Updated: Oct 22, 2019

NIKE: Is it the Sustainability Transformation of the Decade?

Industry Challenges

The $3 trillion global apparel industry remains the second largest industrial polluter, following oil & gas [1].  The industry is a complicated business involving long and varied supply chains.  Each step of the chain requires tremendous consumption and puts pressure on our carbon footprint.  The industry accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and 25% of the world’s chemical usage [2].  The compiled pollution releases toxic chemicals into our air, water, and soil, resulting in the creation of greenhouse gases and diminution of our water resources.

As one of the largest apparel brands, Nike has a significant role to play in shaping the climate change conversation for two primary reasons: corporate social responsibility and business performance.

“how can we double our business with half the impact on the world?” -NIKE CEO, Mark Parker

As of September 2017, Nike announced the launch of Nike Flyleather, a new super material made with ~50% recyclable leather fibers, using 90% less water, and an 80% lower carbon footprint.  The product is created to maximize performance as it’s 5x more durable and 40% lighter than regular leather [7].  As Nike expands this new material to its leather sneaker portfolio, it’ll have a strong impact on cost reduction and production waste.  Similar to the impact the Flyknit technology created post 2012, reducing waste by ~3.5 million pounds.

In manufacturing, Nike diverted 92% of total waste from landfill and incineration without energy recovery.  And in Q1 of 2014, Nike reached a major step by introducing a water-free dyeing facility in Taiwan.  The factory features high-tech equipment designed to eliminate the use of water and process chemicals from fabric dyeing – Nike names the innovation “ColorDry.”  See Figure 2 for an image of the factory [9].

Water is outpacing population growth, and over the next decade, water demand will exceed the general population growth 4 to 1, implying two-thirds of the world’s population could be living in water-stressed areas [8].  The ColorDry investment marks Nike’s strong commitment to taking a future outlook and reducing its reliance on constrained resources.

Figure 2 – ColorDry technology at new facility in Taiwan.