On and off the court, the german-based Adidas (parent company to Reebok) is one the world’s most worn and loved sneaker brands. As the parent company to Reebok and as Europe’s largest sportswear manufacturer, and second only to Nike when it comes to profits –raking in a cool $13.7 billions in footwear sales last year– their trefoil logo and 3-stripes design has stood the test of time as a signature for athletics and streetwear for generations.
And when it comes to athletic attire, the brand that “started in a washroom and conquered the world” is without a doubt a frontrunner in the sustainability game.
But don’t just take our word for it –with the Arbor values in tow, let’s examine the evidence and look at how Adidas scored in all areas of People, Planet and Employment.
Human Rights: 3/5
The game of sustainability is a circular one where the impact of a company’s environmental initiatives are tethered to the social equity of the people involved. Climate-positive brands need to tie themselves to meaningful global movements if they want to actually tackle climate change.
In 2020, Adidas teamed up with the Slow Factory Foundation to launch Open Education, a free online classroom taught by black, brown, indigenous, and minority instructors and scholars on sustainability, racial justice and inequality, and how these topics connect to the fashion industry.
"Open Education is created by and offers free classes for Black Brown, Indigenous, and minority ethnic folks working in Fashion, who wouldn’t have access to this type of information and sustainability literacy. The program is looking at fashion’s impact socially, economically, and from an environmental standpoint and offers a curriculum of applied knowledge, meaning: information and best practices that can be applied immediately within the industry giving our community a cultural advantage and a way to being hired and needed within the industry. Open Edu also facilitates paid apprenticeship with brands like Adidas, Stella McCartney, WWAKE, Studio 189, and Collina Strada to name a few." - Céline Semaan, Founder, Slow Factory Foundation.
[Author’s note: I am an Open Education student and a Slow Factory super fan!]
Adidas is also now focusing on gender-neutral and sustainably-made designs with a range of products aimed at consumers who prefer clothing outside of the gender-binary. This is a smart and socially-conscious play for a major athletic apparel brand as athleisure already lends itself to more inclusivity.
Adidas has signed the Transparency Pledge, an initiative that pushes global footwear and apparel companies to publicly disclose information about their manufacturing supply chain. By signing the pledge, Adidas is required to publish on it’s website all the names of all the locations where their products are made. In an effort to be transparent about their transparency, the list is expected to include:
- The full name of all authorized production units and processing facilities
- The site addresses
- The parent company of the business at the site
- Type of products made
- Worker numbers at each site
Accountability isn’t just key, it’s king. As a member of the Fair Labor Association, Adidas is subject to independent verifications by external regulators to monitor and ensure it’s commitment to transparency by it’s factories and suppliers. They are one of the few companies in the fashion industry who actually disclose their full factory list –all 800 factories in over 55 countries. Drum roll please – this list not only includes names and addresses of the factories in all tiers of production but also the number of male, female, and migrant workers employed. You can access the full report here. As a bunch of sustainability data nerds, this is more hype to us than the newest sneaker release.
Besides the obvious importance of maintaining transparency in the supply chain for the health and well-being of garment workers, this step is also important to keep a company’s environmental practices in check. For example, with the availability of this data from Adidas, we can track and trace all of their “wet manufacturing”. This is the production step where vast amounts of water, dyes, and chemicals are used to make goods– and as you may have guessed, this is a massive source of environmental pollution. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how Adidas ranks in the Arbor Planet category.
Environmental Care: 4/5
Environmental Innovations: 4/5
As a signatory of the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, Adidas aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Net zero, also commonly referred to as carbon neutral, is about finding a balance between the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere and the amount that are pulled out. By 2030, Adidas hopes to reduce the total greenhouse gas emissions from its own production and that of its suppliers by 30 percent. By the end of 2020, they intended to have a fully sustainable chemical footprint by phasing out hazardous chemicals (using the ZDHC’s Roadmap to Zero Programme) in their internal manufacturing process. They haven’t fully reached that goal, but have made significant strides over the years to be 99% PFC-free– these are those nasty chemicals with very strong molecular bonds that take a long time to break down in the environment.
