As part of its commitment to using only recycled polyester by 2024, Adidas launched its next generation Stan Smith sneakers, promoting it as “100% iconic” and “50% recycled” with a “end plastic waste” logo.

After a consumer complaint was made in spring, the French advertising watchdog ARPP investigated the complaint and its jury, the Advertising Ethics Jury (“AEJ”), found that the ad disregards ARPP rules, which require advertising messages to be accurate and presented in a non-misleading way. The regulator also requires that marketers verify any objective assertions that relate to sustainability claims by presenting substantive evidence to such claims.

The first concern was that the advertisement does not enable the consumer to discern the total proportion of the shoe that is recycled with regard to the claim “50% recycled”. The Jury noted that such a claim gives the impression that this proportion relates to the shoe as a whole. Therefore, the consumer is lead to believe that 50% of the Adidas sneakers represented are made of recycled materials.

Although the second expression includes a reference specifying that these 50% relate only to the “upper” of the shoe and that “any plastic used on the foot is recycled”, the jury noted that the upper, a technical concept little known to the general public, constitutes only one part of the shoe (the one which covers the foot). As regards the logo comprising the text “End Plastic Waste“, the jury noted that the mere fact that it is a registered trademark cannot exempt advertisements which use it from the obligation to respect the ethical rules related to it, nor deprive the Jury of the possibility of concluding the presence of a breach of those rules.

In this case, the Jury noted that “this logo, which evokes the planet Earth, suggests that the company is pursuing to put an end to plastic waste, a message reinforced by the visual which shows a basketball crushing a plastic bottle”. In reality, “at the end of its life, a discarded [sneaker] will add to the mass of non-recycled plastic waste and, in all likelihood, fuel resulting pollution,” AEJ noted. “It cannot, therefore, be claimed that the marketing of these shoes would constitute a means of ‘putting an end to plastic waste.”

Adidas’s Response

Adidas refuted the claims made by the jury and the complainant in response to a letter sent by APRR informing them of the complaint made against it. Overall, it noted that it meets the requirements regarding clarity and truthfulness of the ad. Concerning the claim “50% recycled”, Adidas asserted that the ad does not claim that the shoe, itself, is recyclable- only the upper is made from 50% recycled material. 

Moreover, a precision was referenced by asterisk just below the advertisement message. It states that “New Stan Smith with Primegreen upper made from a minimum of 50% recycled material“. Also, it never announced that the product can be “recycled” at the end of its life, distinguishing between its claim that the sneakers contain recycled material and the alternative claim that the shoes are recyclable at the end of its life.

Concerning the “End plastic waste” logo, the logo was introduced to mark its general goal to reduce the amount of virgin plastic added in the world mainly by replacing virgin polyester in the brand’s products. By 2024, Adidas will have switched to 100% recycled polyester made from plastic intercepted on coastal areas of the oceans and plastic destined for landfills.  The company, however, acknowledged that Primegreen alone will not end plastic waste.


The jury has no power to sanction corporations that violate French advertising law. Instead, the decision is itself the penalty.

The decision comes during a period of misleading sustainability and ESG claims, including a consumer suit against Canada Goose. There are hopes that decisions such as this one will encourage consumers to look twice and research labels and advertisements that make environmental claims about the sustainability of products, leading to accountability being taken by corporations in industries that cause extensive environmental damage.