Nike case study


About Nike

As of May 2015, Nike had approximately 62,600 employees worldwide. The company is supplied by over 140 footwear factories and over 400 apparel factories around the globe, many of them located in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia.

Nike on sustainability

“Sustainable innovation is a catalyst for revolutionising the way we do business and an opportunity that’s been integrated across our business in policies, processes and products. We are innovating solutions that benefit athletes, the company and the world.”

About the project

The challenge

In practice, sports apparel and footwear production is rarely managed directly by brand owners, but is contracted out to supplier factories, many of whom further sub-contract the work to other factories and to home-workers. By the early 1990s, it became clear that the rights of many contracted workers were not adequately protected by the state nor by the contract factory. Nike, as one of the biggest brands in the business, drew heavy criticism for contracting to factories which allegedly violated minimum wage and overtime laws and used child labour.

The result

Nike drafted its first code of conduct for contract labour in 1991 and distributed it to factories the next year, making it the first code of its kind for the sporting apparel industry. All contract factories were required to sign the document, which banned the use of forced or child labour and committed them to compliance with local laws on wages, benefits, overtime and environmental protection. The code was later amended to include the right to free association and collective bargaining.

In 2005, Nike became the first company to publicly release supplier details of Nike branded products. In addition, they developed a long-term sustainability goal, their North Star. Today, sustainability, performance and innovation are an integrated part of Nike’s organisation.

The Natural Step’s work

In 1998, The Natural Step began to work with Nike to help the company apply the sustainability principles to its business operations. The company formalised its commitment to sustainable commerce with an official policy statement later that year. Between 1998 and 2001, hundreds of Nike employees were trained to use The Natural Step’s Framework, leading to numerous innovative programmes to further develop its sustainability goals.

In 2008, Nike partnered again with The Natural Step to help assess and further develop its approach to product innovation by defining a long-term vision for sustainable products. The resulting North Star vision and innovation goals position Nike to become a leader in sustainable product innovation and navigate toward a sustainable future.

Nike’s North star innovation goals

Closing the Loop

Sustainable Materials

Climate Stability

Water Stewardship

Thriving Communities

Athletes as Change Agents

  • Nike’s “Reuse-A-Shoe programme” grinds used athletic shoes and uses the recycled materials in surfaces for basketball courts, athletic tracks, artificial football pitches, playground fall protection and other recycled products. It has kept millions of post-consumer and defective shoes out of landfills.
  • Nike’s “Considered shoe line” marked a shift in the way sustainability was addressed. It is best described as a design ethos that focuses on creating products made with fewer toxins, less waste, more environmentally preferred materials and sustainable product innovation.
  • The Nike “Considered Index” was developed in order to better evaluate the environmental footprint of all Nike products and develop incentives for change amongst the design teams. It uses a lifecycle approach to examine design and production factors. Considered products are rated as gold, silver or bronze.
  • Prominent athletes, such as Steve Nash and Michael Jordan, have promoted gold-standard shoes, adding star power to the Considered line. The Steve Nash “Trash Talk” shoe was among the first sports performance shoes to be rated gold under the Considered Index. It is made from manufacturing waste.

Selected quotes

“We see corporate responsibility as a catalyst for growth and innovation. It is an integral part of how we can use the power of our brand, the energy and passion of our people, and the scale of our business to create meaningful change.”
Mark Parker

CEO, Nike

“What really impressed me working with The Natural Step in the past year was their ability to take the principles of sustainability, understand the business model they were being plugged into and come up with a clear and concise statement of what that means for the business.”
Jim Goddard

Director of Considered Innovation, Nike

“For me the big piece was watching younger generations of designers and developers go through The Natural Step workshops. It was great to see them get so excited about sustainability. They agreed that we need to be working towards sustainability as a company, and they could see how The Natural Step’s training would be meaningful in their jobs.”
Sarah Severn

Director of Corporate Responsibility, Nike

Shaping the future

Nike will continue to refine its innovation goals and create action plans to move forward on each individual goal. An important element of their work is to understand how they can contribute to healthy communities and human needs by designing more sustainable products. The innovation goals address the social component of sustainability by emphasising the importance of returning clean water to communities and removing toxic materials from the waste stream that might otherwise end up in landfills. Nike has already begun to collaborate across the industry through work with Levi Strauss and the Organic Cotton Exchange. They have shown a lot of leadership and are trying to change the industry and engage other companies to do the same.
  • Manufacturing waste in the shoe “Trash Talk” 100% 100%
  • Reduction of harmful chemicals in Nike’s environmental rubber formula 97% 97%
  • Reduction of total solvent use between 1995 – 2003 95% 95%
  • Glue or chemicals in the PreeCool vest 0% 0%

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