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Sustainable strides: The journey of Nike in fashion leadership

Embark on a thought-provoking expedition into sustainability within the fashion industry with our new series on Images Business of Fashion. In this series, we traverse the intricate pathways of visionary brands committed to reshaping the narrative of fashion through sustainable initiatives. As we journey forward, we uncover the strategies and the profound ethos that propels these brands toward a greener, more responsible future.

In each installment, we unravel the layers of innovation, dedication, and conscious decision-making that define the leadership of these brands. From reimagining supply chains to championing eco-friendly materials, these trailblazers exemplify a paradigm shift towards a more sustainable and ethical fashion landscape.

This week, IMAGES Business of Fashion explores sustainability initiatives by Nike, unveiling their innovative strides in reshaping the fashion industry.

American multinational corporation, Nike was founded on January 25, 1964, as ‘Blue Ribbon Sports’, by University of Oregon track athlete Phil Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman. The company– which is engaged in the design, development, manufacturing, and worldwide marketing and sales of footwear, apparel, equipment, accessories, and services – officially became Nike, Inc. in 1978. It adopted the name Nike after the Greek goddess of victory.

Nike opened its first retail outlet in 1966 and launched the Nike brand shoe in 1972. The company went public in 1980, two years after it rebranded itself Nike Inc. By the early 21st century, Nike had retail outlets and distributors in more than 170 countries, and its logo – a curved check mark called the ‘swoosh’ – was recognized throughout the world.

Headquartered near Beaverton, Oregon, in the Portland metropolitan area, today Nike is the world’s largest innovator and supplier of athletic shoes and apparel and a major manufacturer of sports equipment, with revenue in excess of US$37.4 billion in its fiscal year 2020, , making it the most valuable brand among sports businesses. As of 2020, it employed 76,700 people worldwide.

Nike has a large presence in India with data stating there are 133 retail stores in the country as of January 24, 2023 in 56 cities.

Guiding Principles

  • Not to collect as much finished product waste, but to maximize value, extend product life, and prevent product from landfill and incineration
  • Positively contribute to its 2025 sustainability targets
  • Deliver innovative and creative solutions that drive long-term business value
  • Create a great consumer experience
  • Be authentic and transparent
  • Maximize local infrastructure

NIKE is a founding member of Transform to Net Zero, which is a cross sector initiative to accelerate the transition to a net zero global economy. Its vision is to enable an inclusive net zero economy no later than 2050.

Recycled Collection

  • The Plant Cork Pack collection is made with at least 20% recycled content. Each shoe is dedicated to a plant the team loves and brought to life through embroidered botanical designs, scientific infographics and dye sourced from the plant itself.
  • They start with a blank canvas of lower-impact materials like 100% recycled poly-canvas and recycled cork, then add plant-based dyes.
  • The colour from each plant is then extracted in its own unique way. When it comes to indigo, they use the leaves and stems themselves, first letting them ferment. For pomegranate, fruit rinds are boiled for a vibrant yellow. With catechu, it’s the heart wood that’s boiled to unlock its shade.
  • Rubber infused with cork that’s partially recycled from the wine industry or harvested by stripping the bark through a process that does not harm the tree and allows 100% regeneration.

Current Plan – Nike has committed to 100% renewable energy:

  • Renewable electricity
  • Alternative fuels
  • HQ fleet vehicle electrification
  • Energy efficiency
  • Coal elimination
  • Supplier Climate
  • Action Program
  • Air freight reduction
  • No rush shipping

Future Plan – Building on current plans and increasing focus on:

  • Converting to environmentally preferred materials
  • Converting factories to renewable energy
  • Working across industry to accelerate progress

FY50 Target: By 2050, Nike aims to reach net zero emissions

NikeSmall Sustainability Steps: Giant Leap for Environment

Manufacturing: Nike worked with apparel suppliers to increase motor efficiency and with footwear suppliers to reduce energy use in midsole processing. The brand is also exploring new finishing methods in materials manufacturing that could potentially cut energy and water use in half and significantly reduce emissions. Nike also continues to work with suppliers to maximize the use of renewable energy through the use of solar and biofuels.

