23 Mar

How Ethical Is Adidas?

As we continuously monitor changes in the fashion industry and regularly update our methodology, we thought it was time to review Adidas’ rating. This article is based on the Adidas rating published in February 2022.

How does Adidas rate on Good On You in 2022?

The fashion industry is always evolving, and our ratings are evolving with it. We regularly update our methodology to stay on top of emerging issues—ensuring our ratings are relevant, useful, and timely, so you can always make the best choices for you.

Adidas has also evolved over the years. From humble beginnings in 1949 in Bavaria, Germany, sportswear giant Adidas (founded by Adolf Dassler, the brother of Puma founder Rudolf Dassler) has grown to be the second largest activewear brand in the world after arch-rival Nike. It is known and loved for its iconic Stan Smith sneakers, logo sweaters, tees, and sportswear, worn by athletes all over the world.

So, in order to reflect changes in our methodology, Adidas’s latest Fashion Transparency Index score, its CDP climate and water security scores, as well as some of the activewear brand’s recent news (including a greenwashing case), we thought it was high time we adjusted Adidas rating.

How does Adidas rate on Good On You in 2022? How ethical is Adidas?

Environmental impact

One change in our methodology has been to allocate extra points for science-based carbon emission reduction targets. But while Adidas has received points for setting a science-based target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generated from its own operations and supply chain, it is unclear whether it is on track to meet its target. Science-based targets currently represent the highest standard when setting a greenhouse gas emissions target. To set them, Adidas and other brands will have allocated a large amount of resources, data collection, and time to provide the relevant information to demonstrate said target is aligned with a 1.5 or 2 degree global temperature reduction pathway. However, it is also important for brands to demonstrate how they intend to meet the targets and their current tangible progress.

Adidas also scored a B for its Carbon Disclosure Project climate and water questionnaires. Brands that we have rated “Good” this year for environment tend to be scoring A or A-.

While the brand does take some (limited) steps to prevent deforestation by avoiding raw materials which are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, it does fall short of publishing its own policies, particularly on materials linked to deforestation such as leather. We also found no evidence Adidas has policies to protect biodiversity in its supply chain, another key issue in our methodology update.

We found no evidence Adidas has policies to protect biodiversity in its supply chain, a key issue in our methodology update.

Adidas was also penalised for misleading consumers over environmental claims. ​​According to the French Jury de Déontologie Publicitaire (JDP), Adidas’ “Stan Smith Forever. 100% iconic, 50% recycled” ad broke advertising rules and misled consumers. The brand didn’t inform consumers of the total proportion of the shoe that is recycled and is misleading in its use of the “End plastic waste” logo. The JDP also noted that the claim of “50% recycled” gives shoppers the impression that 50% of the total material used in the sneaker is made of recycled materials, which isn’t true. The message is ultimately confusing to consumers and makes it hard to determine what’s legit and what’s not. A clear case of greenwashing.

As a result, Adidas’ environmental rating has decreased from “Good” to “It’s a Start”. The brand’s use of some eco-friendly materials including recycled materials and research with industry bodies on the impact of microplastics are not enough to compensate for the lost points discussed above.

Labour conditions

People are the backbone of the fashion industry and brands need to take tangible actions to protect workers. We changed our methodology to reward brands that provide fair and safe working conditions, over the ones that simply audit suppliers.

Adidas’s labour rating remains unchanged overall, and is still “It’s a Start”. But we’re keeping the pressure on the brand, which is falling behind on critical industry issues.

Adidas received a score of 51-60% in the Fashion Transparency Index, which is okay, but lower than its previous score of 61-70%. Adidas’ social auditing program has been accredited by the FLA Workplace Code of Conduct including all of the final stage of production. The brand also discloses policies to protect suppliers and workers in its supply chain from the impacts of COVID-19.

More worryingly, the area where Adidas has still a long way to go in 2022 is ensuring workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage. The Foul Play report by the Clean Clothes Campaign and Collectif Ethique sur l’Etiquette highlights the difference between the ever increasing amount of money paid on sponsorships to sports stars and other marketing expenses, compared to the reduction of the share of the final price of your sports gear paid to workers in the supply chain. Adidas has been awarded points for having a project to improve wages in a part of its supply chain and having a public commitment to improve wages in its supply chain, however we found no evidence Adidas ensures payment of a living wage in most of its supply chain.

The area where Adidas has still a long way to go in 2022 is ensuring workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage.

