Based on a life cycle approach, we take several factors into account when we evaluate the sustainability of materials, such as land use, elimination of hazardous substances, animal welfare, energy consumption and water consumption.
Sustainable and Recycled Materials we use
The most commonly used sustainable materials are recycled polyester, recycled rubber, organic cotton, "Better Cotton", Polylactic Acid (PLA), TENCEL® (a fibre made from wood pulp), and non-mulesed wool for apparel and leather.
We source various recycled materials such as inlay soles, textiles, metals, plastics, packaging and rubber. The companies we work with that make injected plastic plates for football boots are now recycling 99% of that waste back into production. And they have also been able to increase the percentage of rubber and EVA that can be reground and reused in shoes.
adidas is committed to increasing the sourcing volumes of cotton from the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) over the next years. We are a founding member of the BCI initiative. Not only does the BCI aim to reduce the use of pesticides, it also promotes efficient water use, crop rotation and fair working conditions.
In 2017, 93% of the cotton we used globally was Better Cotton, exceeding our original target of 80%. This is a huge step towards our goal of using 100% Sustainable Cotton by 2018. Our success is the result of clear target setting – both with suppliers and with internal teams who supported the sourcing of Better Cotton for our products. The adidas BCI cotton sourcing countries include Turkey, Brazil, US, Mali, Pakistan and India.
Using more sustainable materials such as recycled polyester is one way we seek to improve our environmental footprint while still making high performance products for the athlete. Recycled polyester (PES) is a synthetic fibre based on post-consumer waste, such as plastic bottles and used garments. The raw material is reprocessed and spun into fibres. Using recycled PES has many benefits over virgin polyester that is made from petroleum. It helps us reduce our dependency on petroleum, allows us to discharge less waste and and reduces toxic emissions from incinerators. We commissioned the first so-called "life cycle assessment" of recycled polyester which demonstrated its environmental benefits over virgin polyester. We are currently looking at alternative sources of recycled polyester and continuing to explore how we can use it across more of our product categories.
We are using recycled PES in more and more of our apparel and footwear. For example, recycled PES was the main material in the uniforms of the 70,000 volunteers that helped at the London 2012 Olympic Games. In 2014, our Anthem jacket collection was made with recycled polyester. Versatile and well suited as warm-up jackets for a range of sports, Anthem jackets are used by athletes in American football, football (Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and the German national team warm up in Anthem jackets for example), handball, rugby, running and training. In total, in 2014 we used roughly 11 million yards of recycled polyester which is equivalent to 7 million adidas t-shirts.
Standard nylon is made from petroleum. Recycled nylon is made from post-industrial and post-consumer waste, including discarded industrial fishing nets that are sometimes left in the ocean.
In general, using recycled nylon has many benefits over standard nylon: it helps reduce our dependence on petroleum and allows us to discharge less waste, contributing to a reduction in toxic emissions from incinerators that would otherwise be needed for waste disposal.
As of summer 2015, more than 30% of our swimwear collection includes recycled nylon. We plan to continue increasing this number.
Our supplier ‘framas’ has developed a new sustainable material to be used in the heel counters of adidas footwear products. The heel counter is a little insert in the heel area of the shoe; it is rigid so that it supports and stabilises the wearer’s heel inside the shoe. It is not possible to see the heel counter though; it's internal and covered on both sides by material.
The new heel counter, called Framaprene® ECO, contains more than 50% recycled content made of old food packaging.
Overall, since spring/summer 2014, ‘framas’ is now producing 110 million pairs of heel counters a year for adidas, which means that each year they divert 1,500 tonnes of polystyrene waste from landfill sites.
adidas does not source raw materials from any endangered or threatened species, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in its red list. And our policy also prohibits using leathers from animals that have been inhumanely treated, whether these animals are wild or farmed.
adidas uses processed leather material primarily in footwear products. Various environmental impacts occur at the different stages in the leather supply chain. For example, extended cattle ranching can cause deforestation, and tanning uses significant quantities of water and chemicals. adidas takes steps to address these impacts through active participation in the BLC Leather Working Group which has developed stringent standards and audit protocols and checks compliance through independent monitoring of tannery sites
Materials we do not use
adidas does not source raw materials from any endangered or threatened species, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in its red list. The policy also prohibits using leathers from animals that have been inhumanely treated, whether these animals are wild or farmed.
We do not tolerate animal testing for new product or material developments. And, where necessary, we ask for written confirmation from our licensees, in particular for the cosmetics business, that they strictly adhere to our requirements.
It has been more than ten years since adidas first produced a restricted substances list and nearly as long since we stopped using PVC in mainstream applications. Now the material guidelines are updated twice a year for each new season. So things have come a long way in that time. And the key to more success in the future is closer collaboration with other brands and suppliers.
Below are examples of how we phased out some substances.
In 2000, we were one of the first companies in the global consumer goods sector to decide to eliminate PVC from our products. Alternatives have been found and nearly all styles in our global product range are now PVC-free. However, in a few countries, alternatives are not available so some local production of athletic footwear products still uses PVC. We remain committed to finding solutions in the longer term. In 2003, we also eliminated the usage of polyethylene chloride for having a similar environmental footprint as PVC. We are also encouraging a move to printing with phthalate-free inks. Some of our business units have made the changeover in their owned facilities and more and more of their suppliers are changing over, too.
The Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) typically found in solvents used in our manufacturing process can – in high concentrations – cause breathing difficulties and other health problems for production workers. Therefore, for more than a decade, we have requested that our footwear suppliers significantly reduce the use of VOCs in their manufacturing.
By applying innovative and environmentally-sound bonding and priming technologies and following the adidas guidelines on the use of chemicals, it has been possible for our athletic footwear suppliers to reduce the use of VOCs from well above 100 grams per pair to below 20 grams. 2017 has seen our biggest success so far: we achieved an all-time low of 12 grams of VOCs per pair. The fact that performance improved in every single country compared to 2014 reflects hard work and true commitment across our entire manufacturing base. We plan to continue our success story by further expanding the technologies that lead to VOC emissions reductions, e.g. water-based primers and reactive hot-melt adhesives.
Synthetic fibers are widely used in our industry due to their unique performance properties such as softness to the touch, elasticity, light weight, high durability and superior moisture management. Recent studies, however, show that synthetic fibers can contribute to environmental pollution, particularly through the release of microfibers into the environment and the associated risk of water contamination.
Throughout our strategic priority ‘We value water’, we recognize water is essential for life and a key resource for our industry. Microfiber pollution is a key priority for us which we are proactively working on. It’s a complex challenge for our industry that does not have a single quick solution. We have established a cross-functional project group which embraces the fields of materials, chemistry, testing, sourcing and sustainability. We have also established new partnerships with our supply chain partners and research institutes and are actively driving external industry working groups.
Our key focus areas are:
- Production Phase: Our ambition is to manufacture our products with the minimum amount of detrimental microfiber release into the surrounding environment at all stages of production. We are assessing shedding during production together with some of our manufacturing partners to better understand the challenge and identify viable solutions. Our goal for 2018 is to determine best practices and to give specific guidance to our supply chain partners on mitigation, waste handling and disposal.
- Testing: Currently there is no standardized test method available in our industry to determine shed rates of different materials and products. We are working with several organizations and research institutes to develop and validate a common test method which we expect to be finalized by the end of 2018. This will further support us in defining key research and development priorities.
- Use Phase: We want to create products that shed a minimum of microfibers during their life and communicate best practices to our consumers on how to take care of their products. Until a standardized test method is in place we are cautious to communicate product care instructions to consumers. During 2018 we will focus on internal material testing and validating our tests with external standards.
- Future Materials: In collaboration with our partners in academia and industry, the adidas Future team is working to develop new innovative material solutions for textiles that, if shed, would cause no detrimental impact on the environment.
We have set up multiple external working groups and interdisciplinary projects to drive collaboration within the industry:
- European Outdoor Group (EOG) established a working group with the focus of developing standardized testing standards to measure the shedding of a material. (www.europeanoutdoorgroup.com)
- TextileMission is a three-year project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and led by the Association of the German Sporting Goods Industry (BSI). It consists of multiple leading companies, research institutes and NGOs along the value chain. The project focuses on further root cause analysis, but also looks for innovative solutions to mitigate the issue. (www.textilemission.bsi-sport.de)
- Fashion for Good is a global platform for innovation which convenes brands, producers, retailers, suppliers, non-profit organizations, innovators and funders united in their shared ambition to make all fashion good. (www.fashionforgood.com)
We are actively creating awareness and contributing to finding solutions within our industry. In 2017 we participated in leading industry conferences and held multiple internal workshops and events with our suppliers. These actions will be further strengthened in 2018.