Decathlon will finalize by the end of 2019 its decade-long project that will see all textile and footwear items labeled with their environmental impact, according to reports on just-style.com. Raffaele Duby, sustainable development leader for product and design at the French retailer, also told just-style that the data will be made freely available to other companies.

Since 2009, Decathlon has been labeling products with a rating of A to E, based on a Life Cycle Assessment approach, in order to give customers an immediate idea of the environmental impact of individual products and allow them to compare the different products. “A” means the least impactful on the environment. A product rated “A” will then have the lowest impact, while a similar product rated “E” will have the highest impact. The system is easy to understand and already adopted for household electrical appliances and in the automobile industry. By autumn/winter 2017, about 16 percent of all textile, footwear and heavy stitching products (such as backpacks, tents and sleeping bags) sold online had been rated. The share almost doubled to 30 percent, namely around 1,500 products, for autumn/winter 2018. The company is planning to roll out the initiative within its stores in France from spring/summer 2019. Taking the labeling in-store, however, presents the additional challenge of training thousands of Decathlon employees around the world on the labeling criteria. For Decathlon products in Decathlon stores, the information will be displayed on the shelf rather than on the product. For Decathlon products sold in different stores, the labeling will be on the product. The company is currently designing new labeling and store signs, which will be available from next spring. By autumn/winter 2019, all textile, footwear and heavy stitching items will carry environmental labeling, said Duby.

In his interview with just-style.com, Duby stressed that while the A, B, C, D or E rating system may be simple for customers, it implies that the company makes choices about how to create and compare the data, and how to create the database. The environmental impact has to be assessed across every step of the product lifecycle, which goes from raw materials to production, transport, retail, use, and end of life. Each product is then attributed a value for each different indicator, in relation to aspects such as climate change (greenhouse gas emissions), water and air pollution, depletion of resources, and electricity consumption.

The next step will be for Decathlon to integrate the data on environmental impact into the design process, to enable the design staff to take steps to reduce that impact also via design tools. Designers can make a significant difference by selecting inputs with less impact on the water, air and soil and by going for more eco-friendly materials. One-third of products are carried over from one season to the next, said Duby, which means that some of the products have already been evaluated and it is not necessary to start from scratch every season. Decathlon operates two distinct seasons, spring/summer and autumn/winter, when new products go into stores. The company is currently evaluating the product line for spring/summer next year, said Duby.

Decathlon has worked on the project with a range of French government agencies, including: the Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR), which is the French national organization for standardization and a member body of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO); the French Ministry for Ecological and Inclusive Transition; and ADEME, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency. The collective work is part of a wider national pilot project on the environmental labeling of consumer products that includes a variety of sectors. These initiatives typically aim to define common standards, compile a public database, and create automatic calculation tools for environmental impact, so as to ensure that results are consistent and comparable between similar products.