As someone who has spent over a decade playing competitive baseball, I am very interested in seeing how sustainable the products I use really are. Through my research of different products I have found that certain industries are held to a higher sustainability standard than others. Unfortunately, the sports industry has vastly not been held accountable for its unsustainable actions. I found Rawlings “Heart of the Hide” baseball gloves to be no exception. Rawlings lacks transparency in terms each category of what, how, and who makes it because no one has demanded it. What I was able to find about the gloves was disappointing, showing the immediate need to hold the entire sports industry more accountable for its detrimental global impact.
The primary material used in Rawlings gloves, and nearly all baseball gloves for that matter, is leather. I used to assume that leather was a fairly natural and earth friendly material, but I could not have been more wrong. Natural leather takes decades to decompose naturally, but the leather Rawlings and most other corporations use is highly processed with toxic chemicals. This process is called “tanning”, which drastically worsens the environmental impact of the leather and extends the amount of time it takes to decompose. The tanning process is literally meant to prevent biodegradation so that leather products do not break down in your closet after you buy them. Most US produced leather contains dangerous substances like formaldehyde and dyes containing cyanide. These chemicals are very bad for the land where gloves are produced, the workers that produce them, and the athletes that wear them. Not only are the added substances bad for the environment, but the leather itself is terrible as well. Leather comes from cows, which require huge amounts of feed, pastureland, water, and fossil fuels to raise. Furthermore, livestock is widely regarded as the most imminent threat to our waterways because of the runoff produced by overpopulation of farm animals in too small of a space. This system is not sustainable, making an alternative to the seven feet of leather Rawlings uses per glove an absolute must. The final nail in the coffin for me was to find out where Rawlings sources its leather products from. Rawlings buys its leather as a byproduct of unsustainable meat industry giants like Tyson foods, a company known in the media for its use of GMOs, animal cruelty, and unsanitary working conditions. The materials that go into making a Rawlings baseball glove are pretty much all unsustainable, and the final product only serves to further contaminate landfills once its relatively short life cycle comes to an end.
How Rawlings gloves are made is probably the least bad part about this very unsustainable product. The process of glove making is fairly mechanical, with most of the chemicals being used on the materials that go into a glove rather than the glove itself. Additionally, there are very few different materials used to make the glove, it is mostly leather and just a bit of plastic for structure. Machines are used to mold and shape the general structure of the glove, but several parts of the glove are actually hand-stitched together. The process of glove making is actually a bit of an art of its own, something that I can appreciate even from a big company like Rawlings. I could not find too much information on the transportation of materials, but to my understanding the glove is formed, stitched, and assembled all in one factory, which if true cuts down on emissions from transportation. However, the initial molding of the glove takes an immense amount of heat and steam to maintain structure and flexibility. It is likely that much water is used during this process, as well as thermal energy generated by fossil fuels. Despite energy use though, the process of making Rawlings gloves is fairly sustainable.
Rawlings is not very transparent with its labor practices. Chemicals used at tanning facilities that supply Rawlings affect both the workers and people living in the surrounding area. Employees are exposed to these toxic chemicals during the process, which also inevitably leak into the local community. The chemicals used dramatically increase cancer rates among other unpleasant side effects. In Rawlings’ labor laws standards section of its Code of Conduct, it lists standards for practices such as compensation, child labor, discrimination, and harassment, but provides no evidence to back it up. Any company can publish a well-written Code of Conduct, but I am never impressed until they back it up with habitual action. Rawlings also claims to do random site visits, worker interviews, and conduct both internal and external audits, but again no evidence is shown to back this claim. The baseball giant claims to follow the California Transparency In Supply Chains Act, but the truth behind how Rawlings operates seems more opaque.