Nike Enlists Artists for East London’s Sustainability Map

They just did it.

Like most modern Olympic Games, London 2012 seems to be as much about advertising and corporate placement as it is about sport and athleticism.

There’s the requirement that any transaction at an Olympic venue is completed by a Visa card; there’s the world’s largest McDonalds located in the middle of the Olympic park; and there’s the army or 300 “brand police” deployed across the UK to protect the integrity of high paying sponsorship deals.

However, a refreshing attempt to reverse the onslaught of monopolistic corporate advertising can be seen on the streets of the Olympic borough of Hackney. To promote their new lightweight Flyknit trainer, which uses woven technology to create a shoe that produces 66% less waste than Nike’s leading running shoe, Nike enlisted a team of creative minds and innovators from the London area.

The team’s goal was to create an advertisement that “illustrates a change you want to see in your streets.” The resulting billboard is a visual sustainability map of the places and people that contribute to a sense of connectivity in the east London neighborhood.

Illustrator Daniel Frost and communications designer Alice Moloney, both Royal College of Arts graduates who were tasked with overseeing the process and final product, saw what they were creating primarily as a piece of collaborative art, and an advertisement only in a secondary sense.

“The advert side of it is really minimal. If you’re going to have a billboard, it might as well be nice and artistic to look at,” Frost said.

The effort was part of a series of creative workshops taking place at Nike’s 1948 London studio this summer as well as in New York City, all intended to “motivate and inform urban regeneration for the local community,” instead of just selling stuff. In addition to the sustainability think tank that Frost and Moloney were a part of, the Flyknit Collective will address issues of design, function, and movement.

Moloney said that the difference between their creation and the plethora of billboards and advertisements plastered all over London is that it was inspired by a group of interested and local minds, rather than a product of a focus group or marketing executives.

“A billboard for me is the most successful way of reaching a lot of people given the scale we want— it’s not so much about the advertising to me as the fact that it’s the appropriate medium,” Moloney said. “With our project though, it makes complete sense that you put the output back into the place that inspired it.”

Creating the map meant defining sustainability itself, which for Moloney, Frost, and the workshop participants was much more about people than objects and materials. The map highlights places like Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, where people commonly eat lunch and gather, and other outdoor spaces that build community like farmers markets.

“Before the project began I knew how to use the word sustainability but I didn’t feel brave enough to use it in a way where I would be asked what it meant,” Moloney said. “I think about it terms of people and the community—people being interconnected, people being inspired by each other. It’s not just about waste and objects but about personal relationships as well.”

Rosie Spinks

Rosie Spinks is a freelance journalist from California with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her work has been published in publications including Sierra magazine, GOOD magazine, the Ecologist, and the Guardian Environment Network. A passion for travel, running barefoot outdoors, and reconnecting people to what is good dominates most of her thoughts. You can follow her writing on Twitter and Tumblr.