Learn to Lead, Not Follow – How adidas Delivered the Better Cotton Initiative
In today’s corporate world, social, environmental and compliance business areas are often the most challenging but also the most rewarding to work in.
It’s relatively easy to convince a team or business partner that more marketing budget for social media is needed or that ecommerce should be faster and more robust. However, actively disrupting the whole supply chain that feeds an entire sporting goods company of our size is different. It’s probably not something most colleagues are jumping to sign up to.
Textiles are my thing. I studied textile engineering at university in Turkey, and over the past 20 years brought my passion to life at adidas in Istanbul, India and now Taiwan, mostly at the front line of materials sourcing. I know first-hand what a large supply chain we have, with over 1,000 independent factories across 61 countries manufacturing our products. But words like large, big, vast, unknown don’t scare me when it comes to making things better for our future. I actually associate these words with my love of the outdoors: the big, the vast oceans I dive in, the unknown trails I hike with my kids.
Meet the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI)
The BCI mission on their homepage is clear: “Cotton is one of the world’s most important natural ﬁbers. It’s used by nearly everyone on Earth every day, and supports the livelihood of 250 million people. It’s a renewable natural resource, but only if we manage it responsibly. This responsibility is why a group of visionary organizations, one of them being adidas, came together to ﬁgure out what could be done to safeguard the future of cotton. ‘There has to be a better way’, they said. It turns out there is. It’s called Better Cotton.
BCI exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future, by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.”
We know that our buying power holds weight and that the sheer volumes of cotton we use can have a positive impact on how farmers grow their cotton and care for their land and their communities.
How did we bring the BCI to life at adidas?
Four simple steps jump out at me every time I explain our Better Cotton story to fellow apparel producers starting their journey:
- Make sure the message comes from the top down. Leadership from a CEO empowers everyone and enables teams on the ground to show we mean business. Ex adidas CEO Herbert Hainer committed early on to BCI and this support has been continued by Kasper Rorsted.
- Create a clear road map as to what you want to achieve, communicate it and stick to the milestones. Regular updates and transparency are essential for teams around the world to get on board and make big projects work.
- Start any big change with long-term partners with whom you have excellent relationships. It is essential to get good support early on in such a project so you can show results and inspire others with best practice cases.
- Once key suppliers got on board a trust was developed across the regions that the change to Better Cotton was the only way forward. The trust we afforded each other meant we all moved together in the one direction, changing the way the industry operates as a team.
So how far have we come since I took up this project in 2009?
Well, in 2016, 68% of our cotton was sourced from Better Cotton farms, up 8% from our projected sourcing numbers. By 2018, we will be sourcing 100% of our cotton as sustainable cotton and most likely we will be the first sports brand in the world to achieve such a target.
I’m a true believer in ‘lead, never follow’ and I’m proud to be part of major change in sourcing practices that will leave a lasting impact on our environment.
Sport needs a space - Inspiring future guardians
What would happen if sport had no space in our lives – both physically and metaphorically?Read next