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Three Ways Innovation and Design are Shaping the Next Generation of Sustainable Sports Products


Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) are crucial for accelerating innovation and sustainability in the world of sports apparel -- inspiring big ideas, creativity, and empowering us to bring our imagination to life. In celebration of National STEM Day (November 8), FIRST® Strategic Partner and longstanding supporter Dow and its partners are showing us how they’re using STEAM to help unlock lower carbon material choices and enhanced quality for performance apparel. Their materials science innovations are enabling eco-conscious athletes to perform their best anywhere, from the home gym to the biggest stages in sports. 


1. Footwear 


When we put our shoes on our feet or are on the hunt for a new pair of athletic shoes, our first thought usually isn’t, “were these made sustainably or with recycled materials?” or “how much CO2 was used to create these?” But with the sheer number of shoes produced and worn by billions of people around the globe daily, maybe it should be! 

In collaboration with Crocs, Dow has begun supplying ENGAGE™ REN polyolefin elastomers produced using renewable energy and bio-based feedstocks such as used cooking oil for use in Crocs’ manufacturing process of its proprietary Croslite™ material, which have an even lower CO2 impact than their current material. The footwear brand will take a mass balance approach to scaling the percentage of bio-based polymers into its footwear over time. Crocs is the first footwear brand to go-to-market with this new material technology. 

Dow has also collaborated with Under Armor to innovate further and design – rubber-less “unitsole” shoes that were lightweight and could deliver unprecedented stability and flexibility. These types of collaborations and sustainable innovations can help the footwear industry rely less on fossil-based feedstock and shift to a more sustainable future. Historically, shoe midsoles have several components to their rubber outsoles, which require a more complex manufacturing process and more weight to achieve ideal performance. Together, a hand-selected team of engineers from Dow and UA worked for three years to develop UA Flow – also known by UA as “unicorn foam”- the industry’s first “unitsole” foam material that eliminates the need for rubber outsoles. The simplified design helped UA lower the carbon footprint of its manufacturing process by reducing the materials, energy, waste and labor required.


2. Apparel 


From athleisure and workout clothing to outfitting entire sports teams in warmup and gameday gear, apparel is a huge part of the sports industry. But sports don’t require just any apparel – these items must withstand wear, tear, and sweat and prove to be long lasting in all areas. This is often an extreme challenge when it comes to garments with screen-printed elements, like player numbers.  

Let’s look at another real-life example: to meet these criteria and improve the environmental impact and sustainability of apparel production, Dow has developed a silicone ink base solution that enables safer textile development. This base can be formulated without PVC, phthalates, solvents, organo-tins, or formaldehydes.  

The result? A more environmentally friendly solution that enables screen printers and apparel manufacturers to produce durable, high-quality, and wash-resistant prints on shirts, jerseys, shorts, and leggings made with a wide range of fabrics. 


3. Accessories


There’s no shortage of accessories when it comes to playing a sport. Take a look at golf, for example. Headcovers, golf tee, golf club, cleaning brushes, gloves, golf bags, the list goes on. How can innovation and design be used to bring sustainability into this expansive area of the sports industry?  

Here’s another recent, practical example: a team of Dow experts collaborated with a premium sport and travel accessories brand to engineer a golf bag with a reduced carbon footprint. To create a bag that offered high levels of sustainability, extreme durability and performance, customization, and a high-end feel, Dow’s team turned to its LuxSense™ Silicone Leather. Manufactured without plasticizers, DMF and other VOCs, and specifically made carbon-neutral* for this project, the material has lower carbon emissions than authentic leather and higher levels of abrasion, stain, and UV-resistance. 

Learn more about Dow and their sustainable innovations in performance apparel and accessories for the sports industry. 

On National STEM day, we celebrate the importance of young talent choosing a career path that can contribute to sustainable change. To making a real difference, in sports and other areas of life. The starting point is curiosity; asking questions and looking for ways to rethink how we make things. To rethink the use of materials. Not accepting that how things are done today is good enough for tomorrow. And when we combine this human curiosity, passion and creativity with the power of science, we can overcome technological barriers and build a better, more sustainable future for all. 

*The carbon neutrality claim has been verified by an independent 3rd party in accordance to PAS 2060 Carbon neutrality standard. The LCA has been internally peer reviewed and is currently pending critical review completion. For QES document please contact 

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