Why the sports sector is increasingly committed to sustainable development

SPORT BUSINESS OBSERVATORY – If ecological involvement has not yet become a choice criterion for a brand, it can quickly become a non-choice criterion if the brand does not set an example.

Aurélie Lienhart is a member of the Think Tank of the Sport Business Observatory where she focuses on social issues and innovation. It is also a partner of the company In&Sport, whose vocation is to provide analysis and decoding on the evolution of sport, both in its economic and social dimensions.

More than 100,000 tons of sports and leisure items end up in the trash every year. And it is quite natural that ecology invites itself into this sector through two laws that have been passed, “Climate and Resilience” – 2021 and “AGEC” – 2020, which oblige players in this sector to change their way of investing in their products, their actions in favor of the environment and their relationship with consumers who are increasingly aware of the importance of environmental issues. An eco-organisation, Ecologic, has been set up in France to structure the approach of all companies present on the French market. At the same time, players in this sector have seen opportunities to transform and innovate, whether you are a SportTech start-up or a large international group like Adidas. Without necessarily waiting for these legal obligations.

A sector structured in France thanks to a dedicated body, Ecologic

If to date these two laws are only French, they apply without distinction of nationality of the companies present in the “Sports” sector and are the subject of a very special structuring by the eco-organization Ecologic with a budget of EUR 100 million per year , of which a third is earmarked for a repair fund to encourage reuse and reduce the waste of sports equipment and clothing. Because according to ADEME – the environmental and energy management agency – half of the stuff and equipment thrown away by the French is reusable, either by being repaired, into spare parts or recycled. Under the auspices of the Union Sport et Cycle (US&C), this new sector should “extended producer responsibility» aims to organize the collection and reprocessing of waste from this sector and to promote the circular economy and ecodesign. And it aims to double the amounts of recycled items by 2027 and recycle what’s left, including 62% for cycles and 50% for other products.

If the provisions of the law from 1 . must applyer Experiments with players in the sector are already underway in January 2023. A deposit is already offered in the store for textiles and shoes; for other items that are damaged or intended to be thrown away, users can drop them off in shops or in their clubs. The items are sorted by the eco-organization’s service providers, isolated if they can be given a new life, divided into major categories and recovered in the form of material, burned or buried as a last resort. The first difficulties arose: very diverse objects to sort, but also mixtures of materials and the presence of composites that make processing more complex. Initiatives have already been taken, such as that of the French Tennis Federation, which organizes an annual collection of balls that are transformed into floor mats, or that of the SCOP Tri-vallées in Albertville, which recycles used skis through a grinding process.

It is in this context that, for the third consecutive year, the Union Sport & Cycle will present the Ecosport Awards 2022, at a ceremony on June 28, dedicated to the ecological innovation of the players in sport, cycling and active mobility. Virgile Caillet (general representative of the US&C) indicates that five awards will be presented to recognize eco-design, the circular economy, the “sports” company committed to sustainability, the structures and places of practice with environmental innovation and the sporting event involved .

Adidas, a global player committed to a sustainable and innovative approach

If France mobilizes all actors through laws and the structuring of the “Sport” sector, the German company Adidas has decided to participate in a sustainable and global reflection to meet environmental challenges, innovating from the product design and the reflection on materials to their reuse and recycling. †The approach was urgent [cette] global company, with global impact and responsible for social responsibilitysays Mathieu Sidokpohou, General Manager Southern Europe at Adidas.

The company’s goals for 2025 are clear: 9 out of 10 articles are sustainable and its own activities climate neutral. In addition to the speech, the Franco-German equipment manufacturer puts forward concrete elements to defend its beliefs and its responsibility in the fight for the defense of the environment. The company has already reworked its production processes by integrating eco-design and anticipating the entire product life cycle: rethinking standard materials to integrate recycled, natural or low-carbon materials, designing products that can be remade and have multiple lives, tend towards carbon neutrality.

The manufacturer uses up to 90% of this recycled material for its polyester needs in its products. Investing in innovation is a necessity to meet these obligations and cannot rely solely on internal resources. †To innovate you need ideas […] and we will open up to the world by partnering not only with suppliers for new materials, but also with companies that can compete to achieve our goals“explains the DG Southern Europe of Adidas. This is the case with the partnership with the New Zealand company Allbirds, which specializes in using natural materials for the manufacture of shoes and clothing. The goal is to create shoes with the lowest ecological footprint and the highest sports performance for running.

Thus placed at the level of the sector, the environmental problem thus makes it possible to “pool” research efforts which, at the end of the chain, give the end consumer a more “responsible” practice. For example, the Spinnova company produces sustainable textile fibers based on natural materials (particularly from wood fibres) intended for the textile industry.

Proof that the industry has taken the subject seriously, players like Adidas are going beyond “greening” their products. The 3-Stripes brand also uses its fame to take actions that mobilize the general public, its ambassadors and representatives and its employees, and to raise awareness of important goals in favor of protecting the environment. On Oceans Day on June 8, adidas and the Parley for The Oceans Association launched the fifth edition of the “Run for the Oceans” initiative.

This operation allows each runner, for every 10-minute run recorded on partner applications, to collect the equivalent of a plastic bottle on beaches, isolated islands and coasts to prevent it from reaching the oceans. This year, new activities have been added to the challenge to make it even more inclusive: athletes are invited to practice a sporting activity on the street, on tennis courts or even football fields to contribute to the fundraising goals against the scourge of plastic waste . Because research shows that the planet has reached a critical threshold and if we don’t act, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050. Thanks to this initiative, more than 50 million pairs of shoes with plastic Parley Ocean have been manufactured in 5 years, of which 18 million pairs in 2021.

For Adidas, it is not just about positioning itself as a promoter or sponsor of an action, but also becoming an actor in it, by incorporating the results of the collections directly into their products. †Our goal is twofold: to raise awareness of the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans and to motivate people to take action. And that is why Adidas has made a long-term commitment to the partnership with Parley and mobilizes its partners, its employees but also its ambassadors such as Pedri of FC Barcelona or the model Karlie Kloss“, insists Mathieu Sidokpohou. The German company also benefits from large-scale competitions such as Roland-Garros, where it has offered a unique event allowing to play tennis on land under the ocean. This immersed experience was supported by professional players associated with the brands such as Dominic Thiem, Hugo Gaston, Clara Burel, Maria Sakkari… The 10K de Paris taking place on Sunday, June 5, where nearly 30,000 people gather, is also an opportunity to promote the “Run for the oceans” goal.

Another example, Adidas and Decathlon joined forces in 2022 to focus on environmental and social inclusion actions. Together, the two entities have created a more inclusive sports field, from recycled shoes, as part of the “Collectives” initiative. It takes 25,000 pairs of trainers to make this multi-sports ground, centered around practices that are especially popular with women and too often reserved for paying rooms (fitness, dynamic training, yoga, stretching, Pilates, dance, etc.). Fans and top athletes could hand in their used sneakers in the 330 Decathlon stores between February 24 and March 25. The soles of these will mainly become the raw material of the floor, or the basis of the sports field.

With this kind of 360-degree approach, players avoid the risk of “green-washing”. The “Sport” sector is therefore evolving to respond to new challenges in the field of sustainable development and also of society. While innovations have previously been promoted by SportTech startups, the major groups in this sector have also taken responsibility to offer products and promotions that are more in line with the expectations of consumers and the general public. Because if the ecological commitment has not yet become a selection criterion for a brand, it can quickly become a non-choice criterion if the brand does not serve as an example.