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  • Kasturi Goswami

With An Epic Low Of 9 Points, Under Armour Has UN's SDGs Butchered, But It's Dusting Itself Up

In September 2015, the UN members agreed to work with an integrated front to secure the multifaceted agenda of a green sustainable Earth. Thereby, they adopted a planned roadmap consisting of 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, and 169 accompanying targets to help benchmark progress in their respective attainment.

The American activewear giant Under Armour (UA), is under the radar when it comes to breaches between their proposals and implementation. UA Inc.'s sustainability plans resolve to include social, environmental, health, safety and corporate responsibility. But their impact is being widely criticized.

In 2019, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) reported that 54% of textile and apparel companies (UA included) held back crucial environment-related info requested by investors or purchasers. This sector exacerbates global water scarcity through excessive freshwater consumption and subsequent contribution to water pollution. Thus, with a non-public disclosure rule, there is no evidence that these companies take initiatives to curb the problem at hand. Founded in 2000, the CDP is a non-profit organization that runs an international disclosure network for companies, cities, investors, states, and regions to keep tabs on their environmental impacts. Thus, in short, it keeps stock of environmental reporting. Disclosing through CDP allows companies to build trust and credibility by benchmarking themselves against their peers in the race towards sustainable consumption.

The annual report (2020) of UA Inc. claims the usage of chemicals and petroleum-based raw materials for their products; hence a lack of efforts to shift from traditional materials to more sustainable eco-friendly raws.

The fabrics used by our suppliers and manufacturers are primarily synthetic and involve raw materials, including petroleum-based products that may be subject to price fluctuations and shortages. We also use cotton in some of our apparel products as a blended fabric. Cotton is a commodity that is subject to price fluctuations and supply shortages. Additionally, our footwear uses raw materials that are sourced from a diverse base of third-party suppliers. This includes chemicals and petroleum-based components such as rubber that are also subject to price fluctuations and supply shortages.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Solidaridad, and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) UK annually releases the Sustainable Cotton Ranking list. The 2020 list contains 77 of the largest cotton using international brands and retailers. Their policies, actual uptake of more sustainable cotton, and transparency in their supply chains are reviewed. Under Armour has a drastic low score of 4.6/100; total out of policy, uptake, and traceability. This exhibits a prominent dearth of interest and responsibility toward environmental sustainability. Conventional cotton sourcing poses many environmental and ethical challenges which are outgrown by sustainable cotton. But only 25% of this ethical cotton is procured by industries; a matter of serious concern companies should address.

Good On You, a trusted social enterprise - created by the charity Ethical Consumers Australia - that rates ethical sustainable fashion, marks Under Armour overall as Not good enough, back in September last year. On the labor front, while some of its supply chains are FLA credited, according to a report released in 2019 by Labour Behind The Label - a UK member of the Clean Clothes Campaign - there was no evidence that the sports apparel brand participated in ensuring the payment of a living wage to their workers in supply chains. The Clean Clothes Campaign is a global alliance dedicated to empowering workers within the garment and sportswear industries and improving their working conditions.

In 2020, Fashion Revolution reviewed and ranked 250 of the global fashion giants. UA scored a low 29% Fashion Transparency Index (FTI). The index comprises 220 indicators over a wide range of social and environmental topics. Transparency is one of the most abundantly requested values by customers and investors from brands. It boosts accountability and trust in the brands thus aiding informed and ethical decisions on their end. FTI assesses brands and retailers based on these key areas:

The BOF Sustainability Index list is released by the Business of Fashion (BOF) publication as a stage to track fashion big bodies and their efforts to meet the social and environmental targets of the Paris climate agreement and UN SDGs.

The BoF Sustainability Index aims to create a transparent and trusted benchmark to track clearly defined, measurable progress towards achieving sustainability goals in the fashion industry.

The companies are assessed based on their performances across six categories:

  • Transparency (trace supply chains and disclose impact)

  • Emissions (reduce polluting greenhouse gas emissions)

  • Water & Chemicals (reduce water use and eliminate harmful pollution)

  • Materials (shift to regenerative and circular materials)

  • Worker's Rights (protect human rights and equitable working conditions)

  • Waste (minimize waste and establish circular business models)

The 2021 Index list has Under Armour ranked at a remarkable low of 9 points. UA's rating breakdown exhibits the desperate need to implement a healthier circular economy for its growth as a sustainable brand. Compared to its activewear rivals, UA makes a weak stand in its attempt at being green.

  • Transparency: 12%

  • Emissions: 0%

  • Water & Chemicals: 1%

  • Materials: 9%

  • Worker's Rights: 18%

  • Waste: 14%

Overall Company Score: 9%

Despite harsh assessments, UA was named as one of Unifi Inc’s REPREVE® Champions Of Sustainability (2020). By incorporating REPREVE (Unifi’s recycled fiber), UA has recycled the equivalent of 69 million bottles, offsetting the use of petroleum to produce virgin fiber. In addition to this, UA has partnered with Conservation X Labs — a Washington, DC-based innovation and technology company to launch the $650,000, Microfiber Innovation Challenge. The competition is dedicated to solving microplastic pollution by replacing plastic-derived textiles with non-toxic, biodegradable alternatives and/or developing improved textile manufacturing processes to decrease microfiber shedding.

The sportswear brand is also taking up initiatives to improve work conditions. It has announced the increase in hourly wages for retail workers to $15 in the US and Canada, to be effective from June 6. As a result, more than 8,000 employees ~ 90% of its retail and distribution center workforce — will see a compensation increase.

The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol recognizes three groups or 'Scopes' to categorize greenhouse gas emissions. Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources. Scope 2 houses indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling consumed by a company. Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur within the company’s value chain. Under Armour revealed three basic commitments to reduce its negative environmental impacts as a promise to a greener future. According to the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), Under Armour commits:

  • To reduce absolute Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions by 30%

  • To run all facilities to 100% renewable energies by 2030

  • To reach net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050

The SBTi establishes and encourages research-focused target selection, evaluation, and approval of corporate carbon reduction goals.

The activewear titan has taken up initiatives towards unknotting the harm it has bestowed, yet ages behind in responding to all the negative impacts it is culminating on a daily basis. Thereby, Under Armour's tiny steps need to become strides in the long run and divert its actions towards attaining sustainability; though only time can verify the gap between promises and implementation. Mainstream major brands like UA must meet standards to ensure and lead their peers in the clean, green race towards a better world.


Disclaimer: The content above is not to defame any brand, company, stakeholder, or investor. It is a generalized opinion on the brands' performance and sustainability levels.


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