Based on the statements and practice of Fruit of the Loom, as well as the materials that go into each Spalding NBA Official Game Ball, it is pretty clear that this is not a sustainable product. If Fruit of the Loom had acknowledged their shortcomings and set goals that would substantially lessen their impact on the environment, I would be more optimistic for their future. Unfortunately, they are behind the curve on sustainability. Starting in the 2021-22 season, the NBA will no longer be using Spalding as the maker of their official basketball and will be using Wilson instead. We can only hope that Wilson is able to become a leader in sustainability and do what Spalding could not.
The inner-most layer of a Spalding Official Game Ball is composed of a synthetic rubber called butyl. Butyl is a fossil fuel based material that is common in a number of different types of balls. The ball also consists of nylon, an unsustainable synthetic plastic which is derived from oil. Nylon is not biodegradable and is generally associated with the same negative environmental impact as fossil fuels. They plan to use 30% recycled nylon by 2030; unfortunately, this is not nearly of an ambitious enough goal. The outer layer of the NBA Official Game Ball consists of full grain leather from cows. While full grain leather is very durable, it is still a byproduct of the notoriously unsustainable meat industry. Although it is technically not directly adding to the harm being done by the meat industry, leather still can not be considered sustainable as it is spurring demand for harmful practices.
Spalding, like most major corporations, claims that sustainability is one of their main priorities in the manufacturing of its products. Unfortunately, they are hardly even doing the bare minimum in terms of transparency and setting substantial goals. Their parent company, Fruit of the Loom, provides some basic information on “responsible sourcing”, but they do not lay out many specific goals for neutralizing carbon emissions or actually ensuring that their products are made responsibly. The goals they do provide are insufficient and not nearly ambitious enough, such as their goal for 100% renewable electricity by 2030 in their own operations. This does not even include their suppliers overseas. They also mention the fact that they do not use any Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan cotton in their apparel because it is a product of state-sponsored forced labor. While it is good that they are not using it, nearly every major apparel brand in the market can say the same thing. It is abundantly clear that Fruit of the Loom is not willing to take significant and substantial strides to improve the sustainability of the manufacturing of their products, including the Spalding NBA Official Game Ball.
Spalding’s website provides a link to Fruit of the Loom’s supply chain, but they do not provide information on the supply chains of their products specifically. To their credit, Fruit of the Loom is transparent about who their suppliers are, providing a complete list on their website. All Fruit of the Loom suppliers are expected to follow a code of conduct which includes basic restrictions on things like child labor, forced labor, and discrimination. Fruit of the Loom claims they monitor the conditions at all factories, but they give no specific timeline or plan for auditing these facilities. Instead, they provide vague statements such as, “Factories are typically assessed annually or, in some cases, every other year.” Consumers should not feel convinced that these products are being made sustainably.