Bye bye PFC

©adidas Group

“Finding alternatives which meet our high performance and quality standards as a sporting goods company is our biggest challenge,” says Mr Philipp Meister from the adidas Group, a global leader in the sporting goods industry.

The adidas Group has committed to being at least 99 % PFC-free by 31 December 2017. By working closely with their suppliers, they have been identifying alternative formulations and processes to eliminate the use of PFCs - per- and polyfluorinated chemicals - in the immediate future.

PFCs are highly persistent and many of them show a high bioaccumulative potential. Once in the environment they will stay there for a long time. Long chain PFCs accumulate in the human body via the food chain and by direct exposure. There is some concern that PFCs are hepatotoxic, toxic to reproduction and carcinogenic.

Know your production process and your substances

The adidas Group defines PFCs as the chemical family per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. This includes both long and short chain PFCs.

In their efforts to create further transparency in the supply chain, adidas detected PFCs or “Poly/Perfluorinated Chemicals” or “Poly/Perfluorocarbons” in two major areas:

  1. Manufacturing of some of their polyurethane synthetics which are used in a wide range of footwear materials;
  2. Application of PFC-containing finishes to provide water-repellent/water-proof performance.

“Due to the complexity of the production processes and the unique properties of the chemical group of PFCs, it took quite a while to identify exactly where PFCs have been used in detail and to find safer alternatives,” says Mr Meister.

The adidas Group tested major alternatives or substitutes already existing on the market. In close collaboration with leading chemical companies, they also started to explore formulations that are still in the research and development phase. In total, more than 8 400 lab tests were conducted and 43 wear tests were performed in an actual sporting environment in 2015.

Wide range of expertise to support successful substitution

Many issues regarding the substitution of certain substances or groups of chemicals can be very complex and need a strong team of experts with diverse expertise. These include textile engineers, environmental and chemical engineers, chemists and finishing experts working together to realise the necessary process changes to become PFC-free. “Especially when it comes to high-performance products, where it is crucial to find safe and best-performing alternatives we truly believe in our various teams of experts that represent an excellent network within adidas,” states Mr Meister.

Working together with your supply chain

According to the adidas Group, it is very important to closely collaborate with partners in the supply chain and include them in the process right from the start. It also requires going deeper into the supply chain and connecting with partnerships beyond the usual direct supply chain partners.

“Through this close collaboration we could identify process and production challenges at an early stage and share best practices amongst the supply chain. We also invested significantly into capacity building at the suppliers end to strengthen their knowledge,”  Mr Meister concludes.