Nike's Move to Zero: Sustainability for the sportswear brand starts from zero carbon and zero waste
Here's to 2030
It all starts from zero. Which solidifies a symbol of infinity when it comes to Nike's pledge to climate change. Rather than just slapping the term sustainable on a product and calling it a day, the sportswear giant has unveiled its plans to see them through the next decade. Its pledge, titled 'Move to Zero' reveals a line-up that covers everything from operations to products to consumer services.
In an exclusive round-table with the sustainability arm at Nike headquarters, the team gave us a prelude to where the brand is headed and the milestones they've devised for themselves.
"One of the things that's so interesting when you look back at that point in time, is that Nike has been on this journey for decades. Right now, we're just more deliberate and overt in the way that we communicate that commitment and to punctuate that with a quantitative commitment via science-based targets," explained Noel Kinder, who's the chief sustainability officer at Nike. "It always starts with the science and when you're a company of our size, that's what you've got to anchor on."
For them, that means lowering their carbon footprint in line with the Paris Climate Accords. That would result in an absolute reduction of carbon by 30% by 2030. A major commitment to let out of the bag — one that requires a lot of legwork ahead.
Prior to Move to Zero, Nike has been active in their efforts. One of the examples, recycled polyester (derived from plastic bottles) that they incorporate in their products. Since 2010, the brand have diverted seven and a half billion bottles a year from landfill. Kinder added: "It's a demonstration of how our size and scale can really drive a material impact in not only reducing carbon footprint, but how circularity and the use of waste as a feedstock can help move the needle."
If Nike could glamourise the name Space Hippie, they can glamourise the word crater. "Space Hippie was that beginning of the journey that we took and it's not stopping. We have many great examples of product that's basically bringing that philosophy into life in different shapes and forms," said Golnaz Armin, the senior design director in footwear at Nike.
Two fan-favourite classics get a second lease of life in the Air Force-1 Crater and Waffle Racer Crater. Within, the components make up recycled synthetic leather, rubber scraps from the manufacturing process, recycled polyester, and recycled shoelaces. Even when it comes down to the packaging, the shoe boxes have been completely re-engineered to be lightweight yet sturdy enough, just so to eschew extra packaging. With that, you get lowered waste and lowered carbon footprint.
What's crucial for the team isn't about creating new products. But a slow and steady approach to incorporate things like sockliners and laces (made from recycled material) into existing products that they already have. "Our Liverpool kit is actually made from recycled polyester. The goal isn't to come up with cool capsules that are unique and different. While those help to create inspiration within the consumer population, the goal is to scale those innovations in a way that drives meaningful change," remarked Kinder.
To align existing and future innovations is Nike's circular design guide. A ten-chapter handbook for the designers to abide by a common language. "We realised that wasn't a simple guide that helped designers and creative minds to navigate all the complexities of sustainability. So that was the seed of it. Nike partnered with Central Saint Martins to test this idea, challenge ourselves, get criticised, and build this guide together," explained Armin.
With headquarters all over the world, the Move to Zero notion expands to powering their operations exclusively with renewable energy by 2025. They've already achieved that in North America and will suceed in Europe this October. At the moment, a wind farm is also up and running in Spain. When it comes to transporting their products around the world, most of that are done on ships as well as planes from time to time. On that front, the brand works with carriers to adopt alternative fuels as well as a plan to launch a pilot with UPS to use renewable bio-jet fuel.
On the store front, the circular design ethos remains. According to Michelle Warvel, head of the service experience team for Nike Direct, constraints drive creativity. "We've been in our Nike Live doors testing extensively of raw materials, recycled materials, and everything from the flooring to the mannequins and even in the hangers. It's really an incredible experience." Their current Nike House of Innovation in Paris comprises of 85,000 kilos of recyclable material and this number would probably continue to scale as more tests are conducted.
Think a new suite of services that are catered to every discerning consumer out there. "These will address the primary mindset of the sustainable consumer — from extending the lives of our existing Nike products to recycling products that are a little worn out. To tap on Reuse-A-Shoe program, where consumers can bring in their shoes and have them turned directly into Nike Grind, the team will improve that experience just so to simplfy the process for the customer.
The latest project? Trash Hacker, that has been already launched in-stores in China, allows consumers to create personalised Nike tote bags made out of deconstructing materials and product scraps. Hopefully, we'll get to see all of these running in the Singapore stores soon.