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Nike's latest substainability report reflects evolving link between being green and being innovative

Posting in Design

Is there a link between sustainability and business innovation? Nike certainly thinks so.

I found myself having a brief blasphemous thought this morning as I was reading Nike's latest corporate responsibility report, which was released last Friday. When I got to the part about overall greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint, I found myself wondering whether the recession played a role in the company's ability to reduce its overall carbon emissions across its supply chain to fiscal year 2007 levels, which is about 4 percent lower than what it produced in fiscal year 2008.

Then I dug a little deeper into the numbers and quickly wiped that thought from my mind.

That's because Nike ACTUALLY reduced the emissions produced by its own facilities about 15 percent between fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2007. Its total footprint, though, is about even with those levels at about 1.53 