Lennon and McCartney, Bayern Munich and Pep Guardiola, Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl – dynamic partnerships, winning combinations. In a similar way, the adidas Group knows that when it comes to being a more sustainable business, working in partnership with others to improve the whole industry can be the best way.
Sporting goods companies face many common issues, often complex and technical ones such as managing the chemicals used in manufacturing products. So it makes sense to join forces with other parties in the industry to tackle them.
Partnership has always been central to the adidas Group’s philosophy. adidas founder Adi Dassler worked closely with leading athletes of the day to perfect his shoe designs and the company has stuck to this basic principle ever since. The company has also made ‘partnership’ one of the ‘4 Ps’ of its approach to sustainability alongside ‘product’, ‘planet’ and ‘people’.
Sustainability needs partnerships
In the sportswear and apparel sector, the adidas Group works together with various organisations in several ways. These include subject-specific groups such as the Better Cotton Initiative and international efforts to effect change, for example on the issue of trade unions and freedom of association in Indonesia.
The adidas Group’s partnership with bluesign technologies, well-established world leading provider of assessment tools for positive chemistry in the textile industry, enhances the strong programme the company already has in place for managing the chemicals in its products. This programme has four elements to it:
- Chemical inputs: checking the chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process.
- Environmental audits: auditing suppliers to make sure they are meeting the company’s environmental standards.
- Disclosure: reporting the results of the company’s environmental actions and impacts.
- Product safety: ensuring products are safe for people to wear and use.
bluesign technologies will help the adidas Group improve the chemical inputs element of the programme. Through the partnership, its suppliers will be able to access information about the best-in-class chemicals to use for any process.
Partnering with the adidas Group has become a highly valuable benefit not only for bluesign technologies but also for the bluesign® system partners like textile manufacturers and the chemical suppliers. The power of one of the largest global players in the sporting goods industry opens up opportunities to impact strongly the supply chain to shift the whole industry in a more sustainable direction with a profound chemical management system.
How bluesign technologies makes a difference
With decades of experience, bluesign technologies are the acknowledged industry experts in textile industry chemical use and how to avoid using them in ways that harm people or the environment. With this new partnership the adidas Group is adding to its own chemicals know-how by accessing world-class chemical industry expertise.
As reported by Ecotextile News, the renowned environmental magazine for the global textile supply chain, “bluesign is – arguably – the most stringent of the existing textile standards in terms of the limits it places on chemical inputs.” 
bluesign technologies has a bespoke system for assessing chemicals, checking for toxicity and environmental harm. They also audit the companies that make the chemicals before classifying the screened chemicals in a database, grading them either:
- ‘blue’ (all criteria met)
- ‘grey’ (to be used only under certain conditions), or
- ‘black’ (do not use)
This bluesign® ‘bluefinder’ database includes chemicals for all stages of the production process from spinning to garment manufacturing. Access to it will help the adidas Group suppliers make smarter choices about the chemicals used in making its products. This ‘continuous improvement’ chimes perfectly with the company’s approach to improving its environmental impact.
A new way of ‘shopping’
Previously, the adidas Group would have specified a particular finish for a product, and let the supplier choose the chemicals to achieve it – following the adidas Group’s safety and quality requirements, of course. Now when suppliers ‘go shopping’ for chemicals, they will go to the ‘bluesign® store’. Selecting bluesign® approved chemicals helps the company’s suppliers to take their environmental performance to the next level.
This provides a greater degree of assurance for the adidas Group. The company already has quality control measures in place at the design stage. Through its Social and Environmental Affairs team, it also checks that its suppliers are manufacturing goods safely. And now, thanks to the partnership with bluesign technologies, it can guarantee that its suppliers will have chosen the best input chemicals. Smarter shopping, better product.
Starting with strategic suppliers where it places the biggest volumes, the company is assessing the proportion of bluesign® approved chemicals its suppliers currently use. Next, the adidas Group will set targets for suppliers to switch to using bluesign® approved chemicals. Issues of quality and global availability will have to be considered, but the company’s direction of travel is clear: in time, only bluesign® approved chemicals will be used in its supply chain.
The company will be supporting its suppliers in making this change, training them and adapting their production processes so that the suppliers achieve the basic criteria of the bluesign® system. The company’s Global Operations team has a long and successful track record of working in partnership with the company’s suppliers, helping them bring many innovations to the market.
Real change now
What’s most exciting about this partnership with bluesign technologies is that it is about real-world, practical improvements to the way products are made. It will mean some adjustments to production processes so change will not happen overnight. But, in time, it is possible to imagine a future where the adidas Group has a robust and scientific, fact-based input chemicals system – one which can become a role model for the whole apparel industry.
That really would be a partnership where one and one makes three.
 Ecotextile News 2014, Issue No. 62, page 28
bluesign® is a registered trademark of bluesign technologies ag, Switzerland.