The New Age of Corporate Social Responsibility

by Valerie Gunthel

Everyone’s a little concerned about the environment these days, admittedly some more than others. But it’s an issue that’s getting harder and harder to ignore, which, in my humble opinion, is a good thing. Everyday, as I scroll aimlessly through the content on my phone, jumping from one social media platform to another in search of entertainment, I will inevitably fall upon one article or another depicting new, inventive ways of cleaning up the planet. Be it a way to recycle old fishing nets in remote tropical islands, turn polluted air into ink, or even complex ways to get off the grid for good, I find that these stories never truly manage to go the extra mile and push me, the reader, to take action. I generally feel inspired for a few minutes, and I might even share the article online, but then I am back to scrolling down, smiling at pictures of funny cats and drooling at videos of colourful pancake art.

Adidas’ has announced its collaboration with Parley for the Oceans. I thought it sounded interesting, especially because I don’t view the Adidas brand in a particularly good light (the words ‘child labour’ come to mind). I immediately dismissed any interest I had in their new shoes, which were apparently made from recycled ocean plastic (which I found doubtful, I mean, what percentage of recycled plastic are they really using, 10%?). I scrolled past the article, thinking it was an innovative PR stunt that wouldn’t really be going further. As it turns out, I was wrong.

The limited-edition shoes were created to honour World Ocean Day, on June 8th, as the first in a series made from Parley Ocean Plastic. Fans of the brand were given the opportunity to win a pair by pledging to avoid single use plastic, recording it on video, and posting the final product on Instagram. While at first it was announced that only 50 pairs would be produced, by the end of 2016, that number had risen to 7,000. To that, Adidas executive Eric Liedtke said: “We will make one million pairs of shoes using Parley Ocean Plastic in 2017, and our ultimate ambition is to eliminate virgin plastic from our supply chain,”

But, you may ask, what does this have to do with PR? Well, first, let’s look at Corporate Social Responsibility for a moment, and how this sustainability trend grew from being “a good idea” to becoming a vital part of any solid business strategy. CSR truly took off after the financial crisis, when certain major companies suddenly found themselves on their hands and knees, trying to appease their shareholders. It became essential to promote trust and transparency reassuring not just shareholders but other important stakeholders, such as the media and governmental institutions. Giving back to society was the way to go, and proved to be quite effective. In fact, it soon became a tool for businesses to gain a competitive advantage in the market. Recently, the United Nations even came out with a set of Sustainable Development Goals, to help companies narrow in on their CSR strategies.

Corporate social responsibility is most used as part of a brand management scheme, and sometimes the budget allocated to promote the action is greater than the money used for the action itself. I myself tend to think of it as a smoke screen, drawing the consumer’s attention away from other issues. But what if this was the way to go? Maybe Adidas isn’t really unfolding a new PR campaign, getting people to part with £178 for the chance to wear a new pair of sneakers, maybe the company is changing its business model and is trying to engage its stakeholders in a different way. Maybe they’re trying to become first movers and leave the highly competitive market of sports apparel behind, pushing us to change the way we perceive clothing and fabrics.

“So much work has happened behind the scenes since we launched our partnership with Adidas. We are creating new standards, new materials and technologies that are different to those the sporting goods industry is used to”, says Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley.

Adidas and Parley for the Oceans have been working together for over a year now to come up with new ways to turn ocean plastic into ‘technical yarn fibres’ that can be used, not only in footwear, but sustainably in a range of technical clothing as well. This year the duo announced the release of a swimwear collection that is similarly made from recycled fishing nets and debris found in the Maldives. This new material, called Econyl, is said to be just as strong and resistant as polyester. I don’t know about you, but I look forward to seeing more of this in the future!

So, tell me, what do you think? Is this adidasxparley partnership the first of many, or just a one off?

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