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Sustainability at adidas: Water, Engagement via SMS, Volunteerism

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Investment & Markets

Yesterday, the adidas Group released its 2012 Sustainability Report, which focuses on the company’s work on environmental, supply chain and community work. As is the tone of most current sustainability and CSR (corporate social responsibility) reports, “innovation” is the clarion call that rings throughout adidas’ 100 page report.

So whether the company tries new approaches when communicating with workers within its supply chain, rolls out new, modern and more sustainable fabric or motivates its workers to volunteer within the communities in which they work, adidas is working on some compelling programs that could inspire other companies to launch similar initiatives. Clearly some will flatline, others will thrive.

Here are some highlights from adidas’ recent work:

Innovative fabrics

It is no secret the apparel industry has one of the largest impacts on the planet and people, and for the most part not in a good way. One step adidas took late last year was a rollout of shirts using the company’s new waterless dying, DryDye technology. Rather than consuming the typical 25 liters of water necessary to dye one t-shirt, the DryDye technology uses none--instead, the dye is injected using compressed carbon dioxide. The result is a garment using not only 50 percent less chemicals and energy, but in the long run has a lower environmental impact because the CO2-based dye actually lingers in the fabric longer. So far, adidas has colored over 50,000 shirts using this technology.

Where adidas is vague, however, is about the long term viability of this new method. Could CO2 dying become a game changer that can reduce the fashion industry’s excessive water consumption? Is it cost-competitive for the company and consumers? What are the obstacles to scaling this technology?


Product samples may be fun, but they sure are wasteful. Adidas designers and marketers are turning to virtual technology to share ideas and communicate with sales reps--and in the last two years, reduced the number of samples made from 2011 to 2012 by 600,000 compared to what the company sent out during 2010. Virtual fashion is not only breathtaking, but saves resources--watch for more firms to do the same.

Volunteerism in Brazil

The evidence suggests that interest in socially conscious companies is actually higher in developing economies; hence more companies, local and international, are keen on enacting CSR in emerging markets. One adidas program that turns heads is Ginga Social in Brazil. The sports-based program in football-mad Brazil, in a partnership adidas runs with Gol de Letra, leverages coaching to impart life skills and values to children and teens between the ages of seven and 17. For now, the program operates in low income neighborhoods in Sâo Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Salvador da Bahia. These 2014 World Cup host cities are also home to neighborhoods where poverty is still a festering problem and opportunities to engage in sports is limited.

Grievances in the supply chain via SMS

Last year, one of adidas’ largest footwear suppliers in Indonesia agreed to a pilot program in which employees with grievances to air could communicate them by texting from their mobile phones. The grievances-by-SMS system was cost-effective to install, allows workers to air concerns from anywhere and can give the factory’s managers a better idea of where to focus on improvement. The communication was also two-way: employees who opted into the program could also gain updates from the factory’s management. The result posed challenges for the factory: 79 percent of all texts sent were related to grievances in the workplace. Not a flawless system that can cure all the ills typical in garment and footwear factories, but far more innovative than popping a DVD into a machine and saying your workers are “trained.”

For additional information on the adidas Group’s sustainability goals versus the results, the company also provides a brief report outlining its recent performance.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credits: adidas]

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

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