Last week Nike launched the latest round in their Considered Design line, shoes and apparel that have considered their environmental impact and reduced it. This program, originally begun in 2005 within their outdoor styles, has moved beyond its skunkworks phase and is being steadily introduced across the line of more mainstream footwear. In this instance, the Pegasus, a running shoe with a 25 year heritage, has been subjected to the Considered Design treatment. Which is what, exactly? Well, it includes, "more efficient design patterns that use less material and are easier to recycle, adhesives made from water instead of toxic chemicals, and sustainable items like cork and organic cotton." We're told by Reuters that 15% of Nike's total Spring 2009 line will made under the "Considered" principles.
This is not to suggest that Nike is some paragon of sweetness. You don't become the world's number one supplier of sporting footwear and apparel, to the tune of $16 billion USD, simply by being a nice guy. And yes, they do have a human rights record that continues to galvanise social justice organisations, TV current affairs programs and documentary makers into action. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater, via boycotts, and the like, is hardly the answer.Berating a company for their shortcomings is easy out option. Another action, more proactive than protest placard waving is to pat them on the back them for what they managed to do that it is good, whilst vigorously encouraging them to go even further. See our post on the Girlcott idea for more on this.
Because of its size and influence, any change that Nike makes has enormous leverage in the rest of the marketplace. They set the standard that others follow. This is true of good tidings, just as it is for those bad news stories. Encourage Nike to undertake positive work and others will take their lead.
For example, whilst it's true not all their cotton clothing is made from organic cotton, they are among the top two retailers of organic cotton in the world, using about 11 million pounds of the stuff. They use a little of it, in a lot of clothes. And in doing so provides considerable support to organic agriculture.
In their own words "virtually all of Nike-branded product is now PVC free." And implementing Considered Design into all their footwear, as is projected by 2011, will substantially reduce the volume of toxic solvent adhesives that factory workers and waterways have to cope with.
If it were not for the work of the Considered Design team at Nike we may not have the minimal adhesive designs within Patagonia Footwear line, like the OutsideIn models, which appear to borrow their heritage from the glueless, click-in soles of early Considered Design styles.
Nike has also, inadvertently seeded some deeply green companies like Nau and END Footwear, because those firm's co-founders once worked for the swoosh. Not to mention that Bill Bowerman, co-founder of Nike, helped the world's first environmental footwear company, DeJa Shoe, get up and running.
Of course, none of these good turns, excuses other wrong doings. It is however hard to turn a juggernaut on a dime, but once turned, it will (hopefully) tow a lot of other businesses along in its wake. Could they do more? And could they do it faster? No doubt. But Considered Design has been a step in the right direction. We need to energetically nudge Nike to continue the journey, rather than abandon it.
More Nike and Sustainability on TreeHugger
Nike Considered: Hope for The Sinners?
Nike Considered — Going Cheap
Nike Considered 2007: Take 'Em Outdoors
Peter Senge and the Nike Sustainability Team: In Conversation
Photos found in the aforementioned Reuters article.