Nike is exploring different ways to support PPAs across its major markets and encouraging suppliers to take advantage of those opportunities where they exist. In FY21, suppliers contracted over 90 million KWh/year of offsite renewable energy for Nike production by engaging in PPAs. This includes Feng Tay Group, which contracted nearly 50 million KWh/year at three of their facilities in India.

Supplier Program: In May 2020, NIKE launched a new climate program with NIKE’s Supplier Sustainability Council (SSC). The SSC is a group of strategic suppliers committed to sustainability to enhance their operational performance and mitigate risk while sharing out best practices in the hopes of elevating worker safety across the sector.

NIKE also developed the Supplier Climate Action Program (SCAP). Eleven of NIKE’s largest finished goods and materials suppliers committed to the program and account for approximately 60% of strategic supplier emissions. SCAP not only provides technical assistance to suppliers to help set more ambitious climate goals but also turns the process of achieving our supply chain emission reductions into an aligned strategic effort.

NikeLogistics: NIKE is working to not return to pre-pandemic air freight usage, through its Move to Zero air freight program. In FY21, the company continued to expand piloting alternative fuels for both ocean freight and air freight. These pilots used biofuels made from waste streams and carried certifications from the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials and the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification. 28% of its total line-haul solutions are now multi-modal. Of its total line-haul trucking kilometers, 22% are driven on alternative fuels, mainly fueled with hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) solutions. Nike is also using electric trucks for deliveries in Tokyo, Seoul and Mexico City.

Raw Materials: Materials account for approximately 70% of NIKE’s product carbon footprint. By tapping into the insights and experience of at least the past five years, Nike is now focusing on improving the environmental impact of materials within its products.

For footwear, the brand is focused on improving specific, high-volume materials (polyester, rubber and leather), particularly through significant increases in the use of recycled versions and the necessary integrated business strategies.

Polyester and cotton make up the bulk of NIKE Apparel’s material use and carbon impact, and these two fibers are where the focus is for impact reduction at scale.

Thus, Nike is concentrating conversions to recycled polyester, organic cotton and recycled cotton content on key high volume fabrics and products. This strategy requires partnership across NIKE’s entire organization, from innovation through to our consumers at retail. One year into our five-year journey, our focus on key materials with scalable low-impact alternatives has enabled NIKE to make tremendous progress toward our carbon reduction goals.

Nike is well ahead of its recycled polyester plan in both footwear and apparel. The brand’s use of polyester makes it critical that it focuses on the conversion and scale of recycled polyester as a lever for reducing the overall carbon impact of its highest use material.

NIKE Footwear is tracking ahead of our 2025 goal of 50% recycled total polyester usage. At the end of FY21, recycled polyester made up 38% of NIKE Footwear’s total polyester usage, double the amount from the end of FY20.

NIKE Footwear aims to achieve our 2025 goal of 10% recycled rubber through greater use, by leveraging higher-percentage recycled rubber content per pair.

The brand is also working to convert at least 10 p.p. of its leather usage to leather alternatives – this includes synthetic and recycled synthetic leathers, NIKE innovations like Fly leather and other traditional leather alternatives. In FY21, we achieved 70% sustainable cotton by supplementing our use of recycled and organic cotton with third-party certified cotton.

Packaging: The majority of NIKE’s packaging in footwear is produced with over 90% recycled content. The brand’s 2025 target is important as it leverages the previous success in increasing the recycled content to now focus on using less.

Mission & Vision: Zero Waste

Nike firmly believes that a more sustainable and circular future requires designing waste out of products from the start, optimizing manufacturing processes for maximum material efficiency, and then managing manufacturing material, end-of-life product and packaging via circular systems to preserve, recover, renew and regenerate its physical utility and economic value for society and the planet – now and for future generations.

The brand is working hard to create opportunities for reinserting the waste they createback into footwear product. Their goal is to leverage at least 25% of Tier 1 factory waste back into footwear. The NIKE circular economy team to identify closed-loop opportunities in manufacturing centers and with our creation teams and suppliers to enable the conversion of the waste into new materials.

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