When it made a comeback due to popular demand in 2000, moves were already afoot for the Pegasus to star in a pilot project for new standards of environmental sustainability that sportswear brand Nike was looking to roll out across its portfolio of products.
In the ‘90s Nike had attracted criticism for its poor labour and environmental standards and under its new ‘Considered Design’ strategy, Nike designers were tasked with helping to improve the firm’s image. As such they were expected to make smart, sustainable design choices at the start of their creative process. ‘It [product creation] all begins with design and engineering, and Nike designers will lead the Considered Design process to create more sustainable products with no compromise to consumers,’ explains Lorrie Vogel, general manager of Nike Considered.
To achieve this goal Nike enlisted the help of The Natural Step, an organisation that is dedicated to education and research in sustainable development (see right hand column). According to Vogel, the organisation helped Nike to define the vision for its new sustainability strategy. ‘It’s important that you work out where you want to be in advance because if you don’t know where you are going you will only be able to make incremental changes,’ she explains. ‘You also need to know what good looks like so that you don’t end up just doing less bad. You have to take the time to design your vision of the future because once you’ve got a vision you can get there much quicker.’
For Nike this meant investigating a number of different possibilities, such as should it make products that are biodegradeable and can be planted in the ground once the user no longer needs them? Should it produce products that are built to last forever? Or should it aim to close the loop so that the final product could be dismantled, recycled and remade into another shoe. In the end it chose the latter – with a little bit of the former chucked in – for its ‘North Star’ vision. This vision would see products produced that are fully closed loop, using the fewest possible materials and assembled in ways that allow them to be recycled into new products or safely returned to nature at the end of their use.
Once this vision was established the next step, according to Vogel, was for Nike to create a tool for the firm’s 200 designers that would allow them to be ‘change agents’ within the company. A ‘Considered Index’ was established, which rates designers products. ‘Using the Index a designer could sketch a shoe or a shirt and we could calculate the carbon impact early on in the process,’ says Vogel. The designers could also use the Index to inform their designs and make them more sustainable. ‘The more designers understand the problems the more they can design around it,’ adds Vogel.
The fruits of the Considered approach were unveiled in 2008 with the Pegasus 25, which was launched to commemorate the shoe’s 25th anniversary. The new Pegasus shoe uses fewer materials than earlier versions, with an impressive weight reduction of 1.4 ounces, or 13% (less weight = less waste). ‘Environmentally preferred’ materials are used wherever possible on the Pegasus and Nike Air bags, which use 83% recycled content, were nested together using smarter pattern efficiency in order to further reduce waste.
Sustainable achievements such as this are not a new concept to the sportswear brand – it has chalked up a number of significant green improvements over the years (see above right) – but these milestones pale compared with its ambitious plans for the future, as Nike’s president and CEO Mark Parker explains: ‘We are designing for the sustainable economy of tomorrow and for us that means using fewer resources, more sustainable products and renewable energy to produce new products.’
Parker’s goal is for all Nike branded footwear to be ‘Considered’ by 2011, all apparel by 2015 and all equipment by 2020. The company aims to increase the use of environmentally preferred materials by 20% and to maintain its volatile organic compound reduction to 95%. In terms of footwear alone the company has the ambitious aim of reducing waste by 17%.
Vogel says that Nike is already ahead of the targets it set out to achieve and she’s confident that the company’s designers will continue to rise to the challenge and meet Parker’s ambitious goals for the future.
Nike’s green milestones
1985 - With a breathable four-way stretch upper instead of layers of fabric, and an outsole pattern which eliminates the need for rubber, the Sock Racer shoe was significantly reduced in weight and used less materials.
1990 - Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe programme was launched allowing consumers to drop off their worn out trainers. These were then ground up and the recycled material was used in the creation of news sports surfaces like basketball and tennis courts. Since its launch more than 21 million pairs of shoes have been recycled under the scheme.
1995 - Nike announced that it had began phasing out the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from its footwear production. By 2007 the company had achieved a 95% reduction in the use of VOCs.
1997 - The company committed to full phasing out of the gas SF6, used in its Air-Sole cushioning units - the phase out was completed in 2006.
2000 - The Standoff Singlet worn by athletes at the Sydney Olympics was introduced. Made from 75% recycled plastic bottles, the singlet used approximately 43% less energy then comparable fabrics and was ultrasonically welded at the seams eliminating the need for sewing thread.
2002 - Nike developed a rubber that contains 96% fewer toxins by weight than original formulations.
2005 - Nike’s new European distribution centre in Belgium, and its European headquarters in the Netherlands, commenced operating solely on renewable energy.
2007 - The sportswear brand became a partner in the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Savers program.
2008 - As well as the Pegasus, Nike also launched Air Zoom Affinity, Nike Zoom Verday and Air Jordan XX3 under the Considered umbrella.
The Natural Step
Nike first turned to international not-for-profit organisation The Natural Step in 1998 and since the collaboration commenced hundreds of Nike employees have been trained to use the organisation’s framework leading to the implementation of numerous innovative programmes.
According to Lorrie Vogel, Nike selected The Natural Step because it particularly liked the organisation’s methodoloy. She admits that the company could have achieved its goals without external help but she says that it’s always useful to get independent input. ‘It helps to validate what you are doing and it also challenges you to look at things differently,’ explains Vogel.
Richard Blume, senior advisor with The Natural Step, worked closely with the sportswear brand to implement its new framework. He says that he was particularly struck by Nike’s commitment and leadership in this field. ‘By using sustainability principles to guide decisions and create their Considered vision, Nike has ensured that its innovation efforts are informed by a rigorous, scientific understanding of sustainability. We believe that this distinguishes Nike and positions the company well to navigate the future.’
For more information visit www.naturalstep.org