From cradle to grave, the Adidas way
Each year Adidas develops and releases a small run of what it dubs a ‘Futurecraft’ shoe. The annual design doubles as a limited-edition trainer and a way to push a new technology – normally something which aims in a more sustainable direction.
The important thing about these sustainable future trainers is that, while the initial design may be limited, Adidas is able to scale up production rapidly. Take the 2015 trainer made from ocean waste as an example. Working with Parley for the Oceans, an organisation which aims to strip plastic waste from water before it reaches the sea, Adidas has gone from an initial production capacity for 7,000 pairs a year to produce 11 million pairs in 2019. The company has also pledged to remove all new plastic from its products by 2024.
As Paul Gaudio, global creative director of Adidas, has said to Fast Company: “these are not concept cars, they are statements of intent”.
Now, Adidas has released its latest Futurecraft shoe, called the Loop, and it has the potential to revolutionise the company’s entire production line by introducing full recyclability thanks to a fully circular lifecycle.
While the process is not yet 1:1 – Adidas will not take one old shoe and turn it wholly into a new one – the company believes that it can improve this ratio rapidly on a short timescale and approach full product circularity. Gaudio believes the company could sell tens of millions of pairs of the Loop within three-to-five years.
The main issue Adidas has been trying to solve is that the average shoe is made of 12 different materials, including various glues and chemicals. A fully recyclable shoe ideally needs to be made of one material which can be ground or melted down for reuse.
Reports in various outlets suggest that Adidas found this material in 2016 when designing its ‘boost’ polymers – the springy stuff which makes up the recognisable sole of almost every pair of Adidas you buy. The gamechanging realisation was that this foam could also be spun out as yarn for use as both textiles and laces. The boost polymer can also be used for the bar which connects the front of the shoe to the back.
It also has two other qualities which recommended it for the Loop shoe: it can be bonded together with heat and pressure and be ground up and used again and again. Years of experimentation later, and Adidas is ready to pull the trigger and, in theory, change the shoe market forever.
Too often companies talk about sustainability but don’t do a lot to actually achieve it. It is more of a buzzword than a design philosophy. However, one thing that everyone can agree on is that the current cycle of consumerism will end one way or another – either we will plough head-first into climate change and society will become something much worse, or the resources we use in such quantities will eventually run out. When that day comes, only companies like Adidas which are actively integrating circular recycling will be able to exist.
Gaudio says of the principle: “This is risky, we could probably sit on this for another couple years before we have it further figured out, but that wouldn’t help [the industry] move things forward. That’s what this is about.”
The Futurecraft Loop is exactly the sort of long-term, innovative thinking that companies require, and it is exactly the sort of thing which should interest investors.
Photo copyright: Engadget