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adidas re-act

refining sustainability in the sports industry

MA 2020/2022
Keywords
Community, Sustainability, Circular, Sports
Overview

‘adidas re-act’ is a service that aims to redefine the meaning of sustainability in the sports industry by making it visible, doable, accessible and inclusive. By providing concrete and actionable methods to extend the end-of-life of their product offering, it empowers customers to become agents of change for the greater cause of the planet and transform behaviour and mindset towards consumption habits. Based on 12 weeks of research and development, the service sits within the existing ecosystem of adidas, therefore minimising costs while increasing brand engagement and reach.



Collaboration

The adidas brand is a global sportswear brand with a long history and deep-rooted connections in the sports industry. On a mission to expand the limits of human possibilities and create a more sustainable planet, they strongly believe that sports have the power to build bridges, united people, create communities and support people everywhere including the planet.

Adidas collaborated with the Royal College of Art to develop and imagine a circular future for their brand that speaks to their current three strategic pillars: credibility, experience and sustainability in a way that it supports athletes in their performance without guilt and harm to the planet. 

Context

Understanding consumer perceptions and brand limitations

Climate change is a major issue. Our planet is still warming, necessitating immediate and concrete action. The recent COP26 conference emphasised the importance of taking urgent steps toward the goal of reducing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 in order to preserve a liveable climate.

I collaborated with adidas to understand how they can achieve their goal of a circular experience by 2025 through their 3-loop strategy, which emphasises the use of recyclable materials, ensuring they are circular and, where not, can be returned to nature with minimal harm. And, to do so, they acknowledged that they may need to reimagine their entire product cycle, as well as how their customers engage with them and their products.

Over the course of eight weeks, I conducted primary and secondary research to better understand customer perceptions of sustainability and adidas's own limitations to achieve their goals. Understanding consumer purchasing decisions and consumption habits made it evident sustainability is not a priority for most customers. While adidas has the technology and infrastructure to be more sustainable, the bigger challenge is educating and influencing purchasing decisions to more sustainable alternatives.

The question is, what does it mean to be truly sustainable? How many of us are aware of the impact of our everyday actions on the environment? And how many of us take concrete steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle? My aim was to understand how sustainability could be redefined for customers and make it actionable while keeping in mind the goals and objectives of adidas.

Research & Insights

The pandemic has heightened our environmental awareness.

According to research, optimally repurposing what is already manufactured is the most sustainable practice, limiting the creation of additional waste, loss of material and energy consumed to remanufacture. By extending the life of garments by just 9 months of active use, the environmental impacts of water waste and carbon footprint could be reduced by 20%–30% (WRAP, 2021).

This idea isn't something new, especially in developing countries where discarding the last option. So, why isn't this happening in developed countries? What keeps us from discarding some items more readily than others? Apart from lack of access to resources, infrastructure, knowledge and skill, the biggest barrier to adoption is cost. From the perspective of adidas, while they are heavily investing in sourcing raw material, manufacturing tools and techniques and reducing impact in the supply chain, there is little done to understand the end-of-life of products after they are sold.


Insights

Interviews and collaboration with adidas and their customers helped me uncover the following insights:

  1. Technology is here, customers are not. While adidas has the infrastructure and technological advancements to be sustainable, the bigger challenge is changing customer behaviour to make more sustainable choices
  2. Products with strong emotional ties are less likely to be discarded. This attachment is not based on the comfort or appearance of the product, but rather on memories associated with it, such as your first salary, a project you worked on, an event you attended, or even the person who gave it to you
  3. Incentives drive customer behaviour. People are more willing to take the initiative if they are incentivized for their efforts.

Opportunity

To achieve their goal of a circular experience and build trust, adidas must make sustainability more visible, doable, accessible and inclusive for their customers.

If we can enable customers to engage with products, they own in a way that makes them feel attached to them, and if they have access to resources and support to extend the life of their products, they will be more likely to keep actively using them, purchase new products less frequently, and change their mindset and habits towards the way they consume.

SOLUTION

‘adidas re-act’ is a service that aims to help adidas make visible to their customers, their sustainability initiatives by offering concrete and actionable methods to extend the life of their products. It redefines the meaning of sustainability in the sports industry for consumers, by making it visible, doable, accessible and inclusive. This an interconnected web of four sub-services within their existing ecosystem namely: ‘re-pair’, ‘re-live’, ‘re-claim’ and ‘re-share’ support customers by providing tools, resources and professional assistance to repair, customise, share within the community and make accessible to those who don’t own them.

Therefore, by empowering customers to become agents of change for the bigger cause of the planet and providing a physical platform to engage with the service and larger community, it aims to change the way customers interact with products they own and transform customer behaviour and mindset towards what it means to be truly sustainable. By leveraging on the existing ecosystem, strategies and initiatives of adidas, the service not only strengthens links between the brand and its existing customers but also extends its reach to a larger audience by making it more affordable.

While setting up the service could mean high infrastructure and logistical costs, embedding it into the existing ecosystem of the creators club membership program and physical stores significantly reduces and optimizes existing resources, therefore minimizing cost while increasing brand engagement and reach.

Here we are, leveraging the brand’s influence to bring communities together, create memorable experiences and prolong the life of your products and the world. By shifting our mindset towards the way we consume, we can address climate emergency and build a sustainable future with adidas.

Reflection, Learning & Next Steps

Addressing climate change from a systems perspective is complex and messy. This project taught me how to holistically design and navigate complex systems in a way that adds value and meets both, the brand objectives and customer expectations. It helped me explore various methods of research-on-the-go and ask the right questions while navigating never-ending challenges in the development phases that demanded looking at the big picture and smaller details simultaneously. One of the biggest learnings for me was realizing the importance of feedback loops in co-creation. In the next phase of the project, I will be further focusing on the business model and intricacies of the service to make it more robust. Credits: Illustrations via Blush Design (Fritz by Ana Copenicker)

SPECIAL
THANKS

I would like to thank Anna, Jeffrey and the entire adidas team for their continuous support, encouragement and involvement with the project. My tutor, Nicholas, for his mentorship and constantly pushing me to step outside my comfort zone as well as everyone involved in the research and prototyping phases for their time and valuable feedback.

Team