The Managerial Odyssey 2024 - Transitioning to Ecological and Social Responsibility: The Case of Decathlon

♻️ Faced with environmental and social challenges, companies must rethink their operations to reduce their impact.

In this article, we discuss how Decathlon is evolving its business model towards a circular economy approach, providing inspiration for your ecological and social transition journey!

🕐 Reading Time: 10 minutes

How to shift your business model towards a circular economy? The Decathlon Case

Table of Contents

1. Our Meetings with Decathlon France and Italy

2. Circularizing Business Operations: The Decathlon Case

2.1 Redesigning Product Conception

→ Durability, Repairability, Recyclability, and Inclusivity

2.2 Offering New In-Store Services to Customers

→ Rental, Repair, and Trade-In

3. What Surprised Us the Most

1. Our meetings with Decathlon France and Italy

We had the opportunity to meet with Decathlon twice: in France and then in Italy! During these meetings, we learned more about Decathlon’s ecological and social transition strategy with Nicolas Duclot (Quality Manager 🇫🇷), Dorothée Monsigny (Head of Sustainability 🇮🇹), and Sabrina Bonanno (Product Manager Adapted Sport 🇮🇹).

We also met and interacted with Gaëlle, Emilie, Thomas, and Joseph—thank you all!

Decathlon Passy – Mountain Store Offices and store blend into the mountain landscape 🇫🇷

Breaking news…Decathlon is becoming a purpose-driven company! This will lead to changes in its business model, as well as in management and organizational practices.

Since its inception, the company has been committed to sustainability, both in sports practice and its products. Increasingly, through its values, internal and external commitments, and production and distribution processes, it integrates environmental and social issues into its business model.

🧐 What is a Purpose-Driven Company?

"A purpose-driven company is a commercial enterprise that has adopted a purpose incorporating the consideration of social, societal, and environmental impacts. The purpose must include one or more of these objectives. The aim of a purpose-driven company is to reconcile the pursuit of economic performance with contributing to the greater good."

With the new CEO, Barbara Martin Coppola, who joined two years ago, Decathlon’s mission has evolved:

“Making the pleasure and benefits of sports accessible to the many in a sustainable way”

Mission from 1976 to 2024

“Move people through the wonders of sport”

Mission and purpose since 2024

The strategy behind this new ambition is to promote sports in a sustainable and innovative way. To achieve this, Decathlon aims to shift its business model towards a circular economy, known in English as a circular business model.

How? By redesigning product conception (durability, recyclability…) and offering new in-store services (rental, repair).

🧐 What is a circular business model?

Understanding the circular economy.

In this model, the company rethinks its activities from a linear “extract, produce, consume, dispose” approach—which causes significant environmental impacts—to a circular approach, focusing on reuse rather than disposal.

"The circular economy involves producing goods and services sustainably by limiting resource consumption and waste production. This model creates positive value loops at each use or reuse stage before final destruction. It emphasizes new modes of design, production, and consumption, extending product life, prioritizing use over ownership, and recycling components."

A circular business model follows the same principles for a company or organization.

"Unlike the classic business model, a circular business model (CBM) generally does not primarily aim for economic performance but rather to close the loops of energy, material, and waste flows while ensuring satisfactory profitability and long-term sustainability."

2. Circularizing business operations: the Decathlon case

Committed to respecting the environment and people since its creation, Decathlon aims to take a significant leap forward by circularizing its entire production chain for a more positive impact.

The goal?

→ Align economic value with environmental and social values.

→ Be an example of successful transformation.

"If you manage to move a giant like this, it sends a strong message to other companies that will want to follow suit,"

The challenge?

→ Making the circular business model profitable enough to scale the transition.

The means?

To circularize its business model, Decathlon redesigns product conception (2.1) and offers new in-store services to its customers (2.2).

♻️ 2.1 Redesigning product conception to extend lifespan and increase inclusivity

For several years, Decathlon has focused on improving product design to extend their lifespan and increase inclusivity. This initiative aims to integrate durability (resistance, performance, reliability), repairability, and inclusivity from the product design phase.

This is known as eco-design and eco-friendly products.

It involves designing more inclusive and long-lasting products from less polluting materials—the opposite of fast fashion.

