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Nike Wants to Make Waste History—Here’s How

Nike envisions a future where the idea of waste simply doesn’t exist.

From Flyknit, a core polyester yarn derived from castoff plastic bottles, to Flyleather, a “super material” made with at least 50 percent recycled leather fiber, the sportswear Goliath has been finding treasure in trash for decades. Case in point? Nike says it has recycled more than 33 million pairs of shoes through its Reuse-A-Shoe program since 1990.

But the Swoosh company decided to lean into its efforts in September when it announced Move to Zero, a multi-pronged, company-wide ambition to achieve zero carbon emissions and zero waste to landfill.

“Space Hippie,” a collection of sneakers made from Nike’s terrestrial version of “space junk”—that is, post-production scrap materials recovered from its factory floors—encompasses this new full-steam-ahead approach.

The shoes’ uppers are spun from 100 percent recycled materials, including post-consumer plastic bottles, T-shirts and textiles. For the cushioning, the brand employed remnants from the production of the Vaporfly 4%, repurposing the ZoomX foam in a way that generates half as many carbon emissions as typical Nike foams.

Their midsoles are made from “Crater Foam,” which incorporates 15 percent Nike Grind rubber from crushed-up old shoes and surplus manufacturing materials.

Nike is also experimenting with more efficient means of pattern cutting. Its “Move to Zero” spring collection, for instance, generated just 10 percent waste, compared with the average 15 percent to 20 percent that falls on cutting floors.

For fabrics, the collection employed at least 50 percent organic and recycled materials, including sustainably sourced cotton and recycled polyester. The brand leveraged its Nike Grind composite once more to make drawcords and zippers.

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For Nike, there is no question about putting the environment first.

“We exist to serve athletes and that means enabling all athletes—from the everyday to the elite—around the world to have safe places to play and train,” said Jaycee Pribulsky, vice president of sustainable manufacturing and sourcing. “If there is no planet, there is no sport. This vision guides our thinking across Nike, informing how we think about everything from design, to product creation, to how we deliver products to consumers.”

Though they preceded Move to Zero, innovations like Flyknit, Flyleather and Nike Grind are now “key elements” of Nike’s ambitious targets, she added. Circularity, too, is a vital part of the Move to Zero journey. It’s through those efforts that the company managed to divert 99.9 percent of its footwear manufacturing waste from the landfill for recycling or converting into energy by the fourth quarter of 2019.

Eliminating waste hasn’t always been easy, Pribulsky admitted. Different products, manufactured in different factories, can create very different waste streams, each with its own unique set of challenges.

“This is a long road and reducing waste is a very complex process,” she said. “We’re unlocking solutions that make us more efficient and reduce waste right at the source by improving operations in factories, distribution centers and at our headquarters.”

Still, the Just Do It firm sees curtailing waste not only as an opportunity for innovation but also an environmental imperative.

“We have an obligation to consider how we source, make, use, return and reimagine the products we design,” Pribulsky added. “One of the things we do best is bringing innovation to scale, and now we are bringing sustainability to scale.”


What’s the most important issue the fashion industry has yet to address?

“Now, more than ever, collaboration is critical to address global complex challenges. Collectively, we need to transform the way we work together as industry partners to meet these challenges and design solutions that allow us to reach our goals and beyond.”

For more on Sustaining Voices, which celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action, visit sustainingvoices.com.