Sustainability at Nike, Considered By Jane Savage


Around 2000, Nike was getting targeted as one of the big companies around the world for their manufacturing (do we need to remind you of the sweatshop labor rallies?) Why do you think Phil Knight got really defensive about all that? It turns out it was because they already had a big program underway. Jane Savage is one of those people who was busy building sustainability into the products. They’ve started a program that’s not Nike-branded, and not even specifically “sustainable”–it’s Considered Design, with a URL launching later this year. It’s a design philosophy that combines sustainability and innovation, across their holdings.

Nike’s corporate headquarters is a model of sustainability, with record numbers of people biking or using public transit to get to work. A building on that same Beaverton campus was the first existing building to be rated LEED Gold (it was designed by William McDonough). They used to be the largest purchaser of organic cotton, until Wal-Mart converted. They publish all the names of every vendor they work with. They also share their technologies with others in the footwear industry.

The bad news: Nike creates enough post-industrial waste that it could line containers from Seattle to Portland every year. But since they are a for-profit company, they started looking at waste as a opportunity for profit. However, toxic materials trump waste. Bad chemistry that could be harmful to workers or consumers, is more important to rid from the process. So design needs to step in and innovate before toxicity, and before the waste is generated.


So Nike created metrics. A “Considered Product” will have less toxics, less waste, be more environmentally friendly, and achieve sustainability through product innovation. Nike has even created a LEED-like Gold, Silver, Bronze rating system that judges concepts on 1) solvents, 2) environmentally-preferred materials and 3) rewarding innovation through sustainability. If you want to bring a Nike product to market, it has to be Gold or Silver. Their goals are to have their footwear in the market 100% Bronze by 2011.

Last week it was announced that the Jordan 23 (above, which hits shelves January 23), features a completely revolutionary way to put dis-similiar materials together. And guess what? It’s also Considered Gold (oooh, we like that symmetry).