Nike Inc. is one of the biggest players in the world of sports, performance and activewear apparel and accessories. This global company has undergone impressive growth from its roots as a track and field athlete outfitter, although allegations of child labor, poor factory conditions and exploitation of workers has tainted the brand’s image in the past. With its global influence and research and development capabilities, the company can make a significant impact on the way the world designs, produces and uses clothing—we asked Hannah Jones Nike’s vice president of sustainable business, just how they are doing it in Part 1 of a 2-part series; look for the second installment on Friday of this week.
LO: What is NIKE currently doing in the name of sustainability?
HJ: Nike is a growth company and sustainability is increasingly important to our growth strategy. In essence, we’re committed to delivering a portfolio of products using sustainable materials that enhance performance. Nike’s vision is that these products will ultimately become “closed loop” – that is, they will use the fewest possible materials and be assembled in ways that allow them to be readily recycled into new products. We are integrating sustainability principles into our business processes to generate innovation that delivers products and services combining performance and innovation and that’s better for the athlete and the planet.
LO: Which one(s) of NIKE sustainability ventures would you say has been the most successful in instigating positive change? Why?
HJ: As innovators, we thrive on the challenge to redefine performance and unleash innovation. We recognize that we cannot achieve our bold goals for sustainability simply by delivering incremental improvements. We will frequently need to deliver innovations that change the way things are done today, including innovation in sustainable materials, high-efficiency and low-waste manufacturing methods, and partnerships that inspire long-term growth, profitability and sustainability.
Here are three examples of work we are doing:
Waterless dyeing – Driving innovation into our product creation process demands that we also invest in innovative technology. This past year we formed a partnership with a company that created a way to dye apparel using CO2 instead of water. This partnership was facilitated by our new Sustainable Business & Innovation Lab, a team at Nike created specifically to identify external opportunities for collaboration to promote sustainable growth.
Manufacturing Index – We are changing the way we measure factory performance, adding environmental and labor-sustainability metrics to the traditional supply-chain measures of quality, cost and delivery. We are building incentives into our relationships with suppliers – those that prioritize and focus on workers and sustainability in their planning and operations will benefit. Those that don’t will feel the financial impact.
Target setting – We continue to push ourselves with aggressive aims, targets and commitments, and equally distribute the accountability for these across the business. That said, a goal is never a destination. It’s a checkpoint where we reassess and recommit to new challenges and opportunities.
LO: How does NIKE translate sustainability into innovation and vice versa?
HJ: Nike believes sustainability is the world’s greatest innovation challenge. Looking through the creative lens of innovation, we aim to create breakthroughs that improve our world and are also better for our athletes and our investors. This is a fundamental re-writing of the old belief system in which sustainability was often cast as a cost to business, or a drag on performance. The evidence tells us this simply does not need to be the case, and indeed, the combining of sustainability and innovation can trigger advances in both.
A great example is our Nike Flyknit technology. It’s a new way to knit a shoe upper out of what is essentially a single thread. It’s great for the athlete because it is lighter and offers a more custom fit. It’s good for the planet because it drastically reduces waste from the upper production process, by an average of 80 percent in the Nike Flyknit Lunar1+ when compared to typical Nike running footwear. And shareholders benefit from the reduced cost of production and increased margins. It’s a nascent technology that holds tremendous opportunity to be scaled over time.
Read part 2: Interview: Nike’s VP of Sustainable Business Hannah Jones (Part 2)
Images: Nike Inc.
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