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Reconsidering Nike

Reconsidering Nike

Nike has come a long way since its early attempts to green its supply chain (read about Nike's early flub with the godfather of enviro design, Bill McDonough, in Fast Company's November issue). Yesterday I sat down with Nike's CEO, Mark Parker, a former designer who has been working for the Beaverton powerhouse for nearly three decades. "Design takes a very active position in helping to shape and set strategy for the company," he told me. "It's not a bunch of short order cooks in the back room working for marketing and merchandising. We're out front, helping to dictate the direction." I appreciated his "we" slip—still referring to his designer-self first.

Parker's commitment to design as a source of innovation is most evident in Nike Considered—not simply a line of sustainable kicks, but actually a design standard that will be embedded in every pair of shoes The Swoosh pumps out. The goal, stated by Parker at Nike's MOMA-esque unveiling yesterday at 7 World Trade Center (where Fast Company's offices happen to be), is that 100% of footwear produced by Nike will meet its ("baseline") Considered standards by 2011, all apparel by 2015, and equipment by 2020.

What I'm most impressed by with Parker's ambition is that "Considered"—Nike's shorthand for design that reduces environmental impact while increasing performance—is its "closed loop" goals. Essentially, instead of just aiming to create less waste, Nike is designing products for disassembly at the end of its life (similar to McDonough's "cradle to cradle" ethos)—either being used as material for more products, or biodegrading into the earth. If Parker does achieve the goals he's make Nike accountable to, in the near term the waste from the company's supply chain of some 3,000 suppliers will be reduced by 17%. Which ain't a bad start. My only question is: how do you get consumers to actually close the loop when they're ready to retire their old sneaks?