👉 Improving product durability, repairability, and recyclability

To enhance product durability, Decathlon has implemented precise processes since 2020:

  • A dedicated team of engineers created a durability criteria reference for eco-designed products (e.g., component selection).
  • Product designers then develop a clear roadmap for all items in their product range.
  • This roadmap helps design teams identify products to improve or discontinue if they do not meet durability criteria.

To enhance product repairability, Decathlon relies on the same processes as durability. The criteria for considering a product repairable are:

  • Spare parts availability on the market;
  • Product dismantlability;
  • Repair costs at least 30% lower than the product’s new purchase price.

→ All to offer a second life to products by facilitating their repairability.

To enhance product recyclability, Decathlon:

  • Strengthens its ties with specialized recycling channels.

Indeed, Decathlon conducts experiments with several stakeholders specializing in recycling. The goal? To create a product recyclability assessment tool to measure:

  • The recycling potential of the product. Are there affiliated recycling channels for this product?
  • Potential recycling disruptors. For example, metallic elements reduce a product’s recyclability.

Additionally, Decathlon involves and trains all actors across its production chain on:

  • Human aspects (training & salary)
  • Environmental aspects (energy use, production process transformation & compliance with European textile standards)
  • Economic aspects (profitability)

👉 Creating weather-dependent products

Decathlon teams consider climate change issues in their strategy. For instance, the “Ski Sports” section 🇫🇷 is reinventing its product strategy due to the gradual disappearance of snow in the mountains: these are weather-dependent products.

👉 Creating inclusive products

During our tour in Italy, we met Sabrina, Product Manager Adapted Sport. The Adapted Sport branch aims to make sports accessible to everyone by creating products for people with disabilities. It has existed since 2016 in Italy and since 2022 internationally.

To create inclusive products, Sabrina and her team follow a test & learn approach, staying close to and listening to users:

  • Discussing with people with disabilities their needs regarding sports practices;
  • Co-creating new products with the team and the community of future users;
  • Testing the product and improving it based on user feedback;
  • Finalizing and marketing the product.

“My daily challenge is to create products that make people love sports. I want my products to be beautiful and inclusive to engage people with disabilities,”

For Sabrina, the most important thing is her relationship with consumers and their feedback. Without them, she cannot develop these new products that are still rare in the market.

Examples of products:

♻️ 2.2 Offering new in-store services to customers

In line with circularity, Decathlon is also developing more responsible new services: rental, repair, and consignment sales.

👉 Rental services

Initially present in only a few stores as a test phase, the rental service aims to be available in all stores.

The company allows customers to rent certain products for a specified period based on usage:

  • Short-term rental: products available for a few hours, days, or a season, such as skis.
  • Monthly rental – subscription-based: 1 to 3 months minimum for gym equipment and sports gear.
  • Long-term rental: 12 to 36 months for sports equipment like bikes.

→ Rental services help reduce the environmental costs associated with product production.

Rental services offered at Decathlon Passy – Mountain Store 🇫🇷

👉 Repair services

In some stores, particularly the one we visited in Passy, it is possible to drop off a defective item for repair instead of buying a new one!

However, the economic aspect of repair versus repurchase remains a challenge. It is often still cheaper to produce the same item rather than repair it. Dorothée 🇮🇹 explained that a key factor in spreading a circular business model across Decathlon is the profitability of repair services.

Repair services offered by Decathlon Passy – Mountain Store 🇫🇷

"We cannot sustain a circular business model that is not profitable. All opportunities must be identified."

👉 Consignment sales services

Decathlon’s first circular initiative, the Trocathlon, has been held annually since 1986. It is a consignment sale event organized by Decathlon, allowing any customer to sell their equipment or buy second-hand products.

Key success factors for developing a circular economy in business:

→ Integrate sustainable development into the company’s mission and values

→ Include sustainable development goals in employees’ job descriptions

→ Start circular projects on a small scale & consider their scalability

→ Obtain board support

→ Make new circular services and products profitable

→ Create and engage a community around second-life products

What surprised us the most

😮 Most of Decathlon’s initiatives in favor of circularity and responsibility stem from employee initiatives on the ground who want to make a change. Some were tired of having to discard returned products, so they started developing methods to repair or recycle these products. Thanks to these local initiatives, the group decided to gather all these projects to develop a strategy to make its economic model more circular.

Thank you for reading this article ❣️

Authors: Vincent and Clémentine, The Managerial Odyssey 2024.