SXSW 2018: Adidas declares 2024 moonshot to only use recycled plastics

Adidas x Parley for the Oceans - SXSW

Adidas x Parley for the Oceans

Adidas is aiming for all of its products to be made from recycled plastics by 2024, according to Eric Liedtke, head of global brands at the company.

The initiative is a follow on to the brand’s partnership with Parley for the Oceans, which has already resulted in one million pairs of shoes sold created from recycled plastics recovered from the oceans. In 2018, it is expected to hit five million.

Each pair of shoes uses the equivalent of 11 plastic bottles, meaning Adidas is recycling some 55 million plastic bottles this year, Liedtke explained on stage at SXSW this week.

To put the trajectory ahead into context however, the company makes 450 million pairs of shoes every year right now, meaning that goal really is a moonshot. “You think five million is a lot but it’s not, it’s a drop in the bucket,” he said.

In the context of the 270 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean right now, not to mention the further eight million tonnes being added every year, he explained how important it is to get to this point. “The growth of plastic just doesn’t stop. It was a great invention, but it was made to never go away, so all that has been made is still floating around the world today. It becomes a real call to arms to fixing that.”

And the fact is that plastics are not only insidious, but everywhere. Most of the shirts Adidas produces are made from polyester, which is another name for petroleum based plastics. It’s also in the micro pellets in our shower gel, and of course in the plastic bags we receive. Adidas has already eliminated use of both of those latter two.

Liedtke says the next step is to “turn off the virgin plastic tap”. The aim is to get to the point where no new plastic is made at all, because the resource is already there – all that’s needed is for the existing plastics in the system to be used again and again. From cradle to grave to cradle, he explained. “We need to redesign the problem.”

Importantly, however, is the fact doing all of this also makes good business sense, Liedtke added. “I want to prove to the world that it is good for the bottom line. This is not philanthropy. It’s good business. This is what is critical.”

He added that the consumer is expecting and demanding it more than ever as well, especially when you look at the younger generation. “Gen Z wants to give back. They’ve grown up in a world that is highly stressed… they’re looking for trusted brands they can rely on – there’s a huge opportunity for us to step in. Authenticity is going to be core for this,” he said. “People don’t just buy what you make, they buy what you stand for.”

Adidas’ mission with Parley is to enter into full-time collecting and recycling ocean plastics to enable a fully sustainable supply chain, not just for its own brand but anyone interested. The worst problem the industry has right now is inaction, he added. “Everyone has to opt in, put their hand in the pile and play.”

Update: The original version of this story reported live from SXSW quoted Eric Liedtke stating that Adidas was aiming for all of its products to be made from recycled plastics recovered from the ocean by 2024. It is in fact to use 100% recycled polyester in every product and on every application where a solution exists by that year. This ambition is not tied specifically to ocean plastic.