Adidas supplier upcycles food packaging into new trainer parts

Adidas is set to introduce a supplier-led innovation into its footwear products - a heel counter that contains more than 50% recycled content sourced from used food packaging.

The heel counter is an internal component of the shoe – a rigid insert that is designed to support and stabilise the wearer’s heel. The counters have traditionally been made from thermoplastic rubber and polystyrene raw materials, but faced with rising costs for these materials, Adidas’ footwear component supplier framas looked to source an alternative.

Development work took place to replace the virgin polystyrene component of the compound with recycled polystyrene from food packaging. The material then underwent stringent quality, fit and wear tests before declared fit for use.

Most of the Adidas shoes in the spring/summer 2014 ranges will now contain them. As framas produces 110 million pairs of heel counters each year for the sportswear giant, this initiative will divert 1,500 tonnes a year of polystyrene waste from landfill.

The Framaprene ECO heel counter compound has not only helped the supplier manage its costs and develop its business, but has been highlighted by Adidas in its latest sustainability report as a great example of supply chain innovation.

The company is keen to encourage more of its suppliers to “think outside the box” and look into more environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques or practices. In this specific case, framas came up with the idea – Adidas hopes more of its suppliers will take the lead going forward.

“We do get some of this coming through the supply chain, but in general not nearly enough,” Alexis Haass, senior global programme manager for Adidas’ Better Place programme, told edie.

“Generally speaking, we would not need suppliers to come up with fully baked ideas or prototypes, but even just suggestions of opportunities they could propose to us and see if we are interested in pursuing them further.”

Haass points out that suppliers are the experts. “They are on the factory floor every day, designing the machinery and optimising the process flow, and they may be able to see opportunities in how changing a design or a material could lead to major savings, which we – further upstream in the process – might not immediately realise.”

She added that for sustainable product innovation to work, it takes knowledge and innovation from both the suppliers and the brand.

“The way we try to encourage this innovation is multifaceted – keeping the sustainability topic top of mind and relevant to suppliers through continuous training, doing one-on-one pilots with suppliers who offer new ideas and innovations, and recognising suppliers who take major steps to develop sustainable innovations.”

Maxine Perella

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