Nike Sneakers Used to Contain Harmful Gas. Now, They’re Safer (and Chicer)
I am no athlete. In fact, the last time I set foot in an actual gym was probably around two years ago. But that doesn’t mean I don’t follow athletic wear. Since athleisure became a popular trend, I’ve invested dollars in looking like I’m a true track star: the best high-performing leggings, the most comfortable (and breathable!) sweatshirts, and of course, a collection of sneakers.
So, no, in all honesty, I couldn’t tell you why a Nike sneaker is better from a performance perspective, but I can tell you that around six months ago, all my chicest friends started wearing them (this style specifically) so obviously, I did, too. Fashion.
All I really knew about Nike was that in the '90s, the company was rarely spoken about without the words “sweatshop” or “child labor” following it. When Life magazine published a photo of a child stitching a Nike emblazoned football, the company’s reputation plummeted.
In 1998, Phil Knight, co-founder and Chairman of Nike admitted the brand needed to take a “long journey” to correct the problems that had been created. They began by releasing the names and locations of their factories, trying to improve working conditions, and producing public reports to address specific concerns.
In addition to worker safety, wage fairness, and labor rights, sustainability became a paramount cause for the brand, leading them to create a bi-annual report specifically addressing the impact the behemoth company has on our environment.
Today marks the release of the brand's 2018 Sustainability Business Report, and Nike couldn’t be prouder to release their results. The facts are impressive, astounding—even when you consider how difficult it must be to have a company this large make such an investment.
VIDEO: 30 Sneakers in 60 Seconds
As of today, May 11, 2018, Nike reuses and recycles 95 percent of their waste from Nike Air manufacturing. Even the shoes’ airbags have at least 50 percent recycled materials (some of them, like the VaporMax, have over 75 percent!). When Air Bags first were manufactured, they contained a greenhouse gas called Sulfur Hexaflourine (SF6). Since 2006, all airbags have been SF6 free, dramatically reducing Nike’s impact on the environment. Oh, and a better airbag, too.
Hannah Jones is the Chief Sustainability Officer and VP of Innovation Accelerator at Nike. Cool title and even cooler job description. She’s responsible for stewarding sustainability and labor rights throughout the company to helping drive an overarching strategy on sustainability. She’s in charge of the aforementioned report.
Jones, who’s been at Nike for 20 years, looks at Nike’s spotty history as a blessing of sorts: “What I always say, and it’s true to the this report, is that in hindsight, that was a gift. It taught us that there would be a new license to operate, a new way of thinking about what the role of business is in the world. And since then, we’ve been on this journey of integrating sustainability, how we think about labor rights … today’s report is a moment in which we highlight how clear it is for us that for a business to create value, they have to have purpose.”
Here, Jones highlights 5 incredible facts that have been released in today’s report.
Nike Air is one of the most sustainable innovations the company has put out.
When Nike Air was first introduced, they contained Air Bags filled with a gas called SFG, which later was found to be a potent greenhouse gas (read: bad for the environment). Years were spent researching and developing a replacement, ultimately landing on a new design that combined nitrogen with air. Since 2006, all of Nike’s Air Bags have been SF6-free, reducing the brand’s impact on the environment without compromising the sneaker’s performance abilities.
Sevent-five percent of all Nike branded footwear and apparel products contain recycled material.
“Ultimately, our goal is for all our products to be recyclable,” Jones tells me. From apparel to footwear, if you're wearing a Nike product, chances are you’re representing the brand’s promise to a circular economy. Plastic, scraps, and used products are gathered and transformed into new materials and re-introduced back into products through Nike Grind. Those Nike basketball uniforms you see at the NBA Playoffs? Those are made from 100% percent recycled yarns. “If you have flecked pieces in the soles of your shoes, that’s a good sign you have some recycled content in there.”
Nike will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy across North America by 2020.
That’s a lofty goal. But it’s good for business. “It’s a better equation for us financially than remaining in the old system of non-renewable energy," Jones tells us. In Belgium, Nike’s distribution center is completely “off the grid,” using windmill energy. “When we first started building windmills, we’d see one windmill on our way going to our facility, and now everyone is doing it. The whole region has taken our lead.” Nike’s effect is contagious.
Nike Flyknit changed the game when it comes to sustainability.
Did you know that the Flyknit sneaker only uses ONE SINGLE PIECE OF YARN, woven to the exact measurements of each shoe? And it does that without sacrificing the performance of the shoe whatsoever. “There’s this old mental model that sustainability is a cost of doing business, that it will make less good products, and what we’re proving time and time again is the contrary,” Jones says. “Actually, it’s good for business, it’s good for the consumer, it’s great for performance. The question is, how hard are you willing to innovate and search for solutions?
Your old shoes may be used to create the next playground in your neighborhood.
“In the last year alone, we’ve diverted 12.5 million pounds of factory imposed consumer waste,” Jones says.” Nike has one of the oldest recycled shoe programs of any company. They grind up old consumer shoes (Nike or other) and turn them into a new material. Whenever that material can’t be used for shoes, they use it to build playgrounds all around the world. “You’ll notice them when you look at them. They have flecked colors in them, which is a signal that Nike is part of it.”