Materials overview

The Design for Environment approach applied to materials is about innovating to reduce the overall environmental impact of materials used to develop our products. The approach considers the environmental impact of the material throughout its life cycle and encourages us to use recycled or sustainable materials.

More sustainable materials

More sustainable materials are materials that have a lower overall environmental impact during their life cycle than conventional ones. We are improving our own Guidelines on Sustainable Materials, and pro-actively drive sustainable material innovation in partnership with our key suppliers and industry leaders.

Read more about how we assess materials.

The most commonly used materials are recycled polyester, organic cotton, 'Better Cotton' as a future development, Polylactic Acid (PLA), Tencel (a fibre made from wood pulp), non-mulesed wool for apparel and leather. Some of these are described briefly below.

Recycled materials

We source various recycled materials such as inlay soles, textiles, metals, plastics, packaging, and rubber. Using recycled materials prevents waste, reduces the consumption of fresh raw materials, and lowers the total amount of energy required to make products.

Working conditions in the cotton industry

The adidas Group and our consumers worldwide are aware of and concerned by the social and environmental conditions that exist today in certain parts of the cotton industry. These conditions, in the worst cases, include child labour and human exposure to pesticides and environmental pollution. There have been reported cases of the widespread use of forced child labour practices in cotton cultivation in Uzbekistan. We have joined others in condemning this practice and have called on our suppliers to ensure they do not source cotton from Uzbekistan.

Read more about this in the About our programme section

Through our commitment to the Better Cotton Initiative, which includes labour conditions in its assessment criteria, we have taken a clear position on our requirements for safe and healthy working conditions in the cotton industry.

Read more about our 'Better Cotton' commitment.

Organic cotton

Organic cotton is grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and from seeds that are not genetically modified or treated. To obtain an organic certification, a farm must have been inspected by an accredited certification organisation using strict international standards.

We have set up a tracking system which is based on the Organic Exchange Standard. All our organic cotton can now be tracked from the product back to the field to prove the organic origin of the material. This gives us the option to label our products 'Made with organically grown cotton'.

Read about our traceability programme.

Find out more about Organic Exchange.


Hides go through a tanning process before they are usable as leather. The adidas Group has long been concerned with the environmental impact of leather tanning, and was a founding member of the Leather Working Group.

Read more about the adidas Group's approach to leather and a view from Greenpeace.

Recycled polyester (PES)

Recycled polyester is a synthetic fibre based on post-consumer waste, such as plastic bottles and used garments. The raw material is reprocessed and spun into fibres. Recycled PES helps us reduce our dependency on petroleum, allows us to discharge less waste and reduces toxic emissions from incinerators.

We commissioned the first so-called 'life cycle assessment' of recycled polyester which demonstrated its environmental benefits over virgin polyester.

Read more about the study here.

Material selection policy

The company does not source raw materials from any endangered or threatened species, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in its red list. The policy also prohibits using leathers from animals that have been inhumanely treated, whether these animals are wild or farmed.

The adidas Group clearly does not tolerate animal testing for new product or material developments. And, where necessary, we ask for written confirmations from our licensees, in particular for the cosmetics business, that they strictly adhere to our requirements.

Eliminating PVC and phthalates

In 2000, we were one of the first companies in the global consumer goods sector to decide to eliminate PVC from our products. Alternatives have been found and introduced for most uses and nearly all styles in our global product range are PVC-free. However, in a few countries, alternatives are not available so some local production of athletic footwear products still uses PVC. We remain committed to finding solutions in the longer term.

In extending the programme we continued to engage with material scientists to understand the environmental impact of chlorine-based materials. We therefore also eliminated the usage of Polyethylene Chloride in 2003 for having a similar environmental footprint as PVC.

We are also encouraging a move to printing with phthalate-free inks. This process is underway and some of our business units have made the changeover in their owned facilities and more and more of their suppliers are changing over, too.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Since more than a decade we have been requesting our footwear suppliers to reduce the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their manufacturing. It has been possible to reduce the use from well above 100 grams per pair down to below 30 grams, for a shorter period even to 20 grams. However, in the last 2-3 years, we have seen a slight increase up to currently around 25 grams. The reason is that some new footwear constructions, such as outdoor models need organic solvents in order to maintain the highest performance standards under outdoor conditions. The technical reason is the stronger bonding needed between different footwear parts, which can only be obtained with solvent-based primers and adhesives.

Reading this report

Performance counts and reporting is about making performance clear to readers.

So in this year's report each page identifies which Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) indicators it addresses, complementing the GRI Index.