Nike loves to win, but its growth doesn't always win over legions of socially conscious fans. Heidi McCloskey wants to make Nike's success more sustainable by persuading apparel suppliers to use organic cotton. Nike's organic-cotton usage is projected to reach 3 million pounds in 2003, up from 1 million pounds in 2001.
Global director of sustainability, Nike Apparel
Additional Team Members:
The Organic Exchange, Sustainable Cotton Project, Organic Trade Association
FROM HEIDI'S ORIGINAL ENTRY:
Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
The challenge...convince apparel manufacturers around the world that using organic cotton was a smart, long-term business decision.
Actually, the challenge was not convincing Nike and other apparel manufacturers of the positive environmental benefits provided by organic cotton—the fact was not under dispute. What we needed was a strong business case and a system for achieving impact beyond our market share. Because while organic cotton looks, feels and wears just like conventional cotton, in many ways, sourcing organic is harder, slower and more costly than traditional cotton sourcing.
Today, the world's supply of organic cotton is less than 1% of the conventional cotton supply: just converting our U.S. men's T-shirt line to 100% organic cotton would require the entire global supply. Collaboration between companies and members of the organic cotton supply chain would prove critical to growing the supply and creating a strong market for organic cotton.
What was your moment of truth?
Like others, I had been aware of the positive environmental benefits of organic cotton for some time, but my moments of truth came with two developments that allowed Nike to make our own strong business case for organic cotton. For the initiative to be a success, organic product use must be incremental and fully integrated with other actors throughout the apparel industry.
First, I developed an extensive study of Nike's current use of cotton. The results led to a proposal to blend organic cotton into our apparel. In the fall 1998 season, we launched Nike's three percent blended program—cotton apparel containing a blend of 97% conventional cotton and 3% certified organically grown cotton.
Next, we recognized we could never achieve our organic cotton ambitions without the help of others, so we joined with other companies to convene a meeting of individual players throughout the cotton supply chain: farmers, cotton cooperatives, cotton merchants, processors, sourcing agents and representatives from a handful of apparel, furniture and consumer product companies. These meetings resulted in the establishment of the Organic Exchange—a nonprofit organization committed to building a robust organic cotton industry by growing organic fibers and expanding training and recruitment in every cotton-growing region of the world.
What were the results?
We started with a small percentage of organic cotton in a fraction of our product line, but have steadily increased both figures. In 2001, more than 30 million apparel garments contained at least three percent organic cotton. In October of 2002, we launched our first women's apparel collection featuring cotton that is 100% certified organic. The collection is hang-tagged as Nike Organics and directs the consumer to http://www.nikebiz.com/sustainability.
The Organic Exchange, which has grown to 55 member companies, is working toward a goal of 10% of the world's cotton supply being certified organic within 10 years—right now we're at one-third of one percent Because Exchange members have committed to incremental changes and considerable collaboration, ten percent is possible. And 10% would impact agricultural practices globally.
What's your parting tip?
Sustainability by its very nature is an inclusive proposition, and collectively, we can leap higher hurdles. If our levels of product and process innovations inspire other companies, we can get them off the sidelines and into the game.