Nike commits to champion a toxic-free future

Can Adidas top that?

Feature story - 18 August, 2011
The world's #1 sportswear brand, Nike, has accepted our Detox challenge: today it has officially committed to eliminating all hazardous chemicals across its entire supply chain, and the entire life-cycle of its products by 2020. This is a major win for our campaign to protect the planet’s precious water, and create a toxic-free future.

Can Adidas Top Nike's Move?

(Image from our "Nike vs Adidas" video available on Youtube.)

Nike's announcement comes just five weeks into our Detox campaign, which began when we launched the "Dirty Laundry" report, revealing commercial links between major clothing brands - including Nike, Puma and Adidas - and suppliers responsible for releasing hazardous chemicals into Chinese rivers. We challenged these brands to champion a toxic-free future by committing to work with their suppliers and remove these toxic chemicals from their clothes and China's rivers.

Nike sets a new pace

Puma was first to break away from the pack, opening up an impressive lead by announcing that it would go toxic-free. Puma's commitment to remove all hazardous chemicals from its entire product-portfolio must have left their competition wondering how they were going to raise their game. Now, Nike and Puma are the front-runners, and Adidas is far behind.

Nike also agreed (their full statement) to address the issue of the public's "right to know" by ensuring full transparency about the chemicals being released from its suppliers' factories. The more the public knows about the toxic chemicals spilling out of these factories, the more the pressure to stop them polluting will increase. The importance of this cannot be overstated.

The sportswear giant has also promised to use its influence, knowledge and experience to bring about widespread elimination of hazardous chemicals from the clothing industry.

Detox at the Barcelona vs Real Madrid match

Greenpeace activists tonight projected messages including, “Water Pollution Is Not Fair Play” and "The World Needs More Champions. Is Adidas All In?" to the almost 100,000 fans attending the Spanish Super Cup match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid (sponsored by Adidas) at the Nou Camp Stadium, in Barcelona, Spain.

Can Adidas top that?

By committing to clean up its act, Nike is showing hints of greatness - but we will be closely monitoring the company’s implementation plan, due to be published by 18 October. And just because Nike’s taking the lead shouldn’t mean Adidas or other clothing companies can simply throw in the towel. The game is still on and they should be hot on Nike's heels to become champions of a toxic-free future.

Adidas have a lot of ground to make up. If they want to be considered contenders, they need to get in the game by committing to zero discharge and really take the lead by developing a new culture of transparency throughout the clothing industry and helping others stop the release of hazardous chemicals currently used during manufacture.

It's like Green My Apple again

The driving force behind the Detox campaign comes from a year-long investigation into the textile industry's water pollution problem in China, where vital research helped us to connect the dots and link hazardous chemicals and their impacts in waterways like the Yangtze and Pearl River Deltas to textile factories and international clothing brands.

Of these brands, one group stood out as the most likely to become champions of a toxic-free future: Leading sports clothing companies like Nike and Adidas. Not only do they like to market themselves as leaders and innovators, they also have the size and influence to work with their suppliers to eliminate the use and release of these hazardous chemicals from the entire supply chain.

The enormous task of changing the toxic practices of an entire industry can be extremely daunting, so we went in search of a potential leader with the will to change itself and the influence to change others. Much as we did during our Green My Apple campaign a few years ago, it was vital to engage with innovative and proactive industry leaders - the sort of companies who are willing to put their slogans into action and demonstrate that "impossible is nothing".

After much encouraging by Greenpeace and Apple aficionados, in March 2009 Apple become the first laptop maker to eliminate toxic poly vinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). For now we have only commitments from Nike and Puma, though they are on the right track and deserve recognition for that.

Nike vs Adidas Detox Challenge from the Sky

Detox Action In Buenos Aires, Argentina

Bearing witness works

The Detox campaign kicked off when our mysterious XM3N mannequins finally revealed their mission to clean up China's rivers. Their message was spread by our video – watched and shared by 100s of 1000s of Greenpeace supporters and sports lovers all over the world.

Then people really started to get involved and the game was well and truly on. Actions from Argentina to the Netherlands and Spain – including a world wide striptease – made sure the world’s biggest brands couldn’t ignore the challenge.

Further pressure to perform was piled on by world’s media as the story ran far and wide, from New York to China and Brazil to the UK. In Hong Kong, our exhibit helped bring the message to the street where passers-by took a moment to put their demands for Detox in writing.

More than 50,000 people signed our petition to the CEOs of Nike and Adidas, many thousands of people have tweeted and shared the campaign on social networks and blogs, submitted logo designs, or contributed campaign ideas.

There's still a long way to go, but we’re getting there. Adidas have a tough act to follow, and everybody's watching.