How Nike Considered Uses Innovation and Collaboration to Close the Loop

This impressive footprint is Nike’s Considered Air Jordan XX3, their first basketball shoe designed using the Considered Ethos.

Lorrie Vogel is the general manager of Nike Considered, Nike’s in-house sustainability think tank. She holds a degree in Industrial Design from Syracuse, and numerous patents. Her work in innovating around sustainability has helped put Nike on Fast Company’s Fast 50 list multiple times. Considering how aggressive Nike’s sustainability goals have been, it’s even more impressive that they are on track to meet their targets.

Sustainability is second only to performance when ranking the critical factors of a product. Nike is committed to making their entire collection as environmentally responsible as possible. Lorrie Vogel spoke at the Opportunity Green conference in Los Angeles, explaining some of the ways Nike is meeting these targets. In this phone interview, Lorrie expands on some of the points she touched on in her presentation. The conversation is split into two articles, in order to go deeper into the many changes that need to happen to increase use of recycled and organic materials in apparel and footwear. We begin with a discussion about materials, and conclude with the human element needed to ensure these changes occur in a timely manner.

From Nike: The long-term vision for Considered is to design products that are fully closed loop: produced using the fewest possible materials, designed for easy disassembly while allowing them to be recycled into new product or safely returned to nature at the end of their life. By 2011, 100 percent of footwear will meet baseline Considered standards, apparel by 2015 and equipment by 2020 – creating better performing products while minimizing environmental impact by reducing waste, using environmentally preferred materials and eliminate toxins.

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Recycled Underwear? PACT Doesn’t Recommend It.

Earlier this week I spoke with Jason and Jeff, co-founders of PACT, the most socially and environmentally responsible underwear company on earth, as far as I know. Not only do they use organic cotton, GOTS compliant dyes and otherwise uber-responsible manufacturing, they also donate 10% of sales to charities. This is utterly astounding in an industry where even a 10% profit margin is a miracle. But then, most apparel companies weren’t founded by Haas MBA’s.

Cradle To Cradle For Everything?

Jason and I got to talking about Cradle to Cradle, as it’s an interesting topic, and well, they’re already doing everything else, why not take it a step further? Do I hear a protest? You don’t want someone’s underwear recycled into your t-shirt? But it’s for the cause, man… OK, jokes aside, and even if it wasn’t underwear being discussed, but some other form-fitting cotton garment, Jason did the research. Because he cares that much. The thing is, 100% cotton gets baggy and saggy. So it’s more likely to be thrown out soon. If it happens to be owned by someone who’s passionate enough to find a place to deliver their used cotton underwear, it can be recycled. Jason explained that less than 1% of all cotton is currently recycled, and Jeff pointed out that even pure cotton sometimes contains dyes and chemicals that make it impossible to recycle.

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Is This the End of Greenwashing for Consumer Products?

After watching Walmart’s Sustainability Milestone meeting, I am still convinced that the index they’re developing could be the end of greenwashing as we know it. They’ve engaged a broad enough range of engaged stakeholders, from Environmental Defense Fund to Business for Social Responsibility to their competitors that this could truly succeed. All speakers talked enough about the importance of full life-cycle analysis and transparency. The level of transparency is laudable, but there is still a question as to how well these metrics will be monitored. While the retailer is working closely with their suppliers to help them reduce their emissions, other changes require better management practices, which are harder to monitor.

By October, their US suppliers (Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, etc.) will have answered 15 questions related to life-cycle analysis of their products. These questions mainly focus on GHG emissions and labor practices throughout the entire supply chain. Most are yes/no, and Walmart will use these answers to determine what needs to be addressed first. The second step in this massive project, and the one where Walmart wants to be sure all stakeholders are involved, entails actually creating and maintaining the database of information about all these products. Mike Duke, CEO, explained they want to spur development of an open platform that all retailers and manufacturers can develop.

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