In June of 2011, Greenpeace released a report describing how high end clothing, particularly shoes and clothing created by elite companies including Nike, Puma and Adidas, were causing toxic pollutions to be released into the environment. Specifically, Greenpeace found that various Chinese manufacturing facilities for these sportswear giants were using dying, washing, printing and other wet textile processes that were resulting in their sending mass amounts of toxic pollutants into nearby waterways and the environment at large. Greenpeace quickly urged the big three sports gear makers to commit to turning their factories around and striving towards zero toxic emissions. It took a few months, but now all three companies have agreed to work towards change over the next eight years.
The Toxic Truth
As Greenpeace investigated manufacturing processes at two textile plants in China, they found that these plants were releasing dangerous toxins in their efforts at inexpensive textile production and processing, including the dying and printing of shoes and other sportswear. Further sleuthing by the environmentally minded organization found that a variety of high end companies, including Nike, Adidas, Puma and Converse (among others) used this plant to manufacture their products. Some of the companies cited by Greenpeace admitted that they do use the manufacturing facility in question, but asserted that there products were not processed in a way that emits the offending toxins. In fact, Nike, Puma and Adidas all asserted that they use the offending factories for cut and sew projects only, and thus were not part of the water pollution problem.
Despite these companies avowing that they did not purchase wet processed material from these polluting factories, testing has suggested that at least some products from one or more of these labels being sold in Europe did have toxins present. No matter their level of culpability (or admission of such), Nike, Puma and most recently Adidas have all agreed that making their sporting products zero toxic emission is a priority.
Nike and Puma quickly committed to revamping their wet processes on a set timeline, in an effort to meet Greenpeace demands. Adidas seemed reticent in the beginning, saying that they preferred to work with industry leaders as a whole to develop standard processes. While this may have seemed a delay tactic at first, Adidas has now taken the initiative to work with Nike and Puma on such practices.
Making a Commitment to Change
Nike responded swiftly to the Greenpeace concerns and challenge. In a statement released in August, Nike agreed to work towards zero toxic emissions by 2020. Additionally, as part of their own commitment to the environment, Nike has created an Environmental Apparel Design Tool that they are sharing with other companies. This tool helps companies make better choices for materials and processes when designing their products.
Quick to show a desire to better the environment, yet not wanting to seem as though admitting guilt, Adidas released a statement on their corporate site saying that Greenpeace chose to confront the sporting goods industry because they knew that sportswear companies are already extremely environmentally and health conscious, and thus be accepting of the challenging to improve further. Adidas pointed out that their company already has a strict restriction against a variety of known toxic chemicals and will work with other industry giants towards an industry standard of healthy practice which reduces toxic emissions and dangerous pollutants from production of their clothing, as well as toxic residue on their products.
Fortunately, these major sports companies are not just blindly agreeing to change. They seem to be instituting a plan and a timeline. Adidas, for example, has vowed to remove toxins from their entire supply chain and product life cycle, also by 2020. On their corporate website they actually reveal a high level timeline for how they plan to accomplish this lofty goal. Similarly, Puma embarked on an immediate effort to re-evaluate and lengthen its list of non-allowable toxic substances, and committed to removal of toxins from their production chain by 2020.