Adidas has also coined the Three Loop Strategy (Recycle Loop; Circular Loop; and Bionic Loop) as a circular roadmap for a more sustainable process of production.
With the goal in mind to completely phase out the use of virgin materials by 2024, Adidas has generated a few innovative product solutions to mitigate their environmental impact. Launched in 2015, the Primablue line is created around a patented high-performance recycled material made in part with Parley Ocean Plastic—up-cycled plastic waste, intercepted on remote islands, beaches, coastal communities and shorelines. Currently, most of the items manufactured in the Primablue line are made with roughly 50% recycled plastics. FUTURECRAFT (set to launch late 2020 or early 2022) is a fully data-driven, 3D printed shoe designed to be completely made with recycled materials and to be the first fully recyclable running shoe. They have also come up with a Primegreen material, a virgin polyester alternative made of fully recycled ingredients.
In 2020, Adidas will have produced up to 20 million pairs of shoes using recycled plastic waste from beaches and coastal regions compared to 11 million pairs in 2019, five million in 2018, and one million in 2017.
Since 1998, Adidas has had a comprehensive gameplan to address their use of plastic known as “End Plastic Waste”. In 2020, more than half of the polyester they used was projected to come from plastic waste as they plan to shift to using all recycled polyester in their products by 2024. By 2020, the company also aimed to reduce water usage by 30% per employee and to reduce their “water intensity” (water used per unit of goods) used by their key suppliers by 20%. By 2021, packaging used in the transportation process will be made from recycled materials. In Germany —where Adidas already sources most of its electricity from renewable resources– they are testing a recycling loop for all their packaging used for transportation.
Corporate Ethics: 3/5
Job Quality: 3/5
Adidas has made substantial strides when it comes to sustainability but when it comes to corporate diversity and inclusion, the data shows that they are lagging behind. According to a recent report in Forbes, Adidas has a ways to go in order to catch up to Nike and Puma.
This is where the important distinctions between diversity and inclusion come into play.
The report in Forbes said it best: “Diversity and inclusion are not interchangeable terms. Diversity refers to the traits and characteristics that make people unique while inclusion refers to the behaviours and social norms that ensure people feel welcome. Inclusion is the more difficult of the two to measure since it depends on the perceptions of employees, but retailers cannot have one without the other.
And according to BIPOC employees at Adidas, they aren’t there yet. An investigation by the New York Times revealed that in 2018, fewer than 4% of employees at the Adidas US head office in Portland, Oregon identified as Black and that only 1% of the 300 vice presidents within the company worldwide identified as Black.
In 2020, amid protests around the world following the death of George Floyd, a coalition of BIPOC employees at Adidas from around the world, demanded the racial inequalities within the company be addressed in full. In their 32-page document entitled “Our State of Emergency” the coalition claimed that the messages being pumped out by head-office to the general public were not an accurate representation of their internal actions. As well that “management doesn’t grasp the discrimination minorities might face” within the company.
The coalition also made a few important demands with a hard deadline attached. By December 2021, Adidas must:
- Invest in its Black employees
- Invest in the Black community
- Invest in the fight for racial justice and change for Black People
- Demonstrate accountability
Alongside the coalition, some employees took to their social media to share their experiences. Aaron Ture, a project manager at Reebok posted an open letter on his Instagram:
"We are an organization that exploits minorities, black, queer and so many others for commercial profit, without aiming to empower them at the workspace and in their own communities," Aaron wrote in his letter.
In response to the coalition adidas vowed to make meaningful change within all levels of the company. Adidas responded by committing to fill 30% of all new positions in both Adidas and Reebok stores with BIPOC employees. The company also vowed that over the next five years it will fund 50 university scholarships a year for black students. In a call to employees, the president of Adidas in North America, Zion Armstrong, said that they would also increase funding for programs within the company to tackle racial disparities to $120 million over the course of five years.
At Arbor we know that true corporate sustainability isn’t just about carbon emissions and recycled packaging. The true weight of impact is measured by how a company values the people throughout their supply chain, by their recognition of the diversity of their customers, and by their prioritization of inclusivity.