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Leaving neoprene behind: thanks to technical innovation?

Neoprene wetsuits: towards a new wave? Discover the environmental challenges and alternatives at stake in this challenge.

For decades, neoprene wetsuits have been a must-have for water sports enthusiasts and cold-water divers. Their ability to thermally insulate the body under water has enabled millions of people to enjoy their favourite activities in even the most extreme conditions.
However, these wetsuits have a big impact on the environment: neoprene, derived from petroleum, is a non-renewable resource and its production is polluting.
With this in mind, finding alternatives to neoprene wetsuits is crucial. Which means finding new materials that take the environment into account while maintaining the expected technical performance. Fortunately, these exciting new alternatives are beginning to emerge.

Neoprene, a controversial material

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber widely used in the manufacturing of wetsuits for surfing and diving.
Its exact name is ‘polychloroprene’.
It has undeniable benefits: high resistance to mechanical, chemical and thermal stress. These advantages quickly enabled it to conquer the water sports market as early as the 1950s. Since then, this material has had time to prove its worth... but the environmental implications have also become clear: this synthetic rubber, produced from petroleum or limestone, requires very energy-intensive manufacturing processes.

Alternatives to neoprene

Knowing this, the big question became: how do we replace it? At DECATHLON, we started with Yulex100, made from 100% certified natural rubber.
To launch this transition, we have concentrated our efforts on introducing Yulex100 in our junior range for beginners (which accounted for 34% of our surf wetsuits sold in 2023) and in our diving tops, which accounted for 27% of the diving and snorkelling tops and wetsuits sold in 2023. The adult range will follow in 2025.

Other possible solutions do exist and depending on the type of wetsuit that will be redesigned (for example, deepwater wetsuits don’t have the same technical specifications as wetsuits designed to promote speed), these will be explored at a later date.

Getting out of neoprene, first and foremost a technical challenge

Changing the main material of the wetsuit, without changing the manufacturing process too much, while keeping the same technical properties and guaranteeing an affordable price... It was quite a challenge!

At the beginning of 2024, we launched our first Yulex100 wetsuits (‘100’ stands for ‘foam made from 100% FSC or PEFC certified natural rubber’, i.e. without any neoprene incorporated. There are still a few parts of the suit that are not made of rubber, such as the textile part, which is not dyed).

And we know that the work has only just begun. Neoprene has properties that make it ideal for making wetsuits, such as its resistance to compression (for practices like scuba diving, freediving or spearfishing), its smooth finish (for people looking for speed) and its thermal insulation.

Working on materials and involving stakeholders

Reviewing the design upstream is a must - but it's not enough! To go further and review an entire ecosystem, DECATHLON is working with Bluepoint, which aims to design a regenerative model to help clean up the seas and create new jobs throughout the new marine plastic value chain.
The stakes are high: the OECD's Global Plastics Outlook, published in June 2022, highlights the scale of the threat posed by plastic waste to our oceans and their fragile ecosystems: there are 140 million tonnes of waste in the oceans, 80% of which is plastic. This amount of marine pollution by plastic is increasing exponentially, with between 4.8 and 12.8 million tonnes added every year. Plastic could outnumber fish by 2050, damaging marine biodiversity, health and economies.

Sortir du néoprène grâce à l’innovation

Sustainable development in water sports

At DECATHLON, in 2023, 42.5% of ‘water sports’ sales were generated by products benefiting from an eco-design approach.

DECATHLON reduced its absolute CO2 eq. emissions (scopes 1, 2 & 3) by 11% in the same year. To contribute to the DECATHLON Group's commitment, the Watersports team aims to achieve 50% eco-designed products by 2024 and 65% by 2025.

Scope 1, 2 and 3, what are they?
To carry out a GHG assessment, companies need to analyse the GHG emissions emanating from their activity and that of third parties. The perimeters within which GHG emissions are analysed are called scopes. There are three main types of scope: 1, 2 and 3.

Scope 1 : Direct emissions (e.g., gas combustion in stores’ boilers).

Scope 2 : Indirect emissions from electricity consumption.

Scope 3 : Other indirect emissions from the value chain (raw materials extraction and products manufacturing, transport of products, teammates commute, etc.)

What action plan is needed to reduce absolute CO2 eq emissions?

What action plan is needed to reduce absolute CO2 eq emissions?

DECATHLON commits to reduce absolute scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions 42% by 2030 from a 2021 base year. Decathlon also commits to reduce absolute scope 3 GHG emissions 42% within the same timeframe.

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