Adidas’ vision of the Futurecraft Loop is a mono-material sneaker, made up of 100% recyclable TPU plastic, which is returned by the customer at the end of life cycle in order to be recycled to build more sneakers. This circular life cycle - as distinguished by the item’s name “Loop” - is innovative in the fact that 100% TPU allows for the sneakers to be completely ground up, melted, and reformed into the various parts of the sneaker. The Futurecraft Loop doesn’t need to use any glues or adhesives to bind together the outsole, midsole, and upper, which is typically what inhibits sneakers from being melted and repurposed. Adidas’ is committed to making this circular model work and hopefully driving change across the footwear industry.
TPU is a durable thermoplastic and can be formed into foams, linings, and yarns to build the various parts of the sneaker. Many “eco” sneakers utilize multiple materials that combine bio and non-bio parts which makes the shoes unable to be recycled, and thus they end up in landfills. Adidas tackles this challenge well by relying on TPU that start as singular granules which are melted and reformed variously. The Futurecraft Loop Gen 1 was sent out to 200 athletes, footwear specialists, runners, and reviewers to test the performance and durability. A reputable tester explained that the Loop feels and performs almost identically to the Adidas’ most popular running shoe, the Ultraboost, which is astounding. For a mono-material sneaker, comfort and support were rated surprisingly well and traction was retained greatly for a non-rubber outsole.
The only problem with the concept of recycling the Loop lies in the fact that TPU loses durability as it is continuously shredded, melted, and reused. For this reason, there is a limit to how much recycled TPU can account for the makeup of a new sneaker. On the Adidas website, the company explains that only the outsole, eyelets, tongue label, and inner support of the Gen 2 shoe is actually made of recycled Gen 1 shoes - which equates to about 10% of the whole sneaker. Some virgin TPU has to be used in building a durable new shoe, so the recycled value is not necessarily 1:1. However, saving sneakers from landfill by utilizing just 1 recyclable material is an incredibly commendable idea and would revolutionize the realm of footwear waste.
While having a fully recyclable sneaker that performs well seems environmentally sound initially, there are many aspects of the Futurecraft Loop’s life cycle that actually require more use of water and increased air pollution. First, the concept of sending used shoes back to Adidas means that each pair of sneakers will have an additional transportation footprint in shipping. Until Adidas can centralize shoe collection at a mass level, this concept requires not only more carbon emissions but also the cooperation from the individual. The recycled concept only works if consumers agree to take the time and money to send back used sneakers rather than simply wasting them or gifting them to another person. Depending on a consumer for recyclability to be achieved is hopeful at best, but it may just start a new trend with how consumers regard their footwear purchases.
The parts for the Futurecraft Loop are constructed in China and assembled in Atlanta, which already places a huge carbon footprint on simply transporting materials to build the sneaker. Until Adidas can centralize construction and collection in a way that works around the world, the Futurecraft Loop may be doing more harm to the environment than its eco marketing so boasts.
Unique to the Loop is the ability to take dirty shoes, break them down to small components, and build new shoes in an “upcycling” manner. However, Adidas admits they clean the used sneakers in large washing machines before shredding and melting the TPU shoes. The electricity and water demand of washing shoes adds to the additional energy expenditures included in this recycling concept.
Ultimately, the consumer trade-off must occur based on materials or energy/emissions. Supporting the Futurecraft Loop idea means believing in a revolutionary recycling idea with shoes that reduce the use of virgin plastic and help prevent buildup in landfills. As of now, the Loop is in its very early stages of development, and the process currently requires a lot of international transportation and added energy costs due to cleaning used shoes. The idea is laudable and deserves investment and attention. Hopefully, as this idea grows Adidas will develop a more sustainable supply chain and recovery process so that recycling mono-material sneakers can become the new low-waste norm.
Adidas began innovating in the athletic shoe industry when partnering with Parley in 2015 to create a sneaker constructed of oceanic plastic waste, such as water bottles. Adidas claims that using recycled polyester from plastic waste reduces their environmental impact by 20-60% when compared to virgin polyester. Adidas has increased the volume of production for these recycled polyester shoes from 1 million pairs produced in 2017 to over 11 million pairs in 2019. The demand for more sustainable footwear is growing, and Adidas is committed to their goals. The company is committed to using only recycled polyester in every product where a solution exists by the year 2024. Adidas recent partnerships with Parley and Allbirds prove that the company believes in using their large international brand presence to support innovative sustainable solutions.
Adidas has believed in improving their standards for sustainability. The company is partnered with the Better Cotton Initative to source only sustainably produced cotton. Adidas recently signed Climate Protection Charter for the Fashion Industry at the UN Climate Change Conference and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. The company also tries to offset their use of unavoidable plastic in transport packaging by donating €1.5 million - the cost of the their plastic’s environmental impact - to Fashion for Good, an innovative platform for sustainable fashion. The company publically announces their commitment to continuously reducing waste production and energy/water use at all of their international facilities.
The 2018 Australian Fashion Report gave Adidas an A- when looking at things such as transparency, worker empowerment, and paying employees a living wage. The company improved their scores since 2016 and even scored the highest in “Supplier Code of Conduct”. The company is leagues ahead of its competitors like Nike, Puma, New Balance, and Asics when it comes to sustainability and labor conditions. However, Adidas has not made science-based greenhouse emission targets while its competitors have, meaning this fashion company could fall behind in the coming years. Additionally, Adidas does not alway pay its supply chain workers a living wage. The company has faced critiques about paying off huge sponsorships and college apparel deals while continuing to deny living wages in a way to keep garments cheap. Overall, Adidas still operates as part of the large fast-fashion industry although the company is leading the charge in revolutionary innovations in sustainable products.