Adidas is the leading brand of Adidas Group, the overarching company of Adidas, Reebok and Taylormade. With the production of 448 million pairs of shoes in 2019, Adidas Group ranks largest sports manufacturer in Europe, and second largest in the world. Generally, the company has a good reputation in terms of corporate responsibility. It participates in a large number of projects and committees to further improve its sustainability and has already reached significant milestones.
As a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative, Adidas has been using 100% more sustainable cotton since 2018. For a company that produces the amount that Adidas does, this is a huge achievement that significantly reduces carbon emissions, and use of chemicals and water. This is the result of a sustainability strategy that the German giant has been true to for years, and for which it now reaps the fruits because a big chunk of other sportswear companies are only just getting started with more sustainable materials. Adidas keeps paving the way for sportswear companies and their material use. Currently, it’s using a large amount of recycled polyester and aims to replace all virgin polyester. The leather it uses is certified by the Leather Working Group. The brand is also increasing the sustainability of its materials by teaming up with Parley for the Oceans to upcycle plastic litter to yarn for its X Parley products.
While Adidas gets a lot of things right in terms of material usage, it has a significant amount of other things to improve upon. There is significant room for improvement in terms of transparency. The company uses certified leather, but does not specify the usage of certified down or wool, which are considerable steps to take towards ensuring better animal welfare. In terms of workers’ rights, we know that the German-born brand is a member of the Fair Labor Association, but we have no evidence that it makes an effort for payment of a living wage in its supply chain. Adidas mentions using renewable energy in its own facilities in Germany, but doesn’t disclose foreign facilities. The same holds up for its supply chain, which it has fully mapped and published, without elaborating on emissions. There are more examples to be found in the reporting, which is simply not transparent and seems a bit like cherry picked statistics and data disclosure.
Things are looking good in terms of climate action though. Adidas has signed the UN Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, which is a commitment to an emissions reduction of 30% and the stepping stone towards carbon neutrality in 2050. The company is also taking considerable steps towards reduction of water usage, generated waste and packaging. The brand with the iconic three-striped logo variations shows great leadership and ownership of its responsibility to produce in a fair manner, but is simply not there yet. Especially when we compare it to younger brands that are sustainably built from the ground up, Adidas has a long way to go.