Recently I came across a sign in the Decathlon which said “100% environmentally friendly”. It showed a T-shirt for only € 8,99! I figured such a bold statement for such a low price deserves some more investigation.
First of all; 100% environmentally friendly T-shirts do not exist. Any form of manufacturing has a negative impact on the environment, we can only try to reduce this impact as much as possible. Having said that, let’s have a look at the Decathlon’s environmental efforts.
Decathlon has developed an environmental labelling system. Which I think deserves some credit. The system is developed to help both customers and their product designers make more sustainable choices.
The labelling system works with an A to E ranking (A is best, E is worst). The labels take into account the impact of a specific product all the way from raw material to product to end-of-life. The Quechua NH500 (the shirt in the picture) is made of 74% biological cotton and 26% recycled polyester. Which means that consistent with their labelling this T-shirt has an A-label.
However, it is important to realize that this labelling system is merely a comparing system. It compares products from the same family with each other (t-shirts are only compared to other t-shirts) and labels are awarded based on this comparison. Which means that even a bad product could get an A-label as long as it slightly outperforms other bad products.
In other words; the label informs us about whether a product is more sustainable than another product, but not about the sustainability itself.
Rank a Brand on Decathlon
To clarify this point lets take a look at the recently updated 2019 rankings for ‘Sport and outdoor clothing’ by Rank a Brand. They tell quite a different story and rank Quechua (which is a Decathlon brand) with D-label.
Looking at the ‘climate change’ and ‘environmental policy’ categories, which are also taken into account in Decathlon’s own labelling, they only score positive on 4 out of 18 points. On the ‘labour conditions’ category they score even worse with only 2 out of 16 points(!)
This does make you wonder how environmentally friendly those T-shirts really are..