted to make it a brand showcase of what we could do with our performance materials. They are all totally different."

"As we started testing it, we hadn't had a name yet," says Danforth about what would become the Ultra. "During our testing process, from a durability point of view it was exceeding expectations. A shoe in that category typically gets 400-500 miles. We were getting as much as 600 and 700 from our wear testers. It wasn't breaking down. It just kept lasting and lasting. If this can last forever, we were saying you could easily run an ultra in it, and so that's where that DNA started coming to life in the name. A lot of ultras are also run in our national forests which kind of goes in tandem with the story. It was a double meaning for that name."

Making an Impact

Beyond the Ultra and Wind and their unique designs, the uppers for each feature an undyed knit as well, which Tina and Stephen say led to a 100% reduction in water weight. Compared to using some kind of oil-based paint, going with an undyed upper with a water-based paint for the streak of blue in the shoe helped greatly curb that area.

Mizuno has another unique way they are aiming to offset the production of shoes. Through a partnership with the National Forest Foundation, they are planting at least one tree per shoe to help offset emissions.

"This story kicked off a year ago when we launched our Alpha Eco apparel line which was an interesting entry point for the brand," says Pifer.

Mizuno Alpha Eco Apparel
"We're known as a footwear company, but we led the charge with the apparel. The US led the charge on this and we planted ten thousand trees a year ago for ten thousand pieces of apparel that we were going to be selling to offset greenhouse gas emissions. We moved it to a global level this year with the Wave Neo series." 

"The global team was focused on being sure we weren't green washing - exploring how to make sure we weren't absorbing all the CO2 based on number of trees we were planting," says Pifer. "We had a third party auditing group in Japan that we went through, fact-checking the work of the National Forest Foundation. They acquire the seedlings we plant and gift them to a national forest in the US. 80% of trails in the US are based on national forest land, and so they contacted a forest in Georgia - Oconee National Forest - and so that's where we planted our ten thousand trees. It was important we planted enough trees - we planted twice as many in fact, because not every tree is actually going to take to the soil and grow. The type of tree we planted was important as well, here a long-leaf pine. These pine trees are cool in that you can do slash and burn to control the forest, but keep this pine because it is fire retardant. The actual bud of the tree is on the inside so it can keep the forest healthy with slash and burn while maintaining these trees. There is a red woodpeckers that are endangered as well, which take well to these trees and will be able to be moved here in the future to preserve their species.  We're going to have 50,000 pairs of this product, so it is somewhat exclusive. We're going to plant those 100,000 trees to offset the carbon footprint of the production of it. "

"We definitely would love to be more and more recycled, as close to 100% as possible."

A culmination of several years in development, the creation of the Ultra and Wind were not without its challenges.

"The number one thing has been products that have been durable enough for the challenge," says Danforth. "You can find a lot of sustainable materials - and this goes for the apparel side too - you can find recycled polys easy, but will it snag or take a water resistant coating, will it be SPF friendly? That was the challenge, that they weren't evolving fast enough. There were only select materials that could fit a product's DNA. Going back to point on the outsole, that's why we weren't prepared to go with a recycled rubber for an outsole yet. From our testing it wasn't durable enough, or adhesive enough to stay on. It was difficult to find materials and why we partnered with Arkema and Bloom. They have been doing this a lot longer, so it's been easy to work with them. It was hard to find those materials.

Footwear has advanced more than other products though, and that's because of the technology available. That's why the running side we're able to push it more than baseball bats, for example, or golf clubs. That material is very difficult to find a sustainable component while still being able to perform. That's why our long term goal is 2050, because we're realist and right now we know our golf clubs are the best in the business. Right now it's hard to find a material that performs that way."

"We've set a number of targets," Pifer adds.

"Sustainability is a big discussion at Mizuno. As part of Crew21 we have three different pillars: health, environment and humanity. How do a create sustainable environment where we're supporting our athletes through health? How are we creating a globally diverse community in terms of humanity? And then the environment piece. We created these targets. Yeah, we want to offset all greenhouse emissons, but by 2030 we are looking to do that for all categories by 30% and then the goal is to reduce it. Through the factories. Through the amount of material we are using. The amount of waste we are putting out there. It's all encompassing. The way we are scanning and cutting apparel is to cut waste left behind. It's not just footwear, as much as an all-encompassing approach."

Thanks to Tina and Stephen for taking the time to chat with us about Mizuno!

We have a full review of the Ultra here and Wind here if you'd like to learn more about the shoes.

If you would like to talk with the team about the Sustainability Project, email Bach Pham at

Editor's Note
This discussion was not a sponsored piece with Mizuno. Thanks so much to Tina and Stephen for their time!

Past Features in the Sustainability Series

Volume 1: Reebok's Push towards a Ree]newable Future
Volume 2: Hylo Hitting Fast Forward on the Future of Running
Volume 3: Made from Good Decisions: Zen Running

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