Earth Day 2015: adidas Boosts Sustainability—Without Getting Fleeced


Parley for the Oceans Bali beach adidas sustainability

For years now, the fashion industry has been scrutinized for their wasteful practices, and many have been making efforts to counteract their staggering environmental damage, also known as “natural capital cost.” And every year around Earth Day, brands highlight how they’re promoting recycling, using less water and greening their supply chain to be less wasteful and environmentally conscious in a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” effort to let consumers and activists such as Greenpeace know they’re doing the right thing.

This Earth Day, for example, the German sportswear giant adidas is kicking off a partnership with the Parley for the Oceans campaign. Extending on its existing sustainability commitment, the company is using its global presence to work with Parley preserve the natural beauty of the Earth’s oceans by putting an end to their destruction. As part of its commitment, adidas also plans to phase out the use of plastic bags at its 2,900 stores worldwide. Hopefully it will be easier for adidas to be green than it was for our friend Kermit the Frog.

“There is no other brand that carries the culture of collaboration in the DNA like adidas,” says Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans. “Together, we will not only focus on creating the next generation of design concepts, technologies, materials and products. We will also engage consumers, creative community, brands and environmentalists to raise their voice and contribute their skills for the ocean cause.”

Before adding adidas to its growing list of brand partners, Parley, a New York-based collective of scientists, artists, designers and musicians, has partnered with G-Star and Pharrell Williams on a recycled denim collection using Bionic Yarn.

The 70s-inspired super-thread using recycled plastic bottles is the creation of Tyson Toussant and Tim Coombs, while Pharrell serves as creative director. Besides G-Star, Bionic Yarn has been used (as Wired notes) in collections by Timberland, Gap, Cole Haan and a leisure collection by Burton.

Bionic Yarn

The Parley x G-Star partnership also led to a 17-minute documentary featuring Pharrell, called The Plastic Age, with I-D magazine.

The group is on the warpath against the plastic waste that ends up in mid-ocean whirlpools, entangling whales, birds and turtles and damaging the internal organs of the fish that ingest it, and it wants to raise awareness and do something about it by leveraging the clout of brands. It’s an idea that reminds us that one man’s (ocean) trash is another’s treasure, as adidas will take (possibly) its own and other brands’ defunct products and packaging and turn them into new ones.

As a Parley affiliate, adidas—which just released its latest annual sustainability report—is committing to develop materials made from the masses of plastic waste found at sea to use in its apparel and potentially shoes. The adidas x Parley collection could be Bionic Yarn’s biggest large-scaled deployment to date and would naturally involve Pharrell, who’s already an adidas brand ambassador.

Some may be alarmed, however, recalling lessons from the 1970’s invention polar fleece and how recycling materials to produce textiles can be an unfortunate case of good intentions overriding what’s good for the environment. When washed, fleece releases microplastics into domestic wastewaters that are often discharged back into the ocean, so brands are being urged to commit to fully recyclable products to reduce waste.

So if adidas makes sportswear from recycled marine waste in a bid to stop marine plastic pollution, could the reclaimed plastics just wind up back where they came from? Will these environmental efforts to “waste not” actually prove a waste?

adidas sustainability recycled materials infographic

In a blog post on its website, where adidas states its materials sourcing standards and PVC-free goal (and shares the infographic above), adidas sustainability communications senior manager Silvia Raccagni argues that this is not a case of greenwashing, or bluewashing, as the case may be.

“You might say, ‘Here comes another environmental project.’ Wait a minute. This is different, and this is why I found Cyrill’s presentation so inspiring,” she wrote about Putsch’s recent talk at adidas HQ about his organization ahead of the partnership being announced. “Cyrill is a creative guy, a brand consultant who became aware of how badly damaged seas are only a few years ago and since then has decided to activate himself, his expertise and his network in this cause.”

In its quest to clear up the oceans, Parley is starting small, focusing its efforts to reclaim ocean trash around Hawaii, Maldives and Bali. Putsch also told adidas how he’s a believer, like oceanographer Sylvia Earle, that we should stop eating fish and contributing to overfishing, and that banning plastic bags and plastic bottles from its footprint is one tangible boost to the environment before it gets started on a marine debris recycling program.

With G-Star, for example, Parley brought Bionic Yarn for the limited edition RAW for the Oceans collection (as it will for adidas), explaining that:

We make 288 million tonnes of plastic a year, and unlike paper, metal, glass or wood, it does not oxidise or biodegrade, instead it ends up in our oceans, making the ratio of plastic to plankton 100:1. The way to make use of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Bionic yarn. Co-designed by Pharrell, G-Star’s RAW for the Oceans collection is the world’s first denim line created from plastic that has been fished out of the big blue and recycled. Find out how we can pick 700,000 tonnes of plastic up off the sea floor in our documentary, made possible by G-Star, The Plastic Age.

Find out more on Parley’s philosophy in the adidas blog post and the press release—and share your thoughts on what brands can do this Earth Day to take a stand for the planet in an authentic, meaningful manner.

Image at top: Parley for the Oceans/Facebook