Adidas is making strides in the world of sustainable practices—and leaning heavily into recycled materials.
This year, it’s on target to produce 11 million pairs of shoes made from recycled ocean plastic as part of its partnership with Parley for the Oceans.
The brand’s Parley products are made with plastic waste collected via partner organizations across at-risk coastal areas like the Maldives. From there, the marine waste is upcycled and turned into new products, like footwear.
But that’s not all Adidas is doing when it comes to recycling materials.
By 2024, it’s committed to using only recycled polyester in its products, which accounts for about 50% of the material used in the brand’s more than 900 million items available for purchase. These efforts tie in with the brand’s long history of innovation around sustainability, which started back in 1989.
Lately, however, Adidas has shown a more intense focus on eco-friendliness with creative approaches to everything from material-sourcing to production, even picturing a world where running shoes could be recycled and used over and over again, thus dramatically reducing the energy and materials required to manufacture new shoes when an old pair wears out.
Enter FutureCraft.Loop: the brand’s 100% recyclable, high-performance running shoe made via a closed-loop manufacturing process that’s currently slated for release in 2021.
“FutureCraft.Loop is our first running shoe that is made to be remade, said Eric Liedtke, board member and head of global brands at Adidas. “It’s a statement of our intent to take responsibility for the entire life of our product; proof that we can build high-performance running shoes that you don’t have to throw away.”
All of the shoe’s pieces are made from 100% reusable thermoplastic polyurethane. There’s no glue involved in the entire production process, either.
Instead, the recycled plastic material is spun into yarn, knitted, molded and fused to the shoe’s midsole, creating a slightly off-white running shoe that’s surprisingly durable and lacking the fragility you’d expect from a shoe made with recycled materials.
The closed-loop manufacturing part comes in when customers return their old FutureCraft.Loop shoes. From there, the shoes are washed, ground up, melted down, and made into a new pair from the same materials.
“What happens to your shoes after you’ve worn them out? You throw them away—except there is no away,” Liedtke said. “There are only landfills and incinerators and ultimately an atmosphere choked with excess carbon.”
This innovative approach to footwear manufacturing aims to minimize the resource intensiveness of shoe production, which is good news. A 2013 MIT study found that making a pair of running shoes generates enough carbon dioxide emissions to power a 100-watt light bulb—for a week.
That’s more than 30 pounds of emissions for the production of a single pair of shoes.
Growing demand for running shoes fuels this energy-intensive production process, with data from Credence Research indicating the US running shoe market was valued at $222.4 billion in 2017, with an expected compound annual growth rate of 3.1% through 2026.
For sustainable fashion experts like Kohl Crecelius, CEO & co-founder of Known Supply, closed-loop manufacturing efforts like these are a step in the right direction—but there’s still a deeper issue at hand: The consumption of goods has to slow down.
“Circular-economy thinking is an exciting and necessary aspect of the sustainability conversation, and I commend the organizations leading this conversation,” he said. “However, I think it falls short of getting to the root of the over-consumption problem.”
Adidas is well aware of the issue, but sees some light at the end of the tunnel.
Liedtke explained that he has hope for modern consumers, as Adidas is coming to realize the environmental impact of a company is a hard truth. Today, he’s seeing more shoppers who are looking for brands that will stand for more than just product.
That’s what Adidas wants to do. With shoes like the FutureCraft.Loop, the company is working hard to lead the way in creating a more sustainable production process for footwear. By closing the manufacturing loop, the company aims to open the doors to cleaner, more responsible practices that may fundamentally change the way we think about the shoes we wear and how they’re made.
FutureCraft.Loop is still in the first round of beta testing, with over 200 creators across the world trying out the shoes before returning them and sharing feedback on the experience, which will then inform changes for the second run of testing before mass launch.