There is amazing apathy about mitigating and reversing climate change. Our world is overheating like an oven and yet even I fell asleep both times I tried to watch Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth”. How can we get people excited to take action? Sports.
As said by a sectionmate recently, sports can be more uniting and powerful than religion. Sports caused 5 million Chicago Cubs fans to line the streets for their team’s World Series parade this week, over 110 million people to watch the Super Bowl, and over 26 billion people to watch the World Cup games. Sports connect to individuals at the local level, transcend international boarders and language barriers, and are powerful platforms for sparking social change.
Nike can make it cool to care about climate change and to take action against environmentally dangerous practices. While skeptics may argue that Nike is an apparel company only focused on sustainability to help its brand image and boost its bottom line, and that entering the social impact realm is outside its core competencies, Mark Parker, Nike’s CEO, hints that Nike is up for the challenge, “At Nike, we believe it is not enough to adapt to what the future may bring – we’re creating the future we want to see through sustainable innovation.”1 Nike has made strides towards reducing waste and implementing sustainable material sourcing, but I think the company can go further. If Nike embraces its rebel brand identity and taps into the existing public concern about climate change, it could motivate people to take action in their daily lives, in their business practices, and in government policy.
Climate change’s physical manifestations will impact Nike’s business primarily by causing unstable consumer demand and dangerous environments for its manufacturers. Increased national disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water will cause chaos for a consumer goods company. In addition, the Paris Agreement (21st Conference of Parties – COP21) on climate action has encouraged Nike to implement new technologies and policies that reduce the company’s carbon emissions. These threats, opportunities, and regulations have resulted in Nike primarily focusing on improving its own company’s actions.
Nike has announced three strategic 2020 goals for its Sustainable Performance Innovation Team: minimize environmental footprint, transform manufacturing, and unleash human potential. The environmental footprint initiative targets sourcing sustainable materials, eliminating discharge of hazardous chemicals, and reducing carbon, energy usage, waste, and water. The manufacturing initiative focuses on labor practices and wages. Lastly, the human potential initiative aims to invest 1.5% of pre-tax income in positive impact community programs.
Nike’s self-proclaimed “two most sustainable innovations” are Flyknit and Nike Grind.1
Flyknit is a sneaker manufacturing technology that “prevents millions of pounds of waste from ever reaching the landfill.” 1 Nike claims that Flyknit allows the company to produce an average of 60% less waste compared to traditional cut and sew shoe manufacturing. 1 It is important to notice that the company views both Flyknit and Nike Grind products as “a powerful engine for growth” because the products do not compromise quality. Flyknit shoes claim to be lighter and better fitting. 1 It is also amazing that Flyknit technology is used in every type of shoe, from soccer cleats to running shoes to basketball sneakers to fashion footwear and more.
Nike Grind is Nike’s recycling initiative that transforms old materials into new products. This regeneration process to morphs old shoes into track running surfaces and used water bottles into soccer kits. This project has already made deep penetration into Nike’s product assortment as “Nike Grind materials are used in 71% of Nike footwear and apparel products, in everything from yarns and trims, to some of our most premium jerseys and shoes.”1 Lastly, Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program encourages consumers to drop off their old shoes at Nike Factory store locations so that they can be transformed through Nike Grind.
It is my hope that Nike expands its sustainability practices beyond its own company and leverages the platform of sports to motivate a cultural movement. Through celebrity endorsements, tapping into the athlete psyche of accomplishing the impossible, and connecting with athletes at all age levels, ability levels, and geographic locations Nike could lead a social call to action.
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1 Nike Sustainable Innovation, http://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/sustainability
2 “Nike Football: World Cup 2010 South Africa” HBS case study
3 “Nike Sustainable Innovation – More with Less” https://youtu.be/D2t6yc1t9KY
4 Nike FY14-15 Sustainable Business Report