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Leon Kaye headshot

Sustainability is About Saving Sport, Says Adidas

By Leon Kaye

Sporting apparel companies, including Adidas, have been largely proactive on the sustainability front over the past several years. Once a villain due to exposés over human rights violations in its supply chain, Nike has become a leader in revamping its supply chain and developing more sustainable fibers for its shoes and apparel. Puma has also been a leader in manufacturing items out of recycled materials while integrating environmental metrics into its financial reporting.

These companies really have no choice: As athletic apparel has surged in popularity -- seen as no longer solely exercise wear, but in fact everyday fashion -- these companies must be stewards of the environment if they are going to have a steady and scaleable supply of materials such as cotton.

To that end, Adidas announced that it is retooling its sustainability strategy in order to ensure that sporting activities will long endure. Revealed in its most recent sustainability report with its catchphrase “Sport Needs a Space,” Adidas says it has its eyes on goals for 2020, including targets related to water, materials, energy, workers and health.

Such metrics, says Adidas, are crucial “to ensure that sport continues to be an infinite source of happiness,” and inspire generations to value the spaces in which they can enjoy athletics and sport. According to an Adidas spokesperson, the company adapted this approach after exhaustive consumer research undertaken to gauge how important sport is for values, well-being and all of society. The company said 93 percent of the people interviewed for this study said they would “hate or dislike” a world that lacked places in which they could participate in any kind of athletic activities. Therefore, at a high level, the company’s strategy has three pillars: where sport is made (as in factories), sold (as in trade show and retail locations), and played (both manmade and natural settings).

Hence, on water, Adidas has set some ambitious goals for the next five years. The company will work with its “strategic suppliers” to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent; apparel suppliers must strive to reduce their water use by half; and within Adidas’ own sites, a 35 percent water reduction per employee is the target. Adidas has also promised that it will develop clean water access programs in some communities in which it operates, but those details, as of now, are vague.

Adidas is taking a similar approach when it comes to waste. Suppliers will have to reduce their waste by 20 percent; waste diversion efforts within Adidas’ operations are set to increase by 50 percent; and the company also seeks to reduce paper consumption by 75 percent per employee.

Similar metrics are on the drawing board for energy consumption, and the company also says it will attempt to improve working conditions throughout its supply chain, improve health for its employees and attempt to engage employees more effectively. Whether these last three goals -- empowering people, boosting health and inspiring action — are going to be evident in the future will be a matter of opinion. Some employee-engagement actions, the company claims, are already underway in Adidas locations such as its headquarters in Germany and its large offices in Portland, Oregon, and suburban Boston.

These are big goals indeed, and it will be up to us in five years to see if they morph into measurable and visible results. But based on its recent success with the incorporation of “better cotton” into more of its products, Adidas’ overall track record on responsible and sustainable business is not one to sniff at.

Image credit: Adidas

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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