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The Sustainable Future of Nike

With Nike’s significant focus on a sustainable future, one might wonder; can such a large manufacturing company really be sustainable? With the abundance of materials and energy they use in production each day, along with the emissions that come from transporting their products across the world, the idea of Nike being sustainable seems unachievable. However, Nike is proving that not only are they able to do this, but they can be an industry leader in the process as well.

circular design

With a zero-waste priority, their idea of a circular future is driving their sustainability efforts. A circular future where nothing is wasted, and every product or material is reused. To create a circular future, we need to shift to a circular economy, which is an economy where everything created remains in use. A circular future must begin with circular design, in which each product is created with its end of life in mind.

“Limited resources demand we rethink the ways in which we live. We envision a future where waste doesn’t exist, and materials can be used and reused to their highest potential—that’s why we created a Circular Design Guide.”

This idea of a circular future requires collaboration across industries, policy makers, businesses and consumers. This won’t be a small feat, but who better to advocate for it than such a large, established company like Nike?

Nike has implemented several practices to kick start these initiatives. Of the many ideas they’ve implemented, there is one that specifically relates to Clearline’s new end of life initiative. Nike has set up drop boxes at each of their retail stores where customers can drop off their used shoes to be collected and then repurposed into something new. This initiative was originally started in 2008, however since 1990 Nike has collected 28 million shoes to be recycled. Once collected from the Reuse-A-Shoe bins in the US, the products are sent to a recycling facility in Memphis, TN where they are combined with Nike’s overall manufacturing waste to create Nike Grind material. Once processed through the centre, three materials are produced:

  • Nike Grind Rubber, which is used for new items such as track surfaces, flooring tiles, outsoles and buttons.
  • Nike Grind Foam, which is used as cushion for outdoor basketball and tennis courts, along with futsal fields.
  • Nike Grind Fibre, which is used in the creation of cushioning pads for indoor synthetic and wood courts.

But Nike’s not stopping there. Their circular innovation has come up with ideas in which to use their recycled materials such as conformable mattresses for children with neurodevelopment disorders, street safety products, rock climbing walls and modular furniture. 

Nike’s sustainable mission moves far beyond their Grind materials. They’ve committed a substantial amount of research to include recycled materials in the majority of their products such as;

  • Nike Air: Since 2008, their Nike Air soles are made with 100% renewable energy and are designed to contain at least 50% recycled manufacturing waste. Even more, 90% of the waste for the Air soles are used in the Grind materials for the production of cushioning systems.
  • Nike Flyknit: Nike’s Flyknit fabrics are engineered to use 60% less waste than traditional manufacturing. Since 2012, 10 million pounds of waste have been diverted from landfills and used in this manufacturing process, including over 600 million water bottles.
  • Nike Flyleather: Nike’s Flyleather material is made with 50% recycled leather fiber which is produced through a process that provides a much smaller carbon footprint compared to traditional leather manufacturing.
  • Recycled polyester: this material is manufactured using recycled plastic bottles and reduces carbon emissions by approximately 30% compared to virgin polyester. With this process, Nike has recycled more than 7 billion plastic bottles.
  • Sustainable cotton: Nike’s goal is to use 100% sustainable cotton by 2020, which means only using certified organic and recycled BCI licensed cotton.
  • Sustainable blends: by combing their recycled polyester and sustainable cotton, Nike has created a material that not only reduces carbon emissions but uses less water and chemicals than traditional manufacturing with polyester and cotton.

It’ll be interesting to see how Nike can shape our society’s sustainable future, and if we can really implement a circular economy. But If companies like Nike and Clearline Technologies can do it, why can’t everyone?

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