I believe Nike when they say they are dedicated to protecting the future of sport against climate change and the disruptive impacts that will worsen if inaction continues. Athletes train, practice, and compete outdoors where the effects of climate change are undeniable and can have detrimental impacts on health and performance. The way Nike framed their sustainability goals as protecting athletes is clever because they speak as the biggest athletic wear and footwear company in the world. Their shift towards sustainability is logical since they are a big contributor to global issues like waste and greenhouse gas emission, this means they can also be a big part of the solution. I appreciate that they have many in-depth explanations and pictures of what they produce and who designs it, whether it be the Circular Design one or the Purpose section of their main site; it shows how expansive their information is and also signals they have things they want to share. When you actually go through these sites, they are very easy to navigate and include colorful pictures and videos to make the experience more interactive. The price point of $180 is steep when you compare it to the $100 price tag of their wildly popular Nike High-Top Air Force One. It also seems counterintuitive since they are using a lot of recycled material, but the price would be more easily justified if they were more transparent about the production process and the wages they pay their workers. The major lacking aspect was transparency concerning factories, labor, how it’s actually made, and who puts everything together. This absence also means we can’t know where the Space Hippie shoes are manufactured if they are made through exploitative labor, and how far they have to be transported to be assembled or sold. This leaves a large blank space that prohibits us from accurately analyzing their environmental footprint. My expectations for this review were intermediate because large corporations are skilled in greenwashing, but companies like Nike actually have the means to make meaningful change because of their power and dominance on a global scale. Although I was impressed by their websites and detailed reports, I was underwhelmed by the actual actions they were detailing. The Space Hippie shoe is a great start, but I would like to see them use the same recycled materials for more of their products, whether it be redoing old models or creating new ones. They’ve set lofty goals for the future and I’m eager to see if they meet them.
The Nike Space Hippie line is their most well-documented sustainable initiative. The Flyknit yarn is made from 85-90% recycled material by weight, including post-industrial scraps, t-shirts, and plastic bottles. Each shoe upper that is made from Flyknit contains 6-7 plastic bottles and because they just manufacture the exact pattern shape there is 60% less waste than in other footwear uppers. The crater foam tooling uses around 12% Nike Grind rubber combined with foam materials. Instead of using a double box to ship the shoes, Space Hippie shoes are shipped in a single shoebox made of at least 90% recycled material. By weight, more than half of the Space Hippie shoe is made with recycled materials. 100% recycled zoom and foam scraps. I was impressed that 100% of the cotton Nike uses is certified organic, recycled, or sourced through the Better Cotton initiative. The BCI is a non-profit organization that works to promote sustainability and ethical labor practices which they detail thoroughly through several reports on the BCI website. Organic cotton has far less of an impact on the environment because it uses a lot less water, doesn’t pesticides, and therefore doesn’t negatively influence biodiversity as non-organic cotton-growing does. Nike also recycles nylon through chemical and mechanical processes to produce nylon yarn that up to halves carbon emissions in comparison to producing virgin nylon. The makeup of the Space Hippie is mostly the FlyKnit upper, so it is accurately considered their best example of working towards a closed-loop economy.
Instead of using the traditional cut-and-sew methods that leave behind lots of waste, Nike Flyknit footwear is created directly from yarn to the exact measurements of the shoe. They have reworked machines used for apparel to cut out the Flyknit patterns with high efficiency. This method is called zero-waste patterning and I hope to see them use this technique for more of their shoes, apparel, and accessories. Nike has set a target of achieving zero discharge of hazardous chemicals. They have adopted wastewater guidelines that are a unified expectation for the entire footwear and textile industry, banned the intentional use of priority chemicals on the EPA list, comply with global legislation for packaging design requirements, and test for restricted chemical substances. Though Nike is clear about the Flyknit material makeup and spotlights the designers, they are far less transparent on how and where the Space Hippie shoe is made. They are notorious for utilizing exploitative labor and outsourcing factories to developing countries, so it’s disappointing but not surprising they aren’t putting their factory details front and center. In the future, I’d like them to be as transparent about their labor sources and practices as they are about the design and materials.
Nike is the world’s largest supplier of athletic goods and sportswear. In addition to ‘Just Do It,’ they have a new design motto of creating a product that has the highest performance possible while having the lowest environmental impact. Apparel labeled ‘sustainable materials’ is made with at least 50% recycled content and shoes with the same label are made with at least 20% recycled content by weight. It seems like the bar is quite low when only one-fifth of the material is recycled yet it’s considered a sustainable product. Learning of the actual numbers makes it feel similar to greenwashing, but the impressive 90% recycled FlyKnit for the Space Hippie 03 shoe is something to be proud of and is influencing my overall rating as opposed to just this section. Nike has recently jumped with both feet into sustainable marketing, which can be substantially attributed to their new CEO, John Donahoe, that is committed to keeping sustainability at the front of Nike’s mission. Nike’s Circular Design website provides ‘Thought Starters’ which are short questions for people to begin exploring their own consumption patterns. The site also provides links to other companies who are engaging in sustainable practices, giving it more of a blog feel. They have 10 Circular Design Principles that include material choice, durability, and packaging. On most of the pages, they have attached videos of Nike designers who are working towards the company’s goal towards sustainability which makes the product and massive corporation feel more personal. They also provide a 125-page impact report that detailed their 2020 targets. It includes sourcing 100% of their organic cotton sustainably, reaching 100% renewable energy in owned or operated facilities by the end of 2025, reducing waste index by 10% in footwear manufacturing, and reduce freshwater use in textile dyeing and finishing by 20%. By the end of 2021, Nike stores will no longer have single-use plastic bags. Nike also has plans for third-party carbon offset programs and installing rooftop solar power units on their factories in Asia. It’s a good sign that they set measures for themselves in addition to their targets; it makes it easier for both themselves and the public to hold them accountable.