Nike circular design guide video. All images in the article are courtesy of Nike.
Recently named the new chief “Sustainability is about the longevity of our planet.”
Interview by Rekha Shanmugam.
I am a father, husband and sustainability advocate. As Chief Sustainability Officer at Nike, we’re always in pursuit of creating a better, more sustainable future for people, the planet and communities – and that’s what I try and do every day.
What do you do, in your own terms? How has your life influenced your career?
Sustainability has been a key thread in my life and it’s actually very personal to me. During my two years in the Peace Corps in Honduras, I learned it’s often the most vulnerable communities that are most affected by climate change – and saw first-hand the incredible resilience of people who have to adapt their lives to a changing environment. It was clear to me then and it’s clear to me now that we need to be addressing climate change head-on. I’ve been trying to do that in every role I’ve had over the last 20 years.
Tell us about your work? As the new Chief Sustainability Officer what is your key area of focus? What is the biggest hurdle you foresee in the implementation of the same?
We’re focused on serving our athletes, and all athletes need clean water, fresh air and safe playing fields. That’s why we focus on energy, waste, water – and the health, safety and wellbeing of the people who make our products. We believe sport has the power to move the world forward and we see that through our work to give consumers what they’re demanding – products with zero compromise on sustainability, performance and style. We are ready to meet that expectation.
Why do you believe Nike has the potential “to help catalyze the future of the planet?”
We’re committed to creating a better, more sustainable future for people, planet and communities – that’s core to our purpose. And, when we believe in something, we get after it. Take windfarms – because we’ve invested in power purchase agreements, we are set to use 100 percent renewable energy across our North America and European owned and operated facilities by 2020, getting us 75 percent of the way to our global goal. It’s even surprised us – because of our scale – this approach now makes us one of the top 10 corporate off takers globally.
And some of our biggest product platforms are sustainable innovations. For example, Nike Air – All our iconic Air soles are made of at least 50 percent recycled TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane)– and styles like VaporMax and 720 soles are at least 75 percent recycled TPU.
Air VaporMax soles.
Currently watching/reading/listening to:
Watching the Portland Trail Blazers – I’m a huge fan and they’re doing really well in the NBA playoffs. I recently finished Brené Brown’s book “Dare to Lead.” It’s on my desk to read again, actually. Her message of authenticity, compassion and clarity from leaders really resonated with me.
When you’re not working to save the environment, we can find you:
I’m a father of three, so you’ll likely catch me on the sidelines cheering them on whether it’s in basketball, lacrosse or gymnastics.
What message do you have for people who want to pursue a career in sustainability?
Your title doesn’t have to say “sustainability” to make it your work. Across Nike, we have amazing employees who work across many different areas – from designing our products to making decisions about our workplace environment, and they all care deeply about our planet and are part of helping to protect the future of sport.
What, do you think, is the most immediate problem we need to address in footwear production and supply in terms of helping the environment? How is your work making a difference?
Waste + circularity. By reimagining waste as new materials, we have the opportunity to radically change the way we create product. One of our newest innovations, Flyleather, is created from discarded leather scraps reengineered into a supermaterial made of at least 50 percent leather fibers. Its production uses significantly less water and has a lower carbon footprint, yet is more durable (based on abrasion testing), more lightweight, and takes design elements like embossing and printing better than full grain leather.
One of your targets for 2020 is zero footwear waste to landfill, how do you plan on achieving this? What efforts are you taking to make sure Nike reduces its environmental footprint, in regard to the materials used to make the shoes?
We know materials make up 60 percent of our environmental impact, so if we can keep improving our material choices and feedback recycled materials into our product designs, it can have a huge ripple effect. Already, we are the industry’s biggest user of recycled polyester – it’s in almost all of our Flyknit uppers – and in apparel like our World Cup and basketball kits. Since 1992, we’ve recycled athletic footwear and surplus manufacturing scraps – called Nike Grind – to make new performance products, ranging from footwear and apparel to running tracks and basketball courts. Now, nearly 75 percent of all Nike product contains some recycled material.
What does the word “sustainable” mean to you?
When I was in the Peace Corps, all of our projects had to be sustainable, meaning they had to stand the test of time, long after our time there ended. That’s how I think about it now – sustainability is about the longevity of our planet.
How do you educate yourself on environmental issues?
I’m always reading, always listening. Recently, we were lucky enough to have skate legend Stefan Janoski on campus as part of our Earth Day Every Day discussions with employees. Skaters blow through shoes – the sport is just really hard on them – yet skaters demand that we be kinder to the planet. It was a great discussion about how we can all be thinking about sport and integrating sustainable resiliency into the products we design and create.
Who is an eco-warrior in your life (a person who inspires you, who you look up to)?
My parents – self-admitted hippies who took my brother and I out into the woods to camp, hike and hunt mushrooms. We didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it’s definitely shaped the way I think about the environment.
Do you think awareness of environmental issues has increased over the years? Why?
Answered above in consumer tipping-point response.
How are you an Eco Warrior?
I’ve challenged myself – and each of Nike’s 74,000+ employees around the world – to commit to making one small change to make a difference and they are rising to the challenge. Nike is a team of eco warriors. When all of us act, we can move the world.
My mission is…to positively impact people’s lives however I can.