19/11/2011 00:59 GMT | Updated 19/11/2011 02:44 GMT

Puma Reveals Its £124m Ecological Footprint In Groundbreaking New Research

Sportswear and fashion company Puma has revealed the full extent of its ecological footprint, after going through a groundbreaking exercise to quantify the severity of its impact on the planet.

The company concluded its total environmental cost from the farm to the footlocker is £124m.

The vast majority - 93%- of that comes from its supply chain and more than half of the total is from its raw material use.

Chairman, Jochen Zeitz, said the aim is to allow Puma to best identify how it can reduce its impact and ultimately pressure other businesses to do the same.

"I am a strong believer that every drop in the ocean can have a ripple effect," Zeitz told the Huffington Post UK.

"In my past as a CEO of Puma I believe I have found with my team that changing paradigms and innovating can lead to great things. We invented the sports lifestyle market when everybody thought it was a fad. It changed the sporting goods industry."

Zeitz is hoping that the "environmental profit and loss" project will provide a similar spark.

"I believe that not only do we have no choice but also we have a great opportunity to innovate. Every new step takes time and energy. It's not easy," he added.

The audit, based on metrics developed at the UN and by academics and interpreted at a corporate level by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Trucost, attributed a value to ecosystem services along the company's entire supply chain.

Greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change, which impacts on a wide range of habitats; water and land use for agriculture or manufacturing have knock-on effects to ecosystems; waste disposal in landfill or by burning pollutes land, water and the air.

Every drop in the ocean can have a ripple effect, says Puma's chairman

These factors were all accounted for, with a cost attached to them.

Puma's demand for raw materials - principally rubber, cotton and leather - requires the use of 100,000 hectares of land worldwide, and is the largest contributor to its ecological footprint.

As part of its response to the findings, the company is to look at using recycled rubber and synthetic alternatives to leather in its footwear, Zeitz said.

The direct impact of Puma's own operations amounts to £6.85m (€8m), £5.99m (€7m) of which comes from greenhouse gas emissions. While transporting the company's products and staff means that taking that figure down to zero is "probably very unlikely", he said, moving to cleaner energy generation and vehicles is a step in that direction.

Beyond that, exerting leverage on their supply chain could yield results. Puma will be incorporating environmental standards into their procurement processes, potentially creating a far larger ripple effect.

Zeitz also holds the role of "chief sustainability officer" at Puma's parent group PPR, owner of brands including Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Lauren and Stella McCartney. PPR will be implementing the environmental profit and loss audit across its entire portfolio by 2015, the company said.

Puma is one of the most recognisable sportswear brands in the world

Being the first to publicise its environmental impact exposes Puma to criticism and to additional costs, while adding an unquantifiable amount to the value of the brand, but Zeitz said that he is not worried that committing to measuring and improving its sustainability will make the company less competitive.

"I think the consumer is much smarter than that today," he said. "Everyone knows that business has a negative footprint. Perhaps it's time to come clean and be transparent about it… there's only an honest way of looking at reality and we need to look into a mirror and say 'what's my own footprint? My own impact?' And the businesses that are the leaders in this area are the ones that will ultimately gain market share."

Zeitz, who is well-known in his native Germany as an advocate of corporate citizenship, also sits on the boards of Wilderness Safaris, an eco-tourism company, and the motorbike manufacturer Harley Davidson, where he chairs their sustainability committee.

He was 30 when he took over as CEO at Puma in the early 1990s and is credited with reinvigorating a staid and moribund sportswear brand. In 2008 he began to redefine the company's ethics, a process which led to the environmental audit.

Puma is also now working on a separate study to quantify its social footprint.

He is adamant that there is simply no choice for informed consumers and businesspeople to take action to reduce the extent of anthropogenic climate change and prevent catastrophic loss of habitat and livelihood. Equally, though, he believes that the answer will never be to simply stop business from operating.

"To say we could all walk barefoot I think is an expectation from our consumers that is very unlikely to happen," he said. "It's not something that society would sign up to. That said, creating footwear that has little impact on the environment is definitely something that we absolutely have to look at, just like cars need to be at some point environmentally neutral."

Ultimately, it will be a competitive advantage, Zeitz insisted.

"I think there is no way around it for businesses that have long term view and that believe in building brand equity long term rather than quarter-by-quarter," he said.

"I believe that regulation will also kick in and environmental profit and loss will become a standard because, you know, it's such a powerful idea that you can't ignore it. I believe that either way, push or pull, it's going to happen."