Leading up to her trip to the Parley Ocean School, adidas Group designer Jasmin Bynoe was unsure of what to expect. She was about to take to the seas for a 5-day adventure in the Maldives alongside 17 of her colleagues from adidas; they would be learning about plastic pollution and what they could do to help from Parley for the Oceans educators, and it was sure to be a unique experience.
“I think it’s going to be quite an adventure,” Bynoe told me. “But also, I’m pretty sure it will be very emotional because we will be visiting a beautiful ecosystem – a paradise – and then on the other side, you see that we are actually on the way to destroying it all if we don’t watch out.”
The opportunity arose through adidas’ partnership with Parley, which adidas' Director of Sustainability, Alexis Haass, shared with the Sustainable Brands community in London in November. The options in the adidas Fund’s volunteer program - which is run in cooperation with Company Sports - are usually related to sports, but in 2015, employees could apply to participate in the Parley Ocean School. For Bynoe, the program could not have come at a better time; she was interested in learning more about what she could do to reduce waste and inefficiency.
“I’m a designer in sportswear, and I was just recently working on a sustainable range, which is coming out in spring/summer ’17 – the products will be made with a high percentage of recycled content,” Bynoe explained. “So when I saw the new booklet from Company Sports and the adidas Fund, I saw that [the Parley Ocean School was included] and I thought, ‘Oh, that would be perfect!’”
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Bynoe was one of the 18 employees selected to attend the Parley Ocean School in November and be trained as Parley ambassadors within adidas. On the trip, the participants learned from Parley educators, saw the negative impacts of pollution first-hand, met with local community members such as students and divers, and enjoyed the natural environment they were learning how to protect.
Bynoe reflected on what they learned about plastics at the Parley Ocean School: "We cannot give [plastic] back to nature. It eventually lands in the ocean, gets into the food chain of animals, which often die in a horrible way, and then it finds its way onto our plates. The fact that plastic breaks down into microplastic which cannot be fully degraded by nature is terrifying," she wrote. She also noted that plastic is harmful due to its longevity (they can take 200 to 1000 years to break down in natural environments), the release of toxic chemicals over time, and its many different forms, which complicate recycling.
“I feel more motivated than ever to tackle the root cause. When working on a collection there are so many things to take into consideration: fit, color, pricing, marketing concept and, even more importantly in the sporting goods industry, performance. Drawing away in my office, I have to admit that I used to spend more time worrying about the 'birth' of a product and whether people will like it than worrying about the end of its lifecycle.”
Product innovation and design has been a core element of adidas’ work with Parley for the Oceans. The partnership has led to the elimination of microbeads from adidas body care products, the co-creation of new fabrics, a concept shoe made from ocean plastic, and more. Bynoe said the company wants to work towards avoiding the use of virgin polyester completely and is looking into more sustainable materials such as tencel, lyocell, cotton and wool, as well as fully engineered fabrics that avoid the use of chemicals.
“Since we announced the partnership with Parley, we’ve been working a lot behind the scenes, and for us, our partnership with Parley is much more than just a product,” adidas Group’s Senior Manager of Sustainability Communication Silvia Raccagni told Sustainable Brands. “There are multiple aspects and pillars behind this partnership, and we’re really getting active in ocean cleanups – both for our employees and at a later stage in the future, for consumers.”
Raccagni explained that adidas aims to get its customers involved through events and workshops, including ocean cleanups, in the near future. For now, the employees who participated in the Parley Ocean School are delivering an internal speaker series on what they learned and are encouraging their peers to consider sustainability in their work.
“Internally, the level of engagement demonstrated by employees has been overwhelming – everybody was like, ‘What can we do? How can we help?’ and we’ve been inundated by e-mails with employee suggestions,” Raccagni said. Employee suggestions such as eliminating plastic bottles from adidas’ headquarters and switching plastic straws for paper straws have been put into practice at the adidas Group headquarters.
“We’re really trying to create an environment where people are more aware of what they do in their daily life, but also more aware when it comes to their work environment as well.”