2050 is the year when we at adidas plan to achieve climate neutrality, across our entire value chain. It’s also the year when it’s expected that our oceans will contain more plastic than fish, that is, if we don’t act now. Our solution to help end plastic waste and achieve climate neutrality? Sustainable innovation.
In 2015, adidas presented the first adidas x Parley running shoe made with recycled plastic waste intercepted from beaches and coastal communities at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Since then, adidas has aggressively tackled the use of plastic and introduced recycled polyester across its entire product range. By 2024, adidas will only use recycled polyester wherever possible. Today, more than 90 percent of the polyester used is recycled polyester.
Using recycled materials is just the first step. adidas is also working on taking back used products to extend product lifespan through re-commerce and re-use, as well as repurposing materials to reduce waste. Following successful pilots in the UK and Japan, adidas launched a comprehensive takeback program in the world’s largest sporting goods market, the U.S., in October 2021. Additional markets will follow.
Under the label “Made to be Remade,” we create products that are designed with circularity in mind. These products only use materials which can be returned into an existing recycling stream at the end of their useful lives.
Innovation is deeply rooted in adidas’ culture. The company’s founder, Adi Dassler, was the sporting goods industry’s first inventor. He alone filed over 700 patents. To this day, innovation is core to adidas’ DNA. The adidas Innovation teams in the Franconian town of Herzogenaurach, and in Brooklyn and Portland in the U.S consist of around 200 employees researching new technologies, products and processes. The teams are made up of sports scientists, bio-mechanists, engineers and industrial designers. Their goal is to use more and more sustainable materials while continuing to help athletes perform at their best.
adidas’ ambitious sustainability goals will require further innovation over the coming years. The company is focused on using renewable and recyclable raw materials and processing them on a large scale. These innovations will bring adidas closer to a completely circular economy without compromising performance, which is very much in line with Adi Dassler’s priority of providing the best products for athletes.
Together with our partners, we are working hard to create sustainable, fashionable, performance wear.
As part of our Own the Game strategy, we aim to move to a comprehensive sustainable offering at scale. Our ambition is that 90% of our articles will be sustainable by 2025. We define articles as sustainable when they show environmental benefits versus conventional articles due to the materials used, meaning that they are – to a significant degree – made with environmentally preferred materials. The majority of these are recycled materials or more sustainable cotton. At the same time, innovative materials such as biobased synthetics, and more sustainably grown natural materials are used in a small scale already and will become increasingly relevant in the future. To qualify as a sustainable article, environmentally preferred materials have to exceed a certain pre-defined percentage of the article weight. The applied criteria for environmentally preferred materials and the percentage of the article weight are defined based on standards reflecting latest developments in our industry, competitor benchmarks and expert opinions.
Our sustainable product innovations revolve around three loops.
The Recycled Loop features products that are made in part with recycled materials such as recycled polyester.
Recycled polyester: Polyester is the most common single-used material in adidas products and, by 2024, we aim to replace all virgin polyester with recycled polyester in all products where a solution exists. We set clear internal milestones for product creation teams and have seen great progress throughout the last few seasons. 91% of all polyester used in 2021 was recycled. With that, we are on track to use only recycled polyester from 2024 onwards.
Parley Ocean Plastic: Parley for the Oceans is an environmental organization and global collaboration network. Founded in 2012, Parley aims to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of the oceans, and to inspire and empower diverse groups such as pacesetting companies, brands, organizations, governments, artists, designers, scientists, innovators and environmentalists in the exploration of new ways of creating, thinking and living on our finite, blue planet. Parley Ocean Plastic is a material created from upcycled plastic waste that has been intercepted from beaches and coastal communities before reaching the ocean. Parley for the Oceans works with its partners to collect, sort and transport the recovered raw material (mainly PET bottles) to our supplier who produces the yarn, which is legally trademarked. It is used as a replacement for virgin plastic in the making of adidas x Parley products. In 2015, adidas presented the first adidas x Parley running shoe made with recycled plastic waste intercepted from beaches and coastal communities at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Since then, adidas has aggressively tackled the use of plastic and introduced recycled polyester across its entire product range. In 2021, we produced close to 18 million pairs of shoes containing Parley Ocean Plastic.
All of the recycled polyester, polyamide, elastane and recycled cotton yarns used in our products are either certified according to Recycled Claim Standard (RCS) or Global Recycled Standard (GRS). These are international, voluntary standards that set requirements for third-party certification of recycled input and chain of custody. This means that we have a transaction certificate for every yarn with recycled content that is used in our products. A Transaction Certificate (TC) assures that a specific shipment of products received is certified to a Textile Exchange standard. They are issued by a certification body and lists the actual certified products and shipment details including the buyer’s name and address and declares the certification status of the shipped goods. In addition, all Tier 3 (raw material), Tier 2 (material) and Tier 1 (finished goods) suppliers that handle these yarns, materials or products with recycled content, hold a scope certificate (SC) that verifies that a company is qualified to produce goods to a given standard. This means that a supplier has the capability to separate certified materials from non-certified materials. These certificates are managed by Textile Exchange (TE), a global non-profit organization focused on accelerating the use of preferred fibers across the global textile industry, with brands, retailers, and suppliers as members. adidas is a member of Textile Exchange.
The Circular Loop includes products that are made to be worn, returned, ground up, and remade into new products.
Made to be Remade (MTBR): Through ‘Made to be Remade’ (MTBR), we have developed a line of products that take recycling into consideration right from the initial design. For example, this means products could be created with just one material and once they reach the end of their useful life, they can be shredded and recycled for use in new products. Since April 2021, an Ultraboost running shoe has been available under the Made to be Remade label. The shoe features a prominently displayed QR code that can be scanned using the adidas app and guides consumers through the takeback process. Other MTBR products include the Stan Smith MTBR and Terrex Free Hiker MTBR, and MTBR apparel products for Running and adidas Stella McCartney. Additional products will follow over time. While we are successfully recycling products made from single materials, going forward we will innovate around products made from multiple materials and increase numbers to drive impact at scale.
Choose to Give Back: In the meantime, we have also launched ‘Choose to Give Back’, a resale program for worn products. Starting in October of 2021 in the U.S., clothing, shoes, and accessories in any condition and made by any brand can be sent to us. Products in good condition are resold through our partner, thredUP, with the aim of finding a new owner for as many products as possible. This is part of our commitment to extend the lifecycle of our products, and going forward, we will scale the program and roll it out to more markets.
Regenerative Loop – Made with Nature
Regenerative Loop products are made in part with natural and renewable materials, proving that a reliance on finite fossil fuels, such as crude oil, can be reduced in the future. We call these products ‘Made with Nature.’ An example of products to be launched under this headline was presented in spring of 2021 and included the Stan Smith Mylo. This prototype is made from mycelium, a mushroom-based material developed in collaboration with Bolt Threads.
adidas is also collaborating with startups, such as Spinnova, Infinited Fiber and Pond, to work on materials made of natural resources that we can use in our product. Together, we are striving to substitute fossil-based plastic materials with plant-based raw materials, all without compromising our performance proposition.
Together with Spinnova, we have developed a textile fiber derived from natural base materials, such as wood or textile and food waste, without harmful chemicals and with a lower carbon footprint than conventional materials.
adidas is collaborating with the Infinited Fiber Company, and together we have developed a cellulose-based material derived from recycled cotton-rich textile waste and boasts properties like those of cotton with a lower carbon footprint compared to conventional materials.
adidas is working with Danish startup Pond on the development of a recyclable, high-performance material derived from plant waste. In addition to developing textiles, the adidas Innovation team is driving the development of footwear cushioning made from sustainable base materials that can be processed with a reduced impact on the environment compared to conventional materials.
Since 2018, 100% of the cotton we use globally has been more 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. Not only does Better Cotton aim to reduce the use of pesticides, it also promotes efficient water use, crop rotation and fair working conditions.
adidas prohibits the use of leathers, hides or skins from animals that have been inhumanely treated, whether these animals are wild or farmed. Furthermore, 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.
Since 2006, adidas has been 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 greater 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 or 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 source leather from have achieved at least a Silver rating, and more than 80% of tanneries achieved Gold rating.
Leather traceability is key to avoid deforestation. The LWG has been working to improve leather traceability for many years (see LWG website on Traceability, LWG website on Deforestation), 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 (Sections 6&7), for instance in Brazil, where suppliers sourcing raw material 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 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 back to the slaughterhouse, and their traceability procedure is audited by the LWG. Furthermore, they only buy hides from slaughterhouses that have 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 leather suppliers implemented an internal policy that requires all of their Brazilian raw material suppliers to confirm in writing that they have traceability systems in place. This is to ensure 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 that their raw material suppliers 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 leather 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.
Packaging protects our products during shipping, handling and storage, and ensures that our consumers receive them in sound condition. When it comes to packaging, we are working towards the following sustainable design principles:
Avoid or reduce packaging wherever possible
Use recycled and recyclable materials
Use materials that have established recycling waste streams
Avoid gluing and laminations
Design the packaging from a single material where possible to improve recyclability
Design packaging for assembly at the point of manufacture to decrease transportation impacts
Design for disassembly
Design for distribution
Clearly mark the materials on the packaging components to facilitate recycling
Avoid materials which contain restricted substances
We have already made considerable progress, e.g., by reducing the weight of our standard shoe boxes, changing our transport boxes from double-wall to single-wall, eliminating the use of shoe stuffing and shifting to the use of recycled or certified materials.
Where the use of plastics is still unavoidable, such as in transport packaging, adidas is working to find sustainable alternatives. For example, together with the global innovation platform ‘Fashion for Good’, the company explored the development of a recycling infrastructure and innovative recycling processes for used polybags, testing the technical feasibility of plastic bag circularity. A summary of the pilot’s success is available here.
In addition, we have succeeded in changing practically all of the plastic bags used to protect finished products during transport from our manufacturing facilities, from virgin material to 100% recycled low-density polyethylene (LDPE) by the end of 2021. Most of the few remaining virgin plastic bags cannot currently be replaced, as no alternative is available in the production country and import restrictions are in place. As part of our transition to 100% recycled LDPE bags, we re-engineered them to reduce their weight by 20%. This directly translates into a related footprint reduction.
In addition, we are exploring plastic-free alternatives.
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, and any kind of animal fur. 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.
Click here for more details and download our 'A-01' policy for restricted substances.
Synthetic fibers are widely used in our industry due to their unique performance properties such as elasticity, light weight, and high durability. We are aware that products made from synthetic fibers can have a negative environmental impact when producing materials and in their use phase. We also acknowledge that fiber fragmentation is a complex challenge for our industry – one we are proactively addressing.
adidas is co-founder of The Microfibre Consortium (TMC) and signatory to The Microfibre 2030 Commitment. TMC is working with signatories on guidance for the industry, and facilitating a stakeholder working group in collaboration with Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) to define mitigation strategies for fiber fragmentation during manufacturing.