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Nike Seeks Sustainable Solutions with New Innovation Challenge

Nike is calling on all innovators for a chance to work with them to turn waste into new product.

The sneaker giant launched Nike Circular Innovation Challenge, a two-part contest that tasks participants with turning grind waste materials into new products or propose innovative material-recovery solutions for footwear recycling.

“The Nike Circular Innovation Challenge is about partnering with those who see limitless potential, whether it’s a manufacturing scrap or a worn-out pair of sneakers,” Cyrus Wadia, Nike VP of Sustainable Business & Innovation, said.

For the “Design with Grind” challenge, Nike is partnering with OpenIDEO, a platform that connects companies with innovators and creatives to design products that bring positive change. The goal of the contest is to develop new solutions for Nike Grind materials that will improve the lives of people who use them, while also reducing waste.

Nike Grind materials fall into two categories: single materials like rubber, EVA and full grain leather or composite materials like laminated EVA foam, mixed textiles and coated or synthetic leather.

Participants are asked to submit ideas for a circular, waste-free economy for review through May 1. The top ideas will be chosen on June 19. One grand prize winner will receive $30,000 and up to four winners will receive awards of $5,000 each.

For the “Material Recovery” challenge, Nike has teamed with NineSigma, which designs and manages open innovation solutions for public, private and nonprofit organizations. The challenge calls for innovators to develop new technologies to help transform discarded footwear into pure material streams for recycling. As NineSigma explained, the “solutions should complement or replace existing process steps to recover purer material outputs than are currently possible.”

The deadline to submit ideas for that challenge is also May 1, and up to five finalists will be selected, with each receiving a $10,000 grant and the chance to compete for the final prize of $50,000. The winning proposal will be considered for implementation by Nike.

Nike has stepped up to the challenge of making footwear more sustainable through various types of programs. The company has recycled sneakers since 1990 and has recovered more than 30 million pairs. Through Nike Grind, Nike has recycled athletic footwear and surplus manufacturing scraps into new athletic footwear and premium sports surfaces, like running tracks, courts, gym floors and playgrounds.