Nike’s Air Force 1 line is iconic, and its comfort and design has made it one of Nike’s top-selling styles. The all-white Air Force 1 ‘07s have consistently ranked as one of Nike’s most popular shoes, and Nike has created the Air Force 1 Craters, which use recycled materials from Nike’s waste, to make a more “sustainable” alternative. I think the Nike Grind initiative to turn their manufacturing scraps into new products is a fantastic idea, and Nike has clear targets to become more sustainable in the future. This does not distract from the fact that Nike’s manufacturing process and business model is already problematic, and simply releasing a few products with recycled materials won’t change that. Their approach to creating a more circular manufacturing process is a start, and I look forward to seeing if Nike is able to implement greater systemic changes in the future. But bottom line, I don’t view the Air Force 1 Craters as being significantly more sustainable than the original all-white Air Force 1s because of how they are manufactured, and it will take a business remodeling in order to truly reduce their impact.
Nike states that the Crater Foam midsole contains 20% recycled materials, with 11% of these materials being Nike Grind rubber. Nike Grind is an initiative toward a circular waste system that takes scraps from the manufacturing process, sample or defective shoes, and other waste and turns them into new materials. These Nike Grind materials are used in both Nike products as well as in athletic settings like running tracks, walkways and indoor courts. Since the Nike Grind rubber is created from a variety of different colored materials, it also adds a unique stylistic aspect to each pair of shoes. The rubber sole is made from 15% Nike Grind rubber, which gives it a speckled look. Additionally, Nike states that the stitched leather is made of 24% recycled synthetic leather and the shoelaces are also made of 100% recycled materials.
Nike Grind rubber is produced by mechanically grinding rubber from the outsoles of sample and defective shoes, post-consumer shoes, and other manufacturing scraps. Through Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program, people can drop off their used shoes at a Nike retail store, and the stores will ship it to one of Nike’s processing centers to be disassembled. There are two Nike Grind processing centers, one in Memphis, Tennessee in the United States, and one in Meerhout, Belgium. Nike states that they source the scrap rubber from their contract manufacturers in Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Belgium, and the United States. Nike grinds the rubber into different sized granules at their processing centers, which they use in their own products, or ship to other companies that create sports surfaces like courts and turf. Having to internationally ship in materials from different companies and retail locations, process them, and then ship out the rubber for various products seems counterproductive to reducing their environmental impact, especially when the Air Force 1 Craters only contain a percentage of recycled materials, so the logistics of Nike Grind might outweigh the environmental benefits.
486 contract factories manufacture finished goods for Nike, hailing from 39 different countries, with an approximate total of 1 million workers at these locations. Nike also has 57 different materials suppliers from 9 different countries. These manufacturers can self-report data about their demographics to Nike, and this data is published on Nike’s Manufacturing Map, where you can find information about individual plants. While the transparency of where they manufacture their products is nice, Nike does not completely protect their supply chain and relies heavily on the independent manufacturers to enforce labor standards, which makes it difficult to ensure that their factories use ethical labor.
Nike realizes the impact that the environment can have on athletes, from runners to snowboarders, especially with regards to environmental waste and rising temperatures. Their “Move to Zero” initiative states that Nike strives to eventually become zero-waste and zero-carbon. Nike has a list of different goals regarding sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and community investments that they want to reach by 2025. I like that their deadline is ambitious and I’m interested to see if they are able to follow through in the coming years, since it will be difficult to achieve as a huge multinational corporation.