How Nike Is Helping the Competition

Competition, we’re told, is at the heart of so much of the human experience.

We compete for love and attention with our siblings. We compete in the classroom and on the sports field. And it only gets worse when we get to the ‘working world’ – competing for jobs, raises, bonuses, kudos, corner offices. Some say competition is the characteristic that makes all of capitalism run.

So for some, it may seem mindboggling for Nike, a company whose brand is almost synonymous with ‘competition,’ to share a $6 MM piece of technology with their competitors. But that’s just what Nike is doing. This month Nike announced that they’re releasing their Environmental Apparel Design Tool to the world. Developed over 7 years, Nike claims this tool has helped them double the use of recycled polyester last year, diverting 82 million plastic bottles from landfills near you.

Nike hasn’t always been known as an open, sharing, collaborative brand. Over a decade ago, Nike was in the news for their relatively secretive labor and manufacturing processes. And I could imagine there were probably several discussions regarding the loss of competitive brand advantage from ‘giving away’ proprietary knowledge of sustainability practices and processes.

Nike has always been a brand leader. And this move demonstrates what a leader does – moves forward boldly with what they know is right. Nike claims that they believe sharing this tool is the right thing to do: that it can make every apparel manufacturer better, accelerate collaboration, fast-track innovation, that it can divert tons of waste, water and energy from the manufacturing stream. This will in turn harness more consumer demand resulting in a bigger market for everyone. In a classic sense, rather than fighting over their piece of the pie, Nike is betting this move will make the ‘pie’ bigger.

It also gives them a subtle brand advantage in the future. Many brands who are just now considering whether sustainability is a fad or a trend believe that simply touting themselves as ‘green’ will give them a competitive advantage. By sharing their knowledge and this technology, Nike is leveling the playing field AND neutralizing the benefit of simply being green. When everyone is green, then the winner will be the brand that innovates and meets consumers demands above and beyond ‘green-ness’. And that’s a playing field Nike excels on.

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