The upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics Games have another uniform controversy, this time involving Lululemon, which will be plying Team Canada with opening and closing ceremony outfits, podium wear and Athlete’s Village looks for the next six years.
The athleisure brand’s profligate use of coal to crank out its downward-dog-friendly leggings and sports bras belies the reputation it has cultivated as a sustainability leader, according to Stand.earth, an environmental nonprofit that, like the lawsuit-slammed company, hails from Vancouver in British Columbia. By contributing to climate pollution, Lululemon “threatens the future of Winter Games.”
“Becoming the official outfitter for Team Canada at one of the most beloved sports competitions in the world is an incredible moment for Lululemon,” Muhannad Malas, senior climate campaigner at Stand.earth, said in a statement. “But it is ironic and reckless that Lululemon is using coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, to make the clothing for Canada’s athletes, whose performance and participation in the Winter Olympics in the coming years will increasingly hinge on our success in tackling the climate crisis.”
Stand.earth said it’s been calling on Lululemon to “do better” on climate change for more than a year to little avail. The sportswear company, it said, has yet to commit to eliminating coal from its supply chain. Neither has it done much to advocate for the transition of coal to renewable energy in the countries where its factories are located, including Cambodia, China and Vietnam. And though it has purchased renewable energy credits for its owned and operated facilities in North America, Lululemon is “notably missing” from joint efforts by brands such as H&M and Nike to lobby garment-producing nations to ramp up their share of solar and wind power, Stand.earth said.
The organization’s research found that roughly 48 percent of the electricity used by Lululemon suppliers in Cambodia, China and Vietnam in 2020 originated from burning coal, while just 5 percent stemmed from renewables. A “closer look” at Team Canada’s outfits reveals that many of them were also “made with coal,” Stand.earth said, noting that the “transformable” red puffer parka athletes will don during the opening ceremony (or zip off in sections to create a shorter version) was made in China. The white down jacket they’ll wear for the closing even? Produced in Vietnam. The high-rise joggers? Cambodia.
Stand.earth’s criticism follows Chinese authorities’ warnings of “extremely unfavorable” weather days ahead of the Games due to hazardous smog from coal-powered industries. A new study by Canadian climate scientists said that if carbon emissions continue to grow, 20 out of 21 cities that hosted the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in the past, including Vancouver, will likely have “unfair-unsafe” conditions for future events.
In its latest Fossil-Free Fashion Scorecard, published in August, Stand.earth gave Lululemon a D- grade for “taking no meaningful action to get rid of coal and deploy renewable energy in its manufacturing,” even though sportswear firms as a whole performed better than fast-fashion retailers. Asics, for instance, reported that it has eliminated all on-site coal burning at its Tier 1 facilities.
The nonprofit intends to rally in Vancouver ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony on Feb. 4. Lululemon, which previously announced plans to make clothing out of carbon emissions and ditch virgin nylon, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee did not respond to requests for comment.
“As the Winter Olympics begin, Canadians everywhere must call on Lululemon to do more to ensure its clothes are not made with coal,” said Malas. “As the climate crisis worsens, the health of our planet, and the future of winter sports, depends on the swift actions of companies like Lululemon and the entire polluting fashion industry to clean up its supply chains.”