Puma launches biodegradable shoes to aid nature, lift sales

By Alister Doyle

OSLO, Oct 8 (Reuters) - German sportswear company Puma

announced a range of biodegradable shoes and clotheson Monday, seeking to lead in protecting nature as it tries tocatch up with rivals Nike and Adidas in sales.

The company, praised by United Nations reports as acorporate leader in trying to limit environmental damage, alsosaid it would widen its accounting for the costs of its airpollution, greenhouse gases, waste, land and water use.

"We have decided that sustainability is a mega-trend," chiefexecutive Franz Koch told Reuters in a telephone interview,asked if innovation would help lift Puma, a distant third insports apparel sales behind Nike and Adidas .

"We want to contribute to a better world. At the same time,we also want to carve out our competitive advantage," he said ofthe gamble that consumers will be attracted by noveleco-friendly products.

The new collection, going on sale in 2013, includesbiodegradable sneakers and shirts and recyclable plastic trackjackets and backpacks. At the end of their useful life, theproducts can be returned to stores for processing.

Koch said it was a "small collection" of 22 products. Hedeclined to predict sales volumes.

The sole of the sneaker, for instance, would be made ofbiodegradable plastic and the upper of organic cotton and linen.After going through a shredder, it could become compost in sixto nine months.

Koch said "biodegradable" did not mean products were notdurable. "You can't just dispose of it in the garden at home,dig a hole and hope that a tree is going to come out," he said.

The company also said it was starting to rate theenvironmental impact of individual products, narrowing the focusfrom a study last year that estimated the entire company caused145 million euros ($188 million) in damage to nature in 2010.


A new biodegradable T-shirt, for instance, would haveenvironmental costs of 2.36 euros in terms of greenhouse gases,water, waste, air pollution, and land use associated with itsproduction, compared to 3.42 euros for a conventional T-shirt.

The numbers aim to help make consumers aware of theenvironmental impact of their choices and guide them to lessdamaging options -- Puma does not add the environmental cost toits sales price.

"In the long run I think all of this should be standardised,just like we are used to seeing calories on our food products,"Jochen Zeitz, chairman of Puma, told Reuters. Zeitz is also adirector of Puma's owner, French luxury group PPR .

It also showed that 100,000 pairs of biodegradable sneakers,for instance, would fill 12 trucks of waste during productionand disposal against 31 trucks-worth for the same number ofnormal Puma suede shoes.

Zeitz conceded that "a lot of people call it a risk" tomention pollution when trying to sell a product. "I think it's arisk not to talk about it," he said. "It's our opportunity asbusinesses to be transparent."

Pavan Sukhdev, who led the U.N.'s Green Economy Initiativefrom 2008 to 2011, has often praised Puma as a leader. He toldReuters last month that Puma has done "a great job intransparency, measurement and disclosure" of costs to nature.

So far, Sukhdev said only companies whose turnover makes upless than five percent of the world economy had put in placeways to start estimating damage to nature, from waste to energyuse.($1 = 0.7711 euros)

(Reporting By Alister Doyle, editing by Paul Casciato)

((alister.doyle@thomsonreuters.com)(+47 4683 74 83))