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 we use are “Better Cotton”, recycled polyester, recycled nylon, recycled rubber, algae-based EVA, TENCEL, water-based polyurethane (PU), and recycled thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).
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 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.
We are a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). 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 2018, 100% of the cotton we used globally was sustainable cotton, that means Better Cotton or organic cotton. 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.
Recycled polyester (rPES) is a synthetic fiber based on waste, such as plastic bottles and used garments. The raw material is reprocessed and spun into fibers. Using recycled polyester has many benefits over virgin polyester. It helps us to reduce our dependency on non-renewable petroleum and decreases our carbon impact when compared to conventional polyester. Polyester is the most used material in adidas products, and using more recycled polyester is one way we seek to improve our environmental footprint while still making high-performance products for the athlete. We aim to replace all virgin polyester with recycled polyester in all adidas and Reebok products where a solution exists by 2024, and have set clear internal milestones for our product creation teams to help achieve this target.
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.
One of our suppliers 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 contains more than 50% recycled content made of old food packaging.
adidas prohibits the use of leathers, hides or skins from animals that have been inhumanely treated, whether these animals are wild or farmed. Further, adidas does not source or process 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. See further below to get to our Policy for Restricted Substances A-01.
As of 2005, adidas is an active member of the Leather Working Group (LWG), which is a multi-stakeholder group that promotes sustainable business practices within the leather industry. The LWG has developed stringent standards and audit protocols benchmarked against industry best practices, and checks compliance through independent monitoring. Our participation in the LWG supports the goal to improve the leather manufacturing industry by creating alignment on environmental priorities, bringing visibility to best practices and providing guidelines for continual improvement.
Hides used for our products are sourced from tanneries audited by the LWG with a Gold, Silver and Bronze Rating, and therefore fulfill the highest standards in the industry. The LWG protocol covers 99% of adidas’ leather volume, sourced from tanneries across the globe, including those in Asia, who source hides mainly from South and North America. All of the tanneries we sourced leather from had achieved at least Silver rating, and more than 80% of tanneries achieved Gold rating.
The LWG has been working to improve leather traceability for many years (see LWG Statement on Traceability), and ensures that tanneries have visibility on their raw material through the supply chain. To guarantee that suppliers are not involved in any form of deforestation practices, the LWG has defined clear criteria for traceability in the LWG Audit Protocol (Section 4), for instance for Brazil. Accordingly, those suppliers sourcing raw material in Brazil need to demonstrate traceability to the slaughterhouse, including the date of slaughter. Furthermore, suppliers must ensure that meat packers, where the material originates, meet all listed criteria. A signed declaration is required from the slaughterhouse clearly demonstrating compliance. Following the LWG’s introduction of hide traceability into the LWG audit protocol, a traceability score is awarded to the leather manufacturer and can be publicly reviewed.
TRACEABILITY AT ITS BEST: BEST PRACTICE FROM OUR SUPPLIERS
Traceability is being championed by our partners throughout the leather supply chain. For instance, one of our largest full-grain leather suppliers has verified that all of their hides are traceable to the slaughterhouse, and their traceability procedure is audited by the LWG. Furthermore, they only buy hides from slaughterhouses that have the proper permission to operate in each of the countries from which they source, and they comply with the local regulations related to environmental requirements and animal welfare policies.
Over ten years ago, another of our largest full-grain suppliers implemented an internal policy that requires all of their Brazilian raw material suppliers to commit in writing that they have traceability systems in place. This is to assure that all raw material supplied originates from slaughterhouses and farms located outside of the ‘Amazon Legal’. The systems that they operate in conjunction with their Brazilian raw material suppliers allow them to not only identify the tannery where the leather was processed, but also to trace the slaughter date and place. Each year, they request their raw material suppliers to update their commitment to the policy to make sure that none of the hides delivered are sourced from the Amazon Legal. The LWG has verified their ability to trace the raw material from their Brazilian suppliers holding a Grade A traceability rating from the LWG.
Another of our largest split suppliers confirmed that tanneries can only source their raw material from LWG Gold rated members, and they further require their suppliers to add their slaughterhouses’ certificate to ensure all the wet blue splits from Brazil are not coming from the Amazon region. As such they ensure that their operation is not involved with deforestation.
Click here to learn more about our partnership with the Leather Working Group.
Materials we do not use
In 1998, adidas first produced its restricted substances list and nearly as long since we stopped using PVC in mainstream applications. As of 2017 more than 99% of our products are free of PFC. Our 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.
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. Our 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.
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.
In 2013, in the framework of the Joint Roadmap for the elimination of hazardous chemicals by 2020, we committed to phase out the use of long-chain PFCs by no later than January 1, 2015. As a further step, we have committed to and also achieved being 90% PFC free in our products as of June 15, 2014, and 99% PFC-free by no later than December 31, 2017. By the end of 2018, we met the target to uphold our commitment of being more than 99% free of poly- and perfluorinated substances (PFCs) in our products for the fall / winter 2019 season. Click here to read more about our chemical management program.
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 as well as environmentally sound bonding and priming technologies while following the adidas guidelines on the use of chemicals, our athletic footwear suppliers have been able to reduce the use of VOCs from well above 100 grams per pair
in 1999 to around 11 grams in 2018. 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 and we recognize the importance of taking responsibility for this topic as a sporting goods company. It’s a complex challenge for our industry that does not have a single quick solution. We have established a cross-functional working group, are closely collaborating with our supply chain partners and research institutes, and are actively driving external industry working groups, including the newly formed Microfibre Consortium. In the absence of a definition for microfibers that is widely accepted across the industry, we as a company are concerned primarily with those fibers within the size range of 5 millimeters down to 1 micrometer.
We have clearly defined our key focus areas:
- Production Phase: Our ambition is to manufacture our products with the minimum amount of detrimental microfiber release into the surrounding environment during material production. We are assessing shedding during production together with some of our manufacturing partners to better understand the challenge and identify viable solutions. In 2019, we are working to develop specific guidelines for our supply chain partners on mitigation actions, such as microfiber waste collection, 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 currently working with several organizations and research institutes to validate and align on a common test method which we expect to be available in 2019. This will further support us in defining key research and development priorities.
- Material Evolution: We want to create products that shed a minimum of microfibers during their life. Until a standardized test method is in place, we are cautious about taking specific actions to reduce the shedding potential beyond the existing information on labels of a garment. In 2019, we will try to better understand the factors that influence the shedding of materials based on a systematic screening approach using the standardized test method.
- Future Materials: In collaboration with our partners in academia and industry, the adidas Future team is working to develop new innovative and disruptive material solutions for textiles.
- We are founding members of The Microfibre Consortium, a federation with the goal to develop aligned and harmonized science-based tools to be implemented in the textile industry. The focus is on testing and the production phase.
- We are an associate member of the project ‘TextileMission’, 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.
- We are a partner of Fashion for Good, 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.
- The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is proactively coordinating known research projects and reports so as to avoid duplication of efforts across the industry, academia and scientific communities, and has launched a Microfibers Research Cohort — including adidas and other brands — to coordinate joint funding for research priorities in accordance with the cross-sector Microfiber Action Roadmap. OIA’s Government Affairs Team also engages with legislators at the state level to educate them about the outdoor industry’s challenges, concerns and proactive efforts.
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. In 2018, we held a ‘Microfibre Day’ at our headquarters in Germany for our own employees and external invitees to attend. During this event, we shared the work we are doing internally and received valuable input from external stakeholders to drive the topic forward. Following on from this event, we are working toward the formation of sub-working groups which will be focused on specific areas and create industry-wide actions, potentially driven through the Microfibre Consortium.