Beth is a runner.
Self-admittedly, she wasn’t the best when she started out. Nor did she think much then about the sustainability of running shoes.
“I’m the youngest of three kids, and I started running because my sister ran. I ran middle school cross-country, and I was honestly like the worst ever. My mom likes to tell the story from middle school that I finished last in a race with another kid I knew, running hand-in-hand to the finish line.”
That has changed. A lot. Now she runs marathons.
“When I was in college, I actually ran for myself for the first time, and I really enjoyed it. I started running half marathons in college, and right after I graduated, I ran my first marathon. And I’ve run 13 marathons and over 30 half marathons.”
And today Beth personifies that long distance running experience by making the foam materials used in running shoes and other products.
“One of the things I really love about working in flexible foams is that I get to run in my own creations. I get to run in the shoes I create and wear test them myself.”
“So sustainability is really important to me because I want to be able to run outside and be able to enjoy this nice planet that we live on.”
As a consumer technology service representative at BASF, she’s parlaying her love for running into a dedicated drive to improve the sustainability of foam materials.
Such as using renewable materials to make flexible foams. Working to make running shoes and other plastic products fully recyclable. And helping shrink the environmental footprint of consumer products.
Meet Beth. One of America’s Change Makers
Her efforts are not only propelled by personal passion. Much of her work is driven by customers demanding improved sustainability.
“A lot of our customers look very closely at sustainability. We’re all pushing towards sustainability. It’s our number one driver for
our projects in the markets right now.”
Beth believes that sustainability of foam materials will be enhanced by innovation, something plastic makers are known for.
“Innovation is very important because the market’s always changing. Everybody always wants something that’s bigger, better, and also lighter and more sustainable. They want bedding that’s lighter, chairs and furniture that are lightweight and easier to transport. Football helmets that are safer without being heavier. Running shoes that are lighter but more responsive with a better cushion.”
To improve the sustainability of running shoes, Beth follows many paths. Such as pursuing renewable raw materials.
“We’ve worked on a shoe with a major brand company that is made with what we call renewable polyols, which are plant based. So we’re using renewable materials to create a shoe that’s biobased.”
Plus, she follows a path toward recyclability, which she and her company are helping pave.
“Customers in the running shoe market are often looking for sustainable shoes, but it’s difficult because they’re also looking for an end-of-life solution so they can return these shoes and recycle them.”
“So we’ve worked on shoes that can be returned back into their base molecules and be reused again for new foams, new uppers, new outsoles. It’s really nice when you can actually see a shoe that goes from being a shoe that you’ve run in like 500 miles to going back down to base materials and being reused again.”
Beth is aware that it will take time, effort, and investments to achieve a “circular economy” for plastics, such as flexible foams in running shoes.
“The sustainable market for performance running shoes is not very big yet. So we are growing in the market, and I’m excited about our company’s efforts to build the circular economy.”
“I think in another ten years we’ll have products that are either fully recyclable or fully biobased materials. I think that the exciting thing about plastics… is that you can reuse them multiple times to make different products.”
And Beth knows that she and every other runner create a small footprint on the Earth. She’s driven to shrink it.
“A lot of our customers ask us about the carbon footprint for our products. The smaller we can make that, the more desirable it is for them right now.”
We wish Beth and her team continued success.