Since 2020, we have taken allegations of brands’ involvement in the human rights abuses taking place against Uighur people in China’s Xinjiang Province into account in our ratings and have penalised brands named in reports by various human rights and news organisations. While Adidas has made moves away from production in the region, and pledged to boycott cotton from Xinjiang, there’s a lot more to the issue. We know this is an important question for many of you and we’ll keep an eye on Adidas and other brands as the situation evolves.

Animal welfare

Adidas’ animal rating also went down, from “It’s a Start” to “Not Good Enough”. It has a formal animal welfare policy (an improvement from its last rating) aligned with Five Freedoms, but has no clear mechanisms to implement it. It does not use fur, exotic animal skin, exotic animal hair, or angora, but it is still using down. Adidas also still uses leather, including kangaroo leather, an emerging animal welfare issue, which has led the brand to be condemned in the US as a new bill was introduced to outlaw the sale of kangaroo body parts in the country.

Adidas states that it has a policy to source wool from non-mulesed sheep but does not provide evidence on how it is implemented. Plus, we found no evidence it traces any animal products to the first stage of production.

Overall rating: It’s a Start

So, how ethical is Adidas in 2022? Like other ratings that went down with our latest methodology update, Adidas’ overall rating has decreased from “Good” to “It’s a Start”. It’s worth noting that of the 3,500 brands that Good On You has rated, only five large brands have achieved an overall rating of “Good”. For those who have purchased Adidas based on our ratings, Adidas still remains one of the highest scoring large brands and is in the top 10%—particularly on environmental and labour issues—though we acknowledge it still has some way to go.

So this change in score doesn’t mean you should get rid of your Adidas clothes and kicks. On the contrary, cherish what you already own: as we know, keeping our clothes for longer is one of the most sustainable things we can do. This being said, you should take this new information into account if you’re considering buying something new from Adidas.

This change in score doesn’t mean you should get rid of your Adidas clothes and kicks. On the contrary, cherish what you already own.

While Adidas has shown that it is making progress in terms of sustainability and labour rights, at the end of the day the brand is still very much a part of the fast fashion industry. Producing huge quantities of garments (most of which are not made from sustainable materials) has disastrous effects not only on the environment, but also on workers who often have to work long hours for very little pay in order to reach production targets.

Adidas still has a way to go before it can be considered a truly ethical brand. It could start by ensuring its suppliers are paying living wages to workers. With $19.8 billion net sales in 2020, this should not be a problem.

Note that Good On You ratings consider hundreds of issues and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

Shop Adidas Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

If you want to shop more in line with your values, Good On You recommends you support brands that embrace a slow fashion model. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourite similar brands to Adidas.

We love the sustainable brands listed below, but they may not meet your specific needs right now. Maybe they’re out of your price range, or don’t stock your size. If you really need something and a product from Adidas is the best option, then you shouldn’t feel guilty about buying it. “It’s a Start” means just that—the brand is making a start. Adidas is already ahead of comparable brands. And if your options are Adidas or Lululemon, that is making little to no effort for people, the planet, and animals, Adidas is a clear winner. Progress over perfection.

You can also reach out to brands who you think need a little nudge in the right direction. If enough customers demand change, brands that truly care about their impact will have no choice but to respond in kind. Check out the “Your Voice” function on the app or slide into their DMs on social media to let them know what you think.

Good swaps

Here’s our list of “Good”, “Great”, and second hand alternatives to purchasing Adidas new

Adidas (Pre-Owned)

Rated: It's A Start

Adidas is one of the largest sportswear makers in the world. We encourage shopping pre-owned as another great way to reduce the impact of our fashion choices.

See the rating.

Shop Adidas Pre-Owned @ Vestiaire Collective.

 

Ecoalf

Rated: Good
grey sustainable ecoalf sneakers

Thanks to recycled materials like rescued ocean plastic, Ecoalf creates sustainable fashion with the same quality, design, and technical properties as the best non-recycled ones. Find the range in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Ecoalf @ Farfetch.

Shop Ecoalf.

CARIUMA

Rated: Good
yellow sustainable skate shoes by Cariuma brand

CARIUMA is a sustainable Brazilian sneaker brand that wants you to feel super comfortable while providing effortless style in organic canvas, leather, and suede styles. Find CARIUMA's shoes in US sizes 5-13.

See the rating.

Shop CARIUMA.

