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‘No Planet, No Sports,’ Nike Sustainability Chief Says on Climate Change Fight

On the eve of the youth climate strike across the globe, Nike made its own stand for the environment.

At its New York City headquarters on Thursday evening, the sportswear giant unveiled Move to Zero, a campaign with the “singular aim” of guarding the future of athletics against the scourge of oppressive heat, severe storms, catastrophic wildfires and other hallmarks of extreme weather.

“At Nike, we believe that climate change is the defining issue of our generation,” Noel Kinder, the company’s chief sustainability officer, told attendees. “And the reality is if there’s no planet, there’s no sport, and as you can imagine, sport is very important to us.”

The Swoosh brand has partnered with the Climate Impact Lab to demonstrate the connection between stable temperatures and peak athletic performance. Rising temperatures, they note, place additional stress on the human body because it has to work that much harder to stay cool. Marathon runners clock their fastest times, for example, when outdoor temperatures hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Pushing up the mercury by 15 degrees adds a minute and a half to an everyday runner’s time. For everyday runners, it’s six minutes.

“As the climate changes, hotter days make it more difficult to achieve a personal best regardless of your capabilities,” Kinder said.

When it comes to soccer, the average player experiences 20 percent more days of extreme heat today than in 1990. By 2050, that number could spike by 42 percent to 70 percent.

“I have a 16-year-old daughter who plays soccer in high school, and she’s had meets limited or canceled completely because of extreme weather,” Kinder said. “And that’s in Portland, Oregon.”

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Other sports face a similarly bleak future. Nike and the Climate Impact Lab’s research found that without global action, peak temperatures at top tennis tournaments could be 4 percent to 13 percent higher by mid-century than in the 1980s. In the case of snowboarding, the average number of quality sporting days around the world has declined by 7 percent over the past 30 years. By 2050, this could wane by 11 percent to 22 percent compared with 1990 levels.

Then there’s America’s second-favorite sport: football. Many states have regulations to keep players safe, including reducing equipment or canceling games during extreme heat. When 2050 rolls around, climate change could reduce the time spent on the field in the southeastern United States—Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi—by up to two months. “Two months,” Kinder marveled. “That’s almost an entire season.”

“We want climate change to be a conversation and to have it more accessible and relatable,” he added. “Because I personally believe that when you’re inspired to act, because you know the impact on something that you care about, you will move quickly.”

Nike hasn’t always been a champion for the planet, but sustainability—and now the idea of the circular economy—has fueled much of the brand’s innovation trajectory, from Flyknit, a technology that turns castoff plastic bottles into seamlessly knit single-piece uppers with 60 percent less waste, to Nike Grind, a collection of recycled materials made from cutting-floor scraps, unsellable footwear and post-consumer shoes from the Reuse-A-Shoe program.

In addition, the Just Do It company has pledged to power all owned facilities with 100 percent renewable energy, divert 99 percent of all footwear manufacturing waste from landfills and reduce carbon emissions across its global supply chain by 30 percent by 2030 in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement