The guiding principle of Adi Dassler, the founder of adidas, is simple: to make athletes better. That is why, at adidas, innovation is at the core of all our products. The choice of materials and how they are manufactured are the two main ways by which our innovation teams can influence the environmental footprint of our products. To mention some examples: Avoiding oil-based plastic helps reduce carbon emissions. Thinner or lighter materials mean less waste and less embedded carbon. Dry-dyeing clothes saves water, chemicals and energy. Approaching the innovation challenge from an environmental perspective helps us make products that are better for consumers and better for the planet, too.
Here are examples of where environmentally friendly innovative ideas and new technologies have been used in the creation of our products.
Since 2015, adidas has partnered up with Parley for the Oceans, an environmental organization and global collaboration network. As a founding member, adidas supports Parley for the Oceans in its education and communication efforts and commits to the Parley A.I.R. (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) strategy. We aim to avoid the use of plastic in our own operations, are working to prevent plastic from entering the oceans and are using Parley Ocean Plastic as an eco-innovative replacement for virgin plastic. We are driving eco-innovation around materials and products, and new ways of using them, with the ultimate goal of reinventing current plastic and instead transforming it into performance sportswear.
In 2018, we continued to roll out Parley Ocean Plastic across our key categories and were able to exceed our target, with more than five million pairs of shoes containing Parley Ocean Plastic made.
adidas strengthens its commitment to tackling plastic waste with the reveal of FUTURECRAFT.LOOP - a 100% recyclable performance running shoe. The FUTURECRAFT.LOOP project is aimed at tackling the problem of plastic waste, enabling a “closed loop” or circular manufacturing model, where the raw materials can be repurposed again and again. But not just repurposed into a water bottle or a tote, but into another pair of high-performance running shoes.
Sport Infinity is a research project led by adidas and funded by the European Commission, which brings together a variety of industry and academic experts, and combines brokendown sports products with excess materials from other industries.
The adidas Futurecraft Biofabric prototype shoe features an upper made from 100% Biosteel® fiber, a nature-based and completely biodegradable high-performance fiber, developed by the German biotech company AMSilk. The material offers a unique combination of properties that are crucial in performance, such as being 15% lighter in weight than conventional synthetic fibers as well as having the potential to be the strongest fully natural material available.
Solution dyeing is a dyeing process that takes place at the fiber production stage. It combines colored pellets (‘masterbatch’) with traditional non-colored polyester pellets that take on the color of the masterbatch. This pie-colored mixture is then melted, extruded into filaments and spun into yarn. As the yarn is already colored, there is no need to dye the fabric. This way of dyeing results in less water and energy usage as well as reduced chemical usage than in the traditional fabric dyeing process. Thanks to excellent light and color fastness of the fibers, they can be processed like regular fibers.
Solution dyeing is a technology that can support adidas’ ambitions to manufacture its products in the most sustainable way. We aim to increase the use of solution dyeing where possible.
DryDye technology is a polyester fabric dyeing process that uses no water, 50% fewer chemicals and 50% less energy than the traditional fabric dyeing process1. It usually takes 25 litres of water to dye a t-shirt; not with DryDye. Instead of using water as the dye medium, dye is injected into the fabric using compressed carbon dioxide. After the dyeing cycle, the carbon dioxide is gasified, so that the dye condenses and separates from the gas. Thus, the clean carbon dioxide can be recycled and pumped back to the dyeing vessel.
The adidas brand first introduced the technology to the market in 2012, with a limited collection of 50,000 t-shirts. Since then, the product offer integrating DryDye fabric has steadily increased, reaching four million yards of DryDye fabric produced by the end of 2014, and saving 100 million litres of water. Limited to apparel so far, this game-changing technology will be introduced to footwear in the 2016 adidas collection. Our DryDye technology is winning plaudits from both industry and consumers. In 2013, adidas received the OutDoor industry award for its Spring/Summer 2014 Terrex Swift DryDye teeshirt. The award recognizes ‘products of high ecological and sustainable value’.
1 Claims are based on a Life Cycle Assessment by DyeCoo Textile Systems BV.
We use the term NoDye to refer to materials used in their natural color state. The fabric follows the traditional material manufacturing processes but skips the dyeing. By skipping the dyeing step, the overall production process uses less water, less energy and fewer chemicals. We first introduced NoDye to the market in 2014 with items in adidas Outdoor, Originals, Running and Training. Since then, we have continued to expand our NoDye product offering.
The adidas low-waste initiative produces footwear and sports apparel with fewer parts, recycled materials and maximum pattern efficiency, aiming to reduce material waste.
After the successful launch of the Element Soul shoe in the running category in fall/winter 2012, its successor, the Element Voyager shoe, was brought to market in the summer season 2013. Its main features are:
- It has only 12 parts compared to 30 in an average running shoe – a 60% decrease in the number of parts and 500g less waste per shoe.
- With 95% pattern efficiency, the Element Voyager is down to 5% waste.
- The complete Element Voyager shoe is made with environmentally preferred materials.
For the spring/summer 2014 collection, a dancing shoe has been manufactured following the low-waste approach - it is the Kayley low-waste shoe. With more than 90% pattern efficiency, the Kayley shoe is another product manufactured by maximising pattern efficiency and therefore reducing waste without compromising on style and performance.
2014 was another great year for adidas' low-waste initiative as we applied what we learned making the niche Element Voyager low-waste shoe to the new Duramo 6. Without compromising the Duramo’s performance, we reassessed every detail of its construction and design through the lens of our low-waste approach. Wherever possible, we streamlined and simplified. High pattern-efficiency, combined printing processes and fewer parts and colours all reduce waste. The main upper part of the shoe is built from only four pieces and designed to be fully computerstitched, while sole-glueing is automated, requiring less glue and making manufacturing quicker. We made the Duramo 6 as light as possible, for example replacing the traditional sock liner with a special strobel board (a comfortable, pliable layer of material). We also incorporated environmentally preferred materials where possible. Less waste, fewer parts, more sustainable materials – a winning combination.
In apparel, adidas produced a full running line featuring t-shirts, tanks, tights, skirts and shorts with 95% pattern efficiency (only 5% waste). Finally, for spring/summer 2014, the adidas by Stella McCartney range also includes a low-waste t-shirt, sweatshirt and knit-shorts.
FORMOTION™ is a free-moving heel system that is decoupled from the sole which allows a pair of trainers to adapt to each individual’s running style to give a smoother running experience.
Sometimes our learning comes from another industry; the hot runner technology we use for some of our FORMOTION™ heel components has been widely used in other areas such as the automotive sector. The hot runners used in FORMOTION™ reduce waste by eliminating sprue units. The sprue is the passage through which melted plastic is injected. During the injection process the melt hardens in the sprue, which means it needs to be removed from the finished product and thrown away. Eliminating sprues thanks to the use of hot runners has reduced material waste by up to 50%. A modular mould system allowing for the same mould base to be used on different products also reduces waste. And using lighter, stiffer materials means less material is used and also cuts down on carbon emissions because the finished product is lighter to transport.
Finally, for our current development, the amount of glue used has been reduced by using laser welding or a mechanical locking design, thereby reducing emissions. And where glue is used, the team has specified water-based glues as much as possible.
To summarise, the environmental benefits of FORMOTION™ are:
- Using hot runners means up to 50% less material waste.
- Less glue so fewer toxic emissions.
- Lightweight construction technologies reduces material use and CO2 emissions from transport.
- Modular mould system allows mould bases to be shared between products and thus reduces mould material waste.
TRANSPORT AND PACKAGING
At adidas, we aim to avoid plastic waste and the use of recycled plastic not only in our products but also when it comes to transportation. One example is the use of polybags. They are a highly effective plastic packaging for protecting products during shipping, handling and storage, and are widely used across the fashion industry to ensure a safe arrival of garments to the consumer. With this in mind adidas is striving to develop and implement a solution for a circular use of polybags. The global sustainable innovation platform Fashion for Good is an important partner for us to achieve this goal.
- As a first step, we are already transitioning to using completely recycled polybags from 2021 onwards. With this approach we will reduce the amount of plastic waste we create.
- As of March 2020, we have implemented a pilot scheme in London to test and establish an infrastructure in which circular polybags could exist: Through this program, polybags will be collected and recycled from select retail stores in central London.
- In Spain, we are testing a complete recycling loop for polybags called the 'Circular Polybag Pilot'. It focuses on manufacturing a suitable polybag by using post-consumer polybag waste. One of the industry challenges it seeks to address is how to deal with ink and adhesive contaminants during the recycling process.