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It is already quite a few years ago since people started to take water-repellent products for granted. Nowadays, there’s almost no wardrobe without such a piece of apparel. Nobody wants to miss it when going for a run on a cold, dark and wet winter night. But here is the dilemma: you need chemicals (PFC) to make performance products water-repellent. And chemicals are usually a matter of concern in the public opinion.

Even though all of our products are totally safe for consumers and comply with all applicable legislation, the adidas Group has made a commitment: search and push for alternatives – without compromising on the performance and quality of our products.

Already today, the adidas Group is 90% PFC free in its products. As a further step, we have committed to phasing out the use of long-chain PFCs (the so-called “C8”) by January 1, 2015 and to being 99% PFC free by no later than December 31, 2017.
As you can imagine, this type of phase-out does not happen overnight. It takes quite some effort to find adequate alternatives. It is like running up a mountain: you need to do it step by step. This is why we kicked off the process by first phasing out the use of long-chain, C8-based perfluorinated chemicals (PFC).

C8 → C6 → no PFC

By January 1, 2015, we will have completed the transition to short-chain PFC, the so-called “C6”, which are believed to have better toxicological and environmental profiles than long-chain C8 repellents. In other words: this is an important step in making our products more sustainable.

How did we start this transition?

As in so many other cases, a key success factor on this journey is to partner up. We decided to work extremely closely with our suppliers which manufacture our products. Therefore, we decided to involve them from the very beginning of the process and set up a meeting with them to brainstorm about how to move from C8 to C6 in just one year.

SEE ALSO: A partnership with good chemistry – transforming the way chemicals are used in manufacturing apparel

To give you an idea of what we are talking about, just for apparel we had to convene 40 material suppliers (fabric and trims) to find a solution for over 300 material items. The meeting with the suppliers was very constructive as all of them supported the initiative – so we ended the meeting with a couple of relevant action points.
Technically speaking, moving from C8 to C6 is already a significant change. In fact, we wanted to get the same performance, at the best possible price, but with an environmental friendlier chemical.

Our way towards the phase out of PFC

Our way towards the phase out of PFC

We first addressed the issues connected with the process, then focused on obtaining the same level of performance, and finally worked on the cost impact. Eventually more than a hundred trials and tests were needed in order to find the right solution for every material at every supplier.
This project has proven one more time that the success of any initiative can only come if all parties playing a role in the supply chain are part of the solution. Solo attempts don’t make sense. All our Spring/Summer 15 apparel products with water-repellent finishes are produced with C6, with better toxicological and environmental profiles than long-chain C8 repellents.

It´s just the beginning

We have worked hard on this. Can we confirm that you won’t be able to find any traces in any of our products as of January 1st? As much as we’d like to: probably not. Here are the reasons. Now the question is: will there still be traces of C8 chemistry in our products after January 2015? The answer is: potentially yes. Here are a few reasons why:

  • First, there might still be products from previous seasons in stores. It’s the products that we call “carryovers”, which are sold across several seasons.
  • Secondly, there are different ways to test PFC, as explained in this blog post. There is no standardized test method available and some tests use the so-called ultra-trace analysis, which is highly sensitive and therefore not always accurate.
  • Lastly, due to the high usage of PFC over the past decades, they are currently found basically everywhere, such as for example containers and boxes, and therefore products could potentially be contaminated from other sources.

Once again, the move from C8 to C6 is just the beginning of our journey; the team is now working on how to deliver the next big goal: 99% PFC free by no later than December 31, 2017.