How can sport be part of the solution? This sixth article focuses on companies producing sports gear and apparel integrating environmental sustainability into their operations.
It’s never difficult to spot a sports brand: the t-shirt of the person next to you in the gym, the shorts of the person playing football in the park, the shoes of fellow commuters on the train, the cap of the person you pass in the street. Like any manufacturing company, every stage of the production line has an impact on the environment – and therefore has potential for intervention to integrate sustainable practices. From the design to the creation, production, transport and sales of sports products, companies can implement practices to manage their environmental impact.
The bigger the company, the bigger the value chain and the bigger the impact. One of the largest sports brands globally is also making changes to its practices to work towards environmental sustainability: Adidas.
In 2015, Adidas joined the UN Climate Neutral Now initiative and committed to taking action to become carbon neutral. The initiative commits members to measuring, reducing and compensating their gas emissions. Since then, Adidas has worked to minimise its environmental impact all along the value chain.
Adidas’s Sustainability Roadmap 2020 sets out ambitious goals for the company in six key areas, three of which are centred around product practices and the environment (the other three focus on people – empowering, improving health, and inspiring):
- Addressing water efficiency and quality, which includes working with suppliers to apply high environmental standards throughout the supply chain, phasing out hazardous chemicals and moving to 100% sustainable chemistry
- Increasing the use of sustainable materials in the production, products and stores, ultimately moving towards closed-loop systems. This is exemplified in the company’s Parley for the Oceans range of products, which are made from collected ocean plastic that is recycled into thread for sportswear
- Reducing energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, which applies to:
- Adidas’s own operations, which are addressed through the Green Company programme that targets the company’s sites around the world (stores, administration offices, manufacturing sites and distribution centres)
- The supply chain, by working closely with suppliers to apply the same environmental principles as Adidas has at its own sites and through environmentally friendly initiatives such as sourcing sustainable cotton
- Policymakers and industry allies, which sees Adidas engage with stakeholders and partners to improve the industry’s practices as a whole; for example, Adidas is a founding member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC)
There are other companies standing alongside Adidas in making efforts to preserve the environment through their practices:
- The North Face offers lifetime warranties for their products to minimise the amount of products that end up in landfills and to reduce the need for replacement products to be bought new. The company has also started a “Clothes the Loop” initiative that allows people to drop off their unwanted footwear or clothing, which will be repurposed or recycled for the raw materials. Among other notable initiatives, the Hot Planet/Cool Athletes programme has athletes connecting with and educating students about the effects of climate change on the environment
- Ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Asics has been running a mass clothing drive, whereby apparel will be recycled into elite sportswear for Japan’s national Olympians and Paralympians. The company focuses on a scientific approach, using this as the starting point to integrate sustainability into its products; for example, it has adopted solution dyeing, which uses 50% less water to colour apparel
- Patagonia aims to become carbon neutral by 2025 – across its whole business and supply chain. The company is working towards this in a number of ways, including using only renewable energy in stores across the world by 2020, using only recycled or renewable materials for products by 2025, investing in carbon capture projects (such as reforestation) and encouraging employee activism, investing in synthetic microfibre pollution research and development, and further developing the company’s Worn Wear programme, which helps extend the lives of Patagonia products by facilitating the repair, reuse, resale and recycling of products
By committing to practicing environmental sustainability, these brands are among those that are working to preserve the natural environment that we rely on to practice sports – whether that is the water we swim in, the mountains we climb or the trails we run on. But all of these things are still in danger – climbing routes are disappearing, summer sports are suffering, and air quality is worsening (to name a few).
This series has examined the big players in the sports world that are setting an example for how we can adopt environmentally friendly practices to help mitigate climate change. But what about the players that comprise the bulk of the sporting world – everyday sports people? Find out in our final article of the series, which will be published in two weeks.