The German shoemaker is committed to a better shoe, but we need a better process. Is Adidas a sustainable brand?
In December, Adidas announced plans to make 60% of its products using sustainable materials. They join a growing list of corporations changing their strategies to help build a healthier planet.
Let’s find out if Adidas is sustainable. Do they put their money where their mouth is?
Dig deeper → 2 min
The activewear brand ‘Adidas’ began in the quaint town of Bavaria, Germany, in 1949. It was founded by Adolf Dassler (the brother of Rudolf Dassler, founder of Puma). The fascinating origins of this brother-shoe rivalry are for an entirely different time. To scratch the surface, they were both members of the Nazi party in the 1930s.
His brother Rudolf was more enthusiastic about politics, but they both worked closely with the government. They made sports shoes for the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Hitler Youth clubs.
Adidas, Sustainable Materials & Packaging
The #2 sportswear supplier in the world sources recycled materials for inlay soles, textiles, metals, plastics, packaging, and rubber. Last year, Adidas ramped up its production of recycled materials. And they are setting some ambitious waste goals for the 2020s.
Adidas is shifting to 100% recycled polyester by 2024. Last year, more than half came from recycled polyester. Meanwhile, 100% of Adidas cotton is backed by the Better Cotton Initiative and has been since 2018.
Adidas also has a full product line made from Primeblue and Primegreen. Primeblue derives from ocean plastic, and Primegreen comes from plant-derived materials and other natural sources.
Adidas partnered with Parley, an organization dedicated to ocean waste clean-up, to remove plastic from its supply chain. The partnership has already replaced the equivalent of billions of plastic bottles by sourcing materials from ocean plastic.
Animal welfare is also a consideration for the Sports Giant. Adidas does not use angora, cashmere, or other exotic animal skins or hair, which is a step in the right direction. However, Adidas does use leather, wool, and down feathers without specifying sources. Certifications are critical because the leather, wool, and the down industry is notorious for its unethical treatment of animals.
Sustainable Energy and Resources
With 2017 emissions as a baseline, Adidas plans to cut its GHG emissions by 30% in 2030.
Likewise, Adidas expects to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Sounds familiar, nothing special there. Regarding water use, their site mentions the following:
We aim to reduce water usage by 35% per employee by 2020 (2008 baseline) and reduce water intensity at our strategic suppliers by 20% by 2020 (2014 baseline).
In 2020, they expected to remove hazardous chemicals from their supply chain. I’m looking for a follow-up on that.
Transparency & Ethics
Adidas has a history of workers’ rights violations.
Recently, they committed to a slave-free supply chain. But in 2020, a study by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) linked Adidas to forced Uighur labor.
How can we make a safe purchase bearing ethics in mind? As it stands today, I’d still classify Adidas as fast fashion.
According to Forbes, Adidas told ASPI they had no direct contractual relationships with the suppliers indicated in the report but could not rule out a link further down their supply chain.
Adidas’ PR team says that “being a sustainable business is about striking a balance between shareholder expectations and the needs and concerns of our employees, the workers in our supply chain, and the environment.”
I guess sustainability for workers’ rights only goes as far as profits. In the Adidas world, everyone is equal, but some are just more equal than others.
Putting ethics aside, large corporations need to manage shareholder expectations. I get that. But when you emphasize shareholders as part of “being a sustainable business,” you may be referring to quarterly profits.
Shareholders want short-term results. And that strategy can hinder long-term goals like sustainability, even if shareholders say they want it. Managing shareholder expectations is not an excuse to take less action; it’s a reason.
Is Adidas sustainable?
So, is Adidas sustainable? Well, it’s a complicated organization with work to be done. They are making progress on the product side but still face serious ethical concerns on the supply chain.
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