adidas Greenwasher

Earlier this month, Greenpeace International released the Detox Catwalk showing which brands were hot, and which brands were not, when it comes to toxic-free fashion. The Catwalk revealed how early Detox pioneers, including Nike and adidas, had since become fashion-fakes, having failed to take real action to clean up their toxic addiction.

Yet, rather than use this moment as an opportunity to get up, brush themselves down and take immediate steps to remedy the situation, adidas instead decided to give another master-class in something they have got rather good at recently: greenwashing.

Let the facts speak for themselves

In 2011 adidas made a public commitment to Detox their supply chain and phase out all hazardous chemicals from their products and processes by no later than 01 January 2020. In order to meet this public promise, the company needed to take concrete and immediate steps to increase transparency in its supply chain and work to eliminate the worst chemicals in their products and processes, substituting them with safer alternatives.

So far, adidas has failed to truly deliver.

Two years ago the brand committed to “…allow…the public access to environmental information….about the uses and discharges of….hazardous chemicals to the environment, facility-by-facility, year-by-year….". Yet while other companies have made discharge data from their suppliers publicly accessible – in the local language of the people living near the pollution sites – adidas has failed to upload this crucial data facility-by facility, year-by-year.

The local communities suffering the effects of these polluting facilities, as well as fashion fans around the world, have a right to know about the release of hazardous chemicals into our life-sustaining waterways. They don’t need empty words and paper promises; they need urgent, fashion-forward action.

When it comes to eliminating the worst hazardous chemicals, adidas has shown a similar lack of ambition. While Detox Leaders like Mango have committed to achieve the complete phase out of ALL PFCs – a group of highly hazardous chemicals – adidas trumpets its rather unimpressive commitment to phase out just one type of PFCs (long chained) by 2015.

Reading adidas’ latest statement it appears that the brand doesn’t seem to grasp the scale of the water pollution crisis in countries like China and the urgency with which we need action. Referring to a study carried out by the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) Group adidas says:

“…Test results revealed that none of the factories was (sic) releasing untreated wastewater into a surface water body or to a municipal treatment system, and, in the majority of cases, factory discharge was well below any available discharge limits for effluent…”.

Surely, a responsible company with adidas’ global reach can go further than just testing anonymous suppliers and heralding that in “a majority of the cases” the grossly insufficient and poorly enforced local discharge regulations were met?

It seems they also needs reminding of some of the hard facts about the pollution caused in the manufacture of clothing items: modern wastewater treatment plants do not effectively “treat” hazardous chemicals, as shown by Greenpeace International’s investigations. Indeed, in some cases they exacerbate the situation by speeding up the breakdown of certain chemicals into even more hazardous and hormone-disrupting substances.

Instead of these half-measures, shouldn’t a supposedly trendsetting brand like adidas be amongst those leading the industry towards the elimination of all hazardous chemicals and the adoption of safe substances and innovative new production methods?

The toxic scandal continues...

Swimsuit Laboratory Test in Bremen

Finally, despite their claims to have been acting ‘for years’ to reduce and eliminate hazardous chemicals from the supply chain, adidas’ entanglement in toxic scandals shows no sign of slowing down. Just a few weeks ago investigations by Greenpeace Germany revealed high levels of hazardous chemicals in swimwear products produced and sold by adidas and their fellow Detox Greenwasher Nike.

Unless these brands act with responsibility and take real steps to end the use of ALL hazardous chemicals in their production – verified by the best available testing standards – they will continue to play a part in sustaining these unacceptable, outdated, polluting practices. Isn’t it about time adidas stopped wasting resources trying to prove their green credentials with convoluted statements and invested this energy into taking real, transparent action to clean up fashion?

People Power

Together, as fashion fans, sport lovers and activists we have been able to make brands, policy makers and garment manufacturers sit up and listen to our demands and commit to clean up their act on behalf of people and planet. In the last few days our latest video has received over 400,000 views as more and more people become engaged with the issue and join with hundreds of thousands of others in calling for fashion free from pollution. Watch the video here.


You can tell adidas directly to stop the greenwash by tweeting or posting on its Facebook wall. Join us in sending a clear message to the management of this global sportswear giant that we need them to stop just talking a good game, and start playing one.

Pierre Terras is a Detox Campaigner at Greenpeace International. You can follow him on twitter at @pterraz