At Nike, Waste Is Working New Wonders

Nike is focused on sustainability at scale and it’s moving the needle in a number of ways.

Last September, the brand launched its “Move to Zero” campaign during Climate Week, an international climate-focused event held annually in New York City. While last year’s announcement centered on the broad interconnection between sport and climate — with pro skateboarders and Olympic fencers in the mix — this time around, the virtual roundtable only included Nike personnel.

Speaking broadly of Nike’s progress since, Nike chief sustainability officer Noel Kinder said, “There are all kinds of ways where good business, efficiency converge with sustainability, which is really encouraging because it’s not just the right thing to do — it’s the right thing for the business.”

A key component of Nike’s Move to Zero is a commitment to reduce carbon emissions across its global supply chain by 30 percent by 2030. Wrapped into this guiding goal, rightfully, are areas like shipping and logistics, sustainable packaging and materials (with many mentions of the brand’s “Space Hippie” recycled line as a company roadmap), renewable energy and digital/retail experience.

In February, the company said it was on track to reach its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy in owned or operated facilities globally by 2025. As Kinder noted, the recent opening of Nike’s Cavar wind farm in Navarra, Spain, has enabled the company to run all of its owned or operated facilities in Europe and North America with renewable energy.

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Now Nike is working on several pilot projects with shipping providers like UPS, Maersk and CMA CGM, to explore alternative fuels.

When it comes to product, Golnaz Armin, Nike’s senior material design director spoke of the material impact (where the majority, or 70 percent, of the environmental impact comes from upstream activities) as well as ongoing progress with Nike’s open-sourced Circular Design Guide and long-standing Nike Grind recycling initiative.

“If you think about trash in the sense of product, we have it but if you look at nature — nature doesn’t create trash. It’s just the raw material for something else, and that’s where we are striving for with circular design, which, we’re mimicking from nature,” Armin said. “So how can we get there? Can we really look at all these materials and see them as a new raw material for something else rather than waste. That’s the challenge — to rethink that.”

Nike’s progress shows in its products, according to Armin. Beyond the Space Hippie line, the company’s Air Force 1 Crater comprised recycled materials and roughly 11 percent Nike Grind a rubber blend made from Nike’s recycled surplus manufacturing materials. Its Waffle Racer Crater swaps out virgin nylon for 100 percent recycled polyester.

For the past two years, 99.9 percent of Nike’s footwear manufacturing waste has been diverted from landfill. And 76 percent of all Nike shoes and apparel include some portion of recycled material.

Michelle Warvel, Nike’s vice president of Nike direct service teased several important developments happening online and in-store at Nike.

According to Warvel, Nike is seeing three times the conversion online for the some 2,000 products displaying its sustainable “visual badging” (introduced this past Earth Day), which provides consumers with information on sustainable products. Amazon made a similar move this week with its “Climate Pledge Friendly” labels.

With the success of the badging, Nike will unroll the experience to its physical stores, calling its sustainable products out for customers, starting with Nike Paris later this year.

Of special note, Warvel mentioned how Nike is experimenting with its Reuse-a-Shoe program, to later include apparel. The program recycles athletic shoes at the end of their life, using the recycled product for its Nike Grind material, which will find its way into a new shoe. The service is currently available in more than 150 stores in North America.

“We’re looking to expand,” Warvel said. “We want it to be more than shoes and we will be testing, later in the year, taking back apparel and making it more of a service.”

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