Jul 06, 2023

How One Team is Tackling the Challenge of Plastic Waste in Latin America

Inspired by sport and driven by purpose, see how team adidas Latin America is looking to make a big impact in their local community.
by Alvaro Olavarria

No matter where in the world you are, at adidas, sustainability is a huge thing. While there are pillars and priorities all aligned with our strategy, there’s also the topic of employee engagement. This isn’t directly related to how we run our business, it’s more about the culture of sustainability within our offices, with many initiatives run by our ‘green teams’.

The green teams run their own activities in a way that helps instil the importance of sustainability, with a view to make a difference on a personal level. In Latin America, our employee engagement approach to sustainability is something that grew organically, and it’s something we wanted everyone to get on board with. So, what are we doing? Well, one successful initiative has been our beach cleanup program.

The adidas Chile team celebrating after a successful beach cleanup.
The volume of plastic waste collected by the team isn't insignificant.
One of the Latin America beach cleanups in full swing.
Proud to participate.

From humble beginnings

It all started with the planning for our Earth Day activation back in 2022. We’d planned a couple of beach cleanups to support one of our brand campaigns (as we’d done every year); however, we quickly realized that the hype around these events was quite exciting.

People were so happy to be a part of it and so we kept things going and the beach cleanups became a regular event. We’ve developed a loyal following, but still see people joining at random.

Around 90% of the participants are adidas employees. To boost adidas representation, we invite every single department, we invite our interns, we invite our Senior Leadership Team, we invite our General Manager, our adidas Runners community… We invite everyone.

Our employees are the best participants in this event because they always want to join in. We send out the invite on various platforms, including our internal communication channels, and say like “Hey, we’re going to have a beach cleanup” and it’s like they join in automatically. That’s really nice.

adidas Colombia sorting waste recovered from nearby rivers.adidas Colombia sorting waste recovered from nearby rivers.

Finding a support network for growth

As things developed, we started to get a lot of support from other people outside of adidas. Soon enough, neighboring companies wanted to chip in and support. From relatively humble beginnings, we started to formalize a more sustainable approach, and as we are all fans of measuring our impact, we created KPIs. Then we thought, “ok, we need to do something to keep this momentum going.” That’s when we started with a robust plan to intercept more than 11 tons of plastic in 2022.

We joined forces with CEMEX and four or five other local companies, government organizations, and even the US Embassy. They all just wanted to support. This was also really good because we got more people to help us do what we wanted to do. It also helped in terms of budget management, because you know that budget is always a question. This is something we’re very proud of, as none of this is driven directly by our business… It’s driven by the people of adidas.

See the volume of plastic waste collected by the Perú team – it’s not insignificant.See the volume of plastic waste collected by the Perú team – it’s not insignificant.

So yes, we collect plastic waste. I guess the next question is what we do with them all.

For every beach cleanup, we get a report from a local recycling company. Our goal, is that 100% of the waste recovered has a second life – whether it’s recycled or co-processed, nothing can end up in landfill. Our partners then give us visibility of what happens with the waste after each cleanup.

I think that what we have done in Latin America, is a nice benchmark and a very good example of how teams in the other offices could get together and make a positive impact.

A springboard for further efforts

We learned a lot in 2022 and we established some very meaningful relationships with external partners, so for 2023, we want to take these learnings and make an even bigger impact. This year, we decided to shake things up and tackle the plastic problem differently, so, in Panama, we’re kicking off a program called GREEN SCHOOLS. Basically, we are investing volunteer time and some budget to install waste recycling facilities in nearby schools, and the first one is in community called Escuela Concepción close to our Latin America headquarters.

These schools are in communities with a low waste management culture, which are usually the communities that are responsible for the plastic waste we see on our coastlines. Besides installing the infrastructure to enable a greener future, the program also offers trainings to teachers, parents, and students. We understand that if you tackle the issue from the source, the impact is bigger and longer lasting

Involving the little ones on this journey is paramount.Involving the little ones on this journey is paramount.

All the green teams spread across Latin America should be proud of the impact they have created. Not only by the tangible positive impact in the environment, but all the awareness created both inside and outside of adidas.

And I’d love to see others taking on a similar approach.

Whether it’s inside or outside your organization, there are so many people that want to participate in initiatives that help spread awareness and also leave a positive impact in the environment. Any action counts, whether small or big, it all adds to the overall goal to make the world a better place.