Sport clothing brand Adidas has produced some engaging data about its sustainability efforts

Fair Play, the Adidas Group’s 2013 Sustainability Progress Report, demonstrates true reporting sportsmanship, graciously acknowledging wins and handling challenges with tact. The PDF report follows a new structure this year, demonstrating how sustainability thinking is put into practice at the company.

Reporting basics (such as the employee code of conduct), have been moved to the website, where you will also find all facts and figures about the company. This makes room in the Fair Play report for a robust discussion of timely issues, such as support of displaced workers after an unethical business closure and disclosure of suppliers for the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil.

The report is therefore a fresh account of the issues most relevant for Adidas in 2013, though you’ll have to head to the web for an explanation of its materiality assessment. The report provides just enough background to make sense of 2013 progress. For example, brief but critical background is provided on the sustainable compliance initiative that began in 2008 to give context to 2013 progress. This approach makes the report a true snapshot in time and avoids repeating the same old content from 2012.

The report opens with a brief statement from Herbert Hainer, Adidas’s chief executive, where a humble tone is set. “We are not perfect and we do not always get it right,” he says.

Information on overall strategy follows – just three pages of content explaining Adidas’s “4Ps” approach and restructured 2015 targets. 4Ps is the new framework encompassing the company’s sustainability programme, based on four pillars: people, product, planet and partnership.

Set the vision

And therein lies the Achilles heel of the report. In an effort to get right into the good stuff, the report does not spend enough time setting the vision or the strategy. The big picture is lost in the content that follows, with missed opportunities to connect back to the overall theme of “fair play”. The CEO says that “we are aware that there is always more we can do”, but doesn’t reveal his game plan.

The rest of the report is organised by pillar, with one or two specific topics per page. These are accessibly presented and cover a wide range of issues from improving fire safety in factories to how to make garments water repellent in better ways. Each pillar section concludes with an account of progress against annual milestones. It’s helpful to see incremental achievements towards larger goals, but the reader is left wondering if Adidas is on track to meet the 2015 targets. Utilising a set of icons that indicate various levels of progress could alleviate this confusion at a quick glance.

The report closes with a robust set of performance data. Not your typical GRI table, this covers 26 pages chock full of figures that should have data-geeks smiling, covering factories, audits, training, employee demographics, health and safety, and more.

While there is no formal external stakeholder commentary on the report, there are numerous quotes included throughout. From an anonymous YouTube viewer’s comments on working at Adidas to remarks from the executive director of the Fair Factories Clearinghouse on audit capabilities, the quotes provide additional colour to the discussion of sustainability issues and offer different perspectives. Including a small photo of the person being quoted could give the report a more personal feel and help to remind readers of the actual people affected by these issues and working toward their solutions.

The report design is clean and simple. It doesn’t need to fall back on flashy infographics or full bleed images because the words themselves tell a powerful story. Written in a strong but humble tone, the report gracefully acknowledges challenges and how Adidas plans to address them. For example, the report cites a number of fair wage issues at suppliers, and promises to address the causes of these next year.

The language is accessible and free of industry jargon, even when describing complicated concepts such as the negative effects of water-repellent chemicals and the cause of hand-arm vibration syndrome, a condition that can be caused by working with power tools. Unfortunately, this does not carry through to the progress against milestones, where the language tends to be more technical and acronyms abound. Readers might have trouble understanding what a 3E supplier rating means, for example, since the definition is 22 pages further into the report.

Overall, it’s the kind of report you won’t mind reading. It’s a relevant year-in-review, an honest account of issues faced and progress made, written in way that shows the Adidas Group plays fair when it comes to sustainability reporting.


Follows GRI? Uses G3.1 to inform the report.

Assured? No, but highly credible.

Materiality analysis? Published on the website which is separate from the 2013 Sustainability Progress Report.

Targets? Yes, 2015 targets, restructured to fit the 4Ps approach.

Stakeholder input? Little. The report features quotes from some third parties.

Seeks feedback? Yes. An address, phone number and email address are provided.

Key strengths? Data-rich and relevant.

Chief weakness? Lacks context (though it’s on the website).

Pleasant surprise? An enjoyable read.

Kristen Marzocca is a senior consultant at Context America.

Adidas  communications report  csr communications  sustainability reporting 

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