Mankind has achieved countless great things over time.

We’re surrounded by innovation and technology which has revolutionised the way we live today. And many extraordinary pioneers have pushed boundaries and overcome great challenges to improve the quality of our lives, from Thomas Edison - inventor of the incandescent light bulb, to Marie Curie - known for her breakthrough ideas in radioactivity.

We have come to the age where we don’t know life without innovation. But sadly, it has led to the misuse and damage of our environment through pollution and the depletion of natural resources. It’s therefore vital that brands and companies think about new, innovative ways to mass produce sustainable products.

The same goes for the fashion and textile industry. Throughout time, what our clothing is made from has changed greatly, from fur and animal hides worn by our ancestors thousands of years ago, to the synthetic materials used in most clothing today. We’ve gone from traditional design and manufacturing processes, to an innovative, fully-digitalised workflow. This has forced major retailers to be flexible, offering large ranges, faster manufacturing times, and products at more affordable prices. But the materials used in our clothing and the processes used to make them has an enormous impact on our environment - highlighting the need for sustainable clothing and materials.

We are now realising the negative impact humans are having on our planet, from air pollution, to the millions of tons of plastic making its way into our oceans every year - harming wildlife and habitats. According to the UN environment programme, it’s estimated that only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Around 12% has been incinerated, while the remaining 79% ends up in landfills, dumps or the natural environment. This has led to one of the biggest environmental problems of our lifetime. And with plastic taking around 400 years to decompose, it’s clear big changes need to happen.

At Decathlon, we’re taking the first strides towards sustainability, alongside many other retailers who are shifting their business models to do their bit for the environment. Shoppers are also increasingly becoming more aware of sustainability and the importance of using eco-friendly products, and this is affecting how and why people are buying. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how we at Decathlon are striving to fight pollution and climate change, and how we’re committed to developing high-performance sports products with a more environmentally-friendly approach.


What is Decathlon’s sustainability vision?

‘Sustainability’ is defined as meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This includes natural resources, social and economical resources.

Decathlon’s purpose is a pretty simple one: to be useful to people and to our planet. Our company’s mission is to sustainably make the pleasure and benefits of sport accessible to the many. And we’re committing to achieving the following by 2026:

  • 100% renewable electricity: It was necessary to make a transition towards renewable energy, to reduce our buildings' environmental impact. In September 2018, we joined the worldwide RE100 initiative, and have committed to sourcing 100% of our electricity from renewable energy by 2026 - a measure that will apply to all our commercial and logistics sites around the world. The idea is to produce solar panel powered energy on our sites, where possible, or to buy renewable energy.
  • 100% of our repairable products are repaired: We believe the lifespan of our products shouldn’t stop once you no longer need them or when they are damaged. That’s why we’re on track for the future to offer several solutions to give products a longer life, including: our workshops - to repair and maintain your sports equipment, offering second-hand products via our Second Life initiative, part exchange - we’ll be able to buy back your old bike or skiing equipments to give it a new lease of life, and renting equipment - offering camping or watersports equipment, and long-term bike rental options, so you can try out a new activity or sport.
  • 100% of our products to be the result of an eco-design strategy: ‘Eco-design’ consists of taking the environment into account from the first design stages and throughout the entire product's life cycle. At the end of 2019, this applied to 5% of our range, with around 500 eco-design products - so we know we have a long way to go. But with our ever expanding range of ‘eco-design’ products, we’re confident it can be achieved.


Why is it important to use sustainable materials?

The fashion and textile industry is believed to be the biggest polluter after oil, and its carbon footprint accounts for around 10% of global greenhouse emissions. This is due to the energy used during its production, and the transportation of the millions of garments purchased each year. This is why it’s so vital for retailers to manufacture and sell sustainable clothing and sports products to help reduce the impact on the environment - protecting animals and people.

Clothes today are made from a wide range of different materials. Traditional materials such as linen, cotton and leather are sourced from plants and animals. But more and more clothing is made of materials and chemicals derived from fossil fuel-based crude oil.

Decathlon’s eco-design strategy is all about thinking through how to reduce a product's impact on the environment during its whole lifespan. It’s about making sure a product still fulfils the same function as a conventionally made one, while at the same time, offering an environmental benefit. With our sustainable clothing, we take into account:

  • Its raw materials: extraction and treatment
  • Its production: manufacturing techniques
  • Its transport: from production location to its distribution location
  • Its distribution: sales location and mode
  • Its use: usage, washing and maintenance
  • Its end of life: repair, recycling, destruction

For our eco-design products to be labelled as such, they must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  1. Its environmental impact must be reduced: by at least 10% compared with the previous model for at least two of the following indicators: climate change, air pollution, water pollution and resource depletion.
  2. It must meet certain specific design endeavours: at least 70% of the product weight made using recycled polyester, a fabric made with at least 90% organically grown cotton, less water-intensive dyes, etc.

Currently, 95% of the cotton currently used in Decathlon’s products is sustainable, but we want to go further to ensure 100% of cotton comes from sustainable sources by 2022. So how are we going to achieve this?


How will Decathlon reach 100% cotton sustainability by 2022?

We chose cotton as our key sustainable focus as it is the main natural fibre used to make many of our products - particularly our clothing. As a leading international retailer, we know that people rely on us for great quality products at affordable prices, and as cotton is one of our key fibres, like other retailers, we rely on farmers all over the world. Improving the long-term sustainability of how cotton is grown is therefore a real priority for us.

Organic cotton is a sustainable, renewable and biodegradable fibre that is ideal for eco-design products. It’s produced by using natural processes rather than artificial inputs. However, not all cotton is organic. In fact, less than 1% of global cotton production is certified organic. Non-organic cotton contributes to environmental pollution through the use of pesticides and insecticides, which is why many fashion and retail brands are now on a mission to increase their range of sustainable products and clothing.

Decathlon and other sustainable clothing brands are always looking for different sources of sustainable cotton, including through: Organic Farming, Recycling, and The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world.


Organic Farming

An organic cotton farming system is one that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It doesn’t use artificial elements such as pesticides and other chemicals, and instead relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions. Organic farming combines tradition, innovation and science, and promotes fair relationships and a good quality of life for everyone, from the farmer to the retailer and the consumer.

Recycling

Manufacturing and using recycled cotton prevents additional textile waste and requires far fewer resources than conventional or even organic cotton. This makes it a great sustainable option. Old garments and textile leftovers can be recycled and turned into new cotton, though the quality of recycled cotton may be lower than that of new cotton. It’s therefore usually blended with new cotton. The production of recycled cotton is still very limited, but it is on the increase. Many fashion and textile brands, including: Primark, Zara, H&M and TK Maxx, have recycling initiatives in their stores to encourage people to recycle their used clothing rather than throw it away. This is often incentivised through consumer benefits such as vouchers, discounts or points towards future purchases. Though there is a limit to how many times cotton can be recycled due to the fibre separation process that weakens it.

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The Better Cotton Initiative

The BCI is a global not-for-profit organisation and the largest cotton sustainability programme in the world. BCI exists to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in, and better for the sector’s future. They work with a diverse range of stakeholders, from farmers to retailers, to promote measurable and continued improvements for the environment, farming communities and the economies of cotton-producing areas. In the 2018-19 cotton season, 2.3 million BCI Farmers received training on more sustainable farming practices and produced 5.6 million tonnes of Better Cotton – equating to 22% of global cotton production.

Find out more about The Better Cotton Initiative.

We’ve also set ourselves the goal of 100% of the polyester used in our products to come from sustainable sources by 2022. But in 2019, only 16.3% of the polyester used met this goal - which is another big challenge.

Decathlon is also proud to be part of the Fashion Pact - a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry, including their suppliers and distributors. All are committed to a common core of key environmental goals in three main areas:

  • Stopping global warming: Implementation of science-based targets for climate to achieve net-zero by 2050 - through using raw materials which have a lower negative impact on the environment, and using renewable energy.
  • Restoring biodiversity: Development and implementation of strategies and science-based targets for nature - through supporting zero deforestation and sustainable forest management.
  • Protecting the oceans: Reduction of negative impact the fashion industry has on the ocean environment - through the elimination of problematic and unnecessary plastics in packaging and ensuring more plastic packaging is recycled.


What other brands are working towards a more sustainable future?

There are lots of other fashion and sports brands that are championing sustainability too. These brands are also acknowledging the issues and adapting their businesses to create change. Every year, thousands of tonnes of clothing and textiles are thrown away, and as much as 95% could be recycled.

Leading the way is Stella McCartney, who’s label—launched in 2001—has proved that it’s possible to create sustainable, ethical and trend-led collections without damaging our planet.

Denim brands E.L.V Denim and Ksenia Schnaider are creating new pieces out of unwanted jeans. One of the world's most polluting fabrics - it takes approximately 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make just one pair of jeans - which shows denim is a crucial material to target in the fight for sustainability.

High street retailer H&M were the first fashion brand to launch a global garment collection initiative in 2013, allowing customers to hand in any unwanted clothing to a H&M store, regardless of the brand or condition. Each year, they also launch their ‘Conscious Exclusive’ collection, comprising "high-end environmentally friendly pieces, aiming to move H&M’s fashion and sustainability development towards a more sustainable fashion future."

The digital fashion world is also leading the way, with eBay being one of the biggest backers of pre-loved fashion. They offer the opportunity to both buy and sell pre-worn items in over 190 countries. They, along with Depop, Vinted and other similar 'pre-loved’ businesses are the very epitome of a sustainable fashion cycle.

All these fashion brands have the common goal of achieving a more sustainable industry and a cleaner, safer world. And the number of companies working towards becoming more sustainable is growing at a fast pace. From reusing and recycling, to using cruelty-free materials, all of which have a positive impact on the world and the people around us.


How can shoppers be more sustainable?

In order for us to create a more sustainable world, we need your help. Your role, as a consumer of fashion and sportswear, is to create positive change. It’s important to be aware of what impact your actions and purchases are having on the environment, and while ‘fast fashion’ has its place for those who like to change their wardrobe regularly to keep up with the trends, many fashion retailers have been criticised for manufacturing and selling low cost clothing of inferior quality, and which cannot be recycled. Also known as ‘throw-away fashion’ this clothing is produced to last a season or two, rather than something which you’d keep in your wardrobe for years to come.

We buy more clothes per person in the UK than any other country in Europe, and a staggering 300,000 tonnes of used clothes are burned or buried in landfill each year - with much of it having never even been sold or worn. Cheap polyester clothing is made in large quantities, sold and quickly thrown out, much like single-use plastic. And it takes around 200 years to decompose, so the dangers to nature, the climate and human life are immense. So it’s clear retailers, as well as consumers, each play their part.

Decathlon is already on its way to becoming a more sustainable brand with 95% of the cotton we use coming from sustainable sources. But we’re well aware that plenty remains to be done to reduce the overall environmental impact. We've made commitments on materials used in our products, and by the end of 2022, all the polyester and cotton we use will be sustainably sourced. Today, our main constraints are the choice of alternative materials. We have to be certain that a material replacing another needs to have a less negative impact on the environment, and to achieve this, we rely on external studies and tests, which we have to guarantee the reliability and independence of the results. We use, for example, organic cotton for some of our products. Though the amount of organic cotton available on the market is less substantial than conventionally grown cotton.

We have also developed over 500 products with an eco-design approach, however, they only represent a small percentage of our overall product range. We’ve therefore set ourselves the goal to achieve 100% product development with an eco-design approach by 2026.

If you want to find out more about what Decathlon is doing to become more sustainable, you can read more about our sustainability goals here.