The adidas Sustainability Series
Being in the business of sport for over 70 years has taught adidas many valuable lessons; lessons on winning, losing and adapting to our athletes’ needs, but most importantly we’ve learned to support all our athletes when the odds might be stacked against them.
The current state of the world might initially cause a lot of us to feel defeated and question the impact we can have. Climate change, pollution, plastic waste, water contamination, you name it, it’s happening to our planet.
But our mindset of providing support when an athlete is down and finding new ways to win together is what is driving us as a company to be a better corporate citizen.
We recognize that we are all part of the problem but that doesn’t stop us leading the solution, instead it makes us even more creative, innovative and determined.
Changing our industry
For over 20 years, adidas has been a change leader in sustainability. We were the first to bring eco-innovations to the mass market, we led the industry with the first sustainability report, and we have been listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) every year since its creation in 1999. We’re also a founding member of game-changing initiatives like Better Cotton, Leather Working Group, and Fair Labor Association.
Sustainability is one of the greatest expressions of our purpose, “Through sport, we have the power to change lives.” Because if we don’t protect the ground we’re on, we soon won’t have a space to play sport.
While we raised the bar on environmental standards at our own sites, in our supply chain and for our products, the change is bigger than us. Sustainability is no longer a niche for specialized brands. It’s becoming an expected standard for how every company approaches its business. As a big company, we make a big impact in any action we take. This is why we speak up, not only to help our consumers understand why they should care, but our industry as well.
“The reason why I’m at adidas is that as a big company, we do have power in our industry beyond the amount of products we’re producing. We have a big voice, we sit on the right committees, we’re actively involved with them which gives us a better chance to shift the industry,” explains Erika Benz, Senior Manager Materials Footwear, Environmental Sustainability at adidas.
Raising our voice
Athletes are surrounded by challenging and inspiring support teams, driving them to perform at their best and enabling others to do the same. We cannot raise our voice alone. Conscious collaborations are a must.
Change is a team sport and we’re teaming up with others outside and across our own company’s different functions, brands, and markets to change the way we approach sustainable solutions. Some of our most impactful initiatives have come from partnerships with the likes of the Parley network and Fashion for Good innovation platform, while others like the adidas FUTURECRAFT.LOOP and the Reebok Forever Floatride Grow are born from the materials challenges we set ourselves.
Making quality products is just as important as waste reduction, upholding decent labor, and health and safety standards, refining production methods, innovating recycled materials and activating communities to raise awareness of plastic waste. It’s about the whole sustainable picture, not only what you see on the shelves.
Sustainability goes beyond the shelves
Sustainability is a uniquely holistic initiative for adidas, from our entire supply chain network, to the offices and stores we work in, to the innovative products we create for our customers.
Our foundations are strong, with clear processes in place at adidas and Reebok to support our drive to become a circular company; not only in terms of what we produce, but how we produce. This means all areas of the business are activated throughout the entire supply chain. It’s something that uniquely takes a team effort.
“Over time, sustainability has become a filter for employees on how they approach every aspect of their work,” explains James Carnes, VP Brand Strategy at adidas, in his Creator U Class.
“Everyone approaches sustainability differently. What we tend to do is look into the details, make sure that we do things the right way and incorporate sustainability into everything we do. I’m looking forward to the time when sustainability is going to be the basic consumer ask,” continues Erika Benz.
Ultimately, the details may not be obvious in the end product, but leading sustainability isn’t only about crossing the finish line. It’s about all the unseen hours of training in-between.
A responsible and accountable supply chain
The sustainable solutions we develop target the entire life cycle of sport; how apparel, footwear or equipment is made, sold, played and eventually retired.
Before we even get to the starting line, open and transparent dialogue to set mutual expectations with our suppliers is a must. We have clear policies in place with them and measure their progress with the utmost transparency. For us, setting high standards means having the highest levels of accountability.
We manage our social and environmental impact specifically around water, chemicals, energy usage and workers’ rights.
- Water: Water is both essential for life and increasingly threatened. That’s why we set strong targets for our suppliers to reduce water consumption in our production. We also commit to water conservation practices like sourcing 100% of our cotton sustainably.
- Chemicals: Handling chemicals is often unavoidably part of creating high-performance products. That’s why it’s crucial we do so responsibly across our entire supply chain. We work together with chemical experts, environmental organizations and industry federations to upgrade our end-to-end approach to reducing chemicals.
- Energy: We already achieved our energy reduction targets of 20% by 2020 one year ahead of schedule.
- Labor: We are committed to fair labor practices, fair compensation and safe working conditions throughout our supply chain. We’ve been a Fair Labor Association member since 1999, we measure our factories with a rating system for social compliance (C-KPI) and all our strategic suppliers are disclosed and updated on our website. We achieve key rankings for fair working conditions in the Know The Chain and Corporate Human Rights Benchmark listings.
Starting the marathon
Explore our adidas sustainability progress and the commitments we’ve made for the future in the gallery below (click here to download our sustainability infographic):
Global targets are well-known, but changes on our own doorstep are just as important. Sustainability is a shared commitment among colleagues in adidas and Reebok offices, as well as in retail and distribution centers worldwide.
Plastic bottles are out and reusable cups are in at our restaurants and coffee shops. Sustainable commuting is encouraged and ongoing education on how to live greener lives is supported through our Green Company initiatives. Renewable energy sources for buildings are on the rise. At our HQ in Germany, for instance, we covered our building roofs in PV modules to generate electricity from the sun’s rays and we also built running tracks from recycled product samples.
End plastic waste
Plastic is a problem that has reached unfathomable proportions: for every person on the planet, there is one ton of plastic of which nearly 80 percent has become plastic waste. This waste is destroying the oceans. By 2050, seas will be filled with more plastic than fish.
We commit to end plastic waste and, by 2024, we’ll eliminate virgin polyester in our products completely and go 100% recycled.
To achieve these goals, we foster open-source partnerships and put a high value on collaboration over competition to create sustainable solutions that go beyond our own business and influence.
We innovate to create change
“The way we see the world evolving is to ensure that we capture the material we’re putting out in the market, take it back in and convert it into new products,” says James Carnes, VP Brand Strategy at adidas.
To become a circular company where the products we make can be either recycled, remade or returned to nature we focus our innovation on our Three Loop Strategy.
We collaborate to create change
Being a leader means understanding that our purpose is bigger than ourselves. To make a real difference in creating industry change and developing a new future of fashion, we have to go beyond our own business and team up with creatives and innovators across the globe.
Imagine playing on a team with players who all have the same strengths. To win, you need both diversity of expertise and a complete view of the game. That’s why we work with partners whose expertise complements our extensive experience in sports innovation. Together we push the limits of eco-innovation in this space.
From established companies like Stella McCartney to thought leaders like the Parley network, to scientific start-ups like Carbon and open-source platforms like Fashion for Good, our spectrum of partners reflects our approach to sustainability in general: holistic.
We’re tapped into a strong start-up network as part of our sponsoring and mentoring role in Fashion for Good. Here, we work with other partner companies to accelerate or create pilot projects to benefit our industry’s environmental outlook. One such ongoing partnership is addressing the issue of plastic transport packaging (polybags) with the end objective to create a circular model.
Another pilot program from this collaboration is Infinite Play. Infinite Play is rooted in the idea that if adidas gear is in play, it’s out of landfill and ocean waste. The concept is simple: you wear down your adidas shoes or clothes and, instead of throwing them away, you can return them (in any condition) to adidas and receive a voucher for our online store. Your returned products are then either resold or recycled. At Reebok we partner with the world’s largest fashion resale marketplace thredUp to extend the life of clothing.
Like every good athlete, we are always keeping an eye on the competition and some might be surprised to learn that we don’t exclude teaming up with them for the greater good of the industry.
Running together into a sustainable future
The promise of the world’s first sustainable running shoe made from marine plastic waste, presented at the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York in 2015, ignited the imagination of many.
Not only did this commitment result in some of the most innovative and sustainable sports products ever seen in our industry, it also brought to life in 2017 a running movement committed to ending plastic waste – Run For The Oceans. The worldwide digital run to coincide with World Oceans Day showed that everyone can make an impact – one runner, one company, one partnership at a time.
“adidas’ commitment to sustainability started way before the topic gained public attention. For 20 years, we have been a change leader in our industry. Our fight to end plastic waste is the best expression of our purpose that, through sport, we have the power to change lives. The increasing use of recycled materials is just one example of our sustainability activities. The spectrum ranges from waste prevention and new types of take-back programs for use products, to climate protection. This will contribute to our ultimate goal of climate neutrality in all our activities as well as our supply-chain by 2050,” says Kasper Rorsted, CEO at adidas.