Translated by
Nicola Mira
Dec 23, 2019
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Is Adidas really keen on transitioning towards more ecological manufacturing?

Translated by
Nicola Mira
Dec 23, 2019

Is it an ecological revolution, or a marketing ruse by a highly polluting industry? German sports giant Adidas plans to launch a 100% recyclable sneaker model by 2021, the Futurecraft Loop, epitomising the drive by footwear manufacturers to win over ‘green’ consumers by transforming their production processes.

The Futurecraft Loop - Adidas

Seven months after previewing the Futurecraft Loop, “the first infinitely recyclable shoe,” available in white and shades of blue, Adidas has recently launched the second phase of the project designed to produce a “circular” running shoe model, in which used shoes generate newly minted ones.

“[Going] from generation 1 to generation 2, we proved to ourselves and to the general public that it’s possible to eliminate scraps and waste completely,” said David Quass, Business Model Strategy director at Adidas, talking to the AFP agency. “The revolution, unprecedented in the industry, lies in the fact that it’s possible to preserve the material’s quality from one pair of shoes to the next, satisfying the same performance needs,” he added.

How is that possible? The shoes are built by fusing thermoplastic polyurethane beads (TPU), reducing the number of components used “to 4-5, as opposed to the 70 previously [needed]” for a traditional shoe, while also eliminating the glue that binds the sole to the uppers. A manufacturing feat made possible by a partnership between Adidas and chemicals giant BASF.

Adapting to green demand

Ecological awareness has been greatly increasing in consumers’ minds, and other manufacturers, like Eram, Salomon and emerging brand TBS, have also gone down the sustainability route in order to adapt to the new ‘green’ demand, especially by younger generations.

Reducing the number of shoe components - Adidas

According to a 2017 survey by market research firm Nielsen, 85% of Millennials (consumers aged 21 to 34) think it is “extremely important” that companies set up programmes to promote environmental protection. Will this turn into a new growth opportunity for a market that was worth $114 billion in 2018, according to the estimates of research firm NPD? “This could indeed open the market to new customer segments, to a new audience,” said Quass.

However, this eco-responsible sentiment doesn’t yet fully translate into consumer purchases. “It’s something of a paradox,” said Virgile Caillet, delegate general for the Sport and Cycle Union, the association that represents 1,400 companies from France’s sport and leisure industries. Although they are “increasingly influential, ecological purchasing criteria rank fifth or sixth, while comfort, price and robustness are the leading criteria,” he added.

Adidas has no intention of positioning the Futurecraft Loop as a “luxury product”, but it admitted, without revealing the retail price, that the latter will be on par with its more expensive models, between €200 and €300 per pair.

“Subscription-based” rental considered

Given this price, and an output forecast to be limited to “several thousands of pairs” - a drop in the ocean compared to the 400 million pairs produced by Adidas annually - is this project more of a green-washing operation than the beginning of a commercially promising route?

“This isn’t green-washing, it is real change. It’s never too early, nor too late, to initiate a change in the production processes of an industry that has developed over several decades,” said Quass.

Adidas has been active on this front for over three years, for example by associating with Parley for the Oceans to recycle oceanic plastic waste, yet it has also broadcast contradictory signals, by delocalising to Asia the innovative Speedfactory production sites it set up in Germany and the USA. The move was announced in mid-November, a few days ahead of the official launch of phase 2 of the Futurecraft Loop project.

“This really surprised us,” said Samah Habib, a fashion specialist at Accenture, talking to Challenges magazine. “[Adidas’s] carbon footprint has certainly been affected. It goes against the narrative they have been trying to spin for the last three years,” added Habib.

Is this enough to cast doubt on the genuine transformation of the old economic model based on buying and discarding? “At a legislative level, there will no longer be a choice for producers,” said Caillet, with reference to the French government’s proposed anti-waste bill, which envisages the creation of a recycling supply chain for sporting goods.

The Futurecraft Loop could “unlock a different way of engaging with consumers, via new business models such as product return or subscription-based rental,” said Quass. “Potential” new practices that are innovative in themselves.

By Yassine Khir

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