MATE the Label

Rated: Great

MATE the Label creates clean essentials made with GOTS certified organic fabrics and low-impact dyes. Its goal is to offer women everywhere a clean product that is just as beautiful as it is sustainable. It is proudly female-founded and is predominately operated by women. This US brand also manufactures locally to reduce its carbon footprint. Find the range in inclusive sizes XS-3XL.

See the rating.

Shop MATE the Label.

Nube

Rated: Great

Nube turns recycled plastic into responsible and fashionable activewear, designed and made in the US. The brand partners with artists and designers around the world to create prints motivated by the environmental crisis that inspire connection and action. This fully woman-owned business uses a closed-loop manufacturing process by recycling all off-cuts created during the manufacturing process. Find Nube products in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Nube.

Shop Nube @ Cerqular.

Tripulse

Rated: Great
Someone standing outdoors wearing sustainable activewear by Tripulse.

Tripulse is a Swedish activewear brand on a mission to create high-performing activewear that protects our planet and its people. The brand believes that fitness, both physical and mental, is the foundation for a good and healthy life and gives people the courage to live the life they dreamed of, to become their best selves, to make bold moves, and to change the world for the better. Find most items in sizes XS to 3XL.

See the rating.

Shop Tripulse.

Veja

Rated: Good
white ethical sneakers by veja

Veja is a French brand designing ecological and fair trade footwear, and is also a sustainable fashion pioneer. The brand uses eco-friendly materials, like GOTS certified cotton and vegetable-tanned leather! Veja pays its co-operative cotton growers and rubber tappers between 30% and 100% above the world market price. By not advertising, Veja is able to invest more money into strengthening its ethical practices. You can find Veja shoes in women's EU sizes 35-46, and men's 35-47.

See the rating.

Shop Veja.

Shop Veja @ LVR Sustainable.

Shop Veja @ thegreenlabels.

Shop Veja @ Outerknown.

Shop Veja @ Threads 4 Thought.

Shop Veja Kids second hand @ Retykle.

Womsh

Rated: Good
white sneakers by womsh

Fashion and sustainability can go together and Womsh is the brand that proves it. Its shoes are entirely designed and manufactured in Italy, and its clothing range is made from eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton. Find most shoes in EU sizes 35-42, and clothes in XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Womsh.

Organic Basics

Rated: Great
people wearing organic basics basics

Organic Basics offers high-quality sustainable fashion basics for men and women in organic materials. It also recently launched its first sustainable denim collection! The Denmark-based brand puts sustainable thinking at the centre of everything—it only chooses fabrics that care for our environment, and only ever partners with factories that care about their impact. Organic Basics clothes are available in sizes XS-XL.

See the rating.

Shop Organic Basics @ Rêve en Vert.

Shop Organic Basics.

Ambiletics

Rated: Good
Someone wearing dark blue animal print activewear by Ambiletics.

Ambiletics is a sustainable sports and yoga label from Munich. The brand is convinced that every (purchase) decision makes a difference. In the fashion sector in particular, far too little attention is paid to origin and production. Ambiletics wants to change this, so its motto is: MAKE IT MATTER.

See the rating.

Shop Ambiletics.

ID.EIGHT

Rated: Good

ID.EIGHT is an Italian brand that was born from the meeting between Dong Seon Lee and Giuliana Borzillo, both come from the world of footwear, where they worked and met. Together they have created a more ethical and sustainable collection of sneakers with a refined design. The shoes are made in Italy with low environmental impact materials from food industry waste such as apple peels, grape stalks and seeds, and pineapple leaves, as well as recycled cotton and polyester. Find the shoes in EU sizes 36-46.

See the rating.

Shop ID.EIGHT.

dk active

Rated: Good

dk active is an Australian high-performance brand supporting everybody seeking an authentic edge in life. It uses renewable energy in its supply chain to reduce its climate impact, and reuses all of its offcuts to minimise textile waste. It is also a PETA approved 100% vegan brand! Find the products in sizes XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop dk active.

caur

Rated: Good
man wearing khaki leggings by caur

One of sustainable French brand caur’s six core values is gender neutrality. It says “The goal is not to erase gender, but to reduce the impact of gender stereotypes that accompany gender labels.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves! Find the range in sizes 2XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop caur.

Pressio

Rated: Good

Pressio is a UK brand that seeks to provide truly world-leading, revolutionary performance sportswear built upon an uncompromised ethical and sustainable approach.

See the rating.

Shop Pressio.

Discover the very best ethical and sustainable activewear brands

Editor's note

Feature image via Adidas, all other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world’s most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet, and animals. Use our directory to search thousands of rated brands. We may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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