How Adidas plans to end the global plastic crisis

Humanity’s advances are built around materials that themselves define
clearly circumscribed historical periods. The Bronze Age, which succeeded
the Stone Age, was an important stage in the evolution of European
societies, both social and technological, allowing metallurgy to flourish.
The same is true of the Iron Age: by increasing agricultural yields, iron
control encouraged the extension of land clearing and the sedentarisation
of populations. We are currently living in what historians of the future
will probably call the Bakelite Age. That is to say plastic. Since the
beginning of the twentieth century, plastic has undoubtedly enabled
considerable advances that go far beyond the objects that surround us on a
daily basis: if we live longer, it is thanks to plastic that has
revolutionized the field of medicine, helping to reduce costs, infectious
diseases and reducing surgical procedures. Plastic saves lives.

Because it is single-use, because it is difficult to degrade, plastic also
pollutes the planet like no other material has done before it in the
history of mankind. We are therefore faced with a paradox: how can we
manage this material that helps humanity to live longer while at the same
time degrading its environment? This essential, vital question has been
driving the fashion industry for several years now, which makes intensive
use of this low-cost, high-yield synthetic material.

A number of initiatives have been launched, not only by brands but also by
service companies: we are thinking in particular of the company Betak
which, in a manifesto published this year, promises to reduce its
single-use plastic consumption during the events (fashion shows,
presentations) it organises for its prestigious customers. Globally, the
fashion industry is responding to this challenge by promising to reduce its
consumption. This response is part of a more global fight for sustainable

The most ambitious response has finally come from sports equipment. This is
not surprising: accustomed to the technological innovations on which their
prestige is generally based, sports brands have mastered the art of the
industrial revolution and, more generally, of performance in the broadest
sense. This is notably the case of Adidas, which has been multiplying
collaborations and partnerships with start-ups, innovative labels and
cutting-edge organisations for several years now in favour of the fight
against plastic pollution.

The brand has recently capitalized on the know-how of the Californian
company Allbirds, which develops unexpected materials based on eucalyptus
fibre, sugar cane or merino wool, to accelerate its ecological transition
towards carbon neutrality: a high-performance and comfortable sports shoe,
the result of this recent collaboration, will soon be launched. However,
this new development is only the icing on the cake of a deeper commitment,
initiated five years ago with the Parley network.

This organisation has formed alliances with major partners such as adidas
on the one hand, but also Anheuser Busch InBev (Corona) and American
Express; the World Bank, SACEP (South Asian Cooperative Environmental
Programme), Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal,
Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It also has collaborators from the worlds of
science, art, design, entertainment, and space and ocean exploration. The
organization’s main focus is on developing projects to stop the destruction
of the oceans and more generally to put an end to the global plastics

The partnership was first presented to the United Nations in 2015 in New
York at an event entitled “Oceans. Climate. Life. “at which Cyrill Gutsch,
founder and CEO of Parley, outlined his strategy to end marine plastics
pollution. This strategy was based on three pillars: the first two pillars
are classic: avoiding the use of plastics wherever possible and recovering
plastic waste from the environment. The third pillar is more singular: the
idea is to rethink plastics by inventing new materials. Aadidas and Parley
unveiled a shoe with an upper made from filaments of plastic waste and
illegal gillnets that were recovered and recycled – an industry first.

“What we’ve accomplished with Adidas is a miracle”

Since then, the partnership has been leading eco-innovation in the industry
and is driving a global movement for the oceans through sport. “*It’s not
enough to just change the way we do things. We need to change the way the
entire industry acts,” * says James Carnes, Vice President Brand Strategy
at adidas. Over the past five years, Adidas has been phasing out virgin
polyester from its products and by the end of 2020, more than 50 percent of
the polyester used in the company’s products will be from recycling. The
goal is to phase out virgin polyester from all its products by 2024.

” Given the magnitude of the problems we are tackling, we feel we can never
do enough or fast enough. However, in hindsight, what we’ve accomplished
with Adidas is a miracle. Over the past five years, we have proven the
validity of Parley’s AIR strategy. Now, more than ever, we need the
Materials Revolution to happen. We have ten years ahead of us to end the
toxic age we have created. To survive, we need to be united as a species
and collaborate with nature,” explains Cyrill Gutsch, CEO and founder of

From an industrial point of view, Adidas has limited the use of plastic
wherever possible. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of the partnership between
Adidas and Parley is first and foremost the desire to be at the forefront
of the Materials Revolution. It is not simply a question of wanting to
reduce plastic consumption, but of identifying, evaluating and financing
the development of materials that can replace plastic and other harmful,
toxic or over-exploited materials. The beginning of a new age? To celebrate
the anniversary of their partnership, Adidas and Parley have launched the
Adidas ParleyUltraBOOST DNA, a shoe based on the historic prototype to be
introduced in 2015.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR,
translated and edited to English

Photo credit: Adidas X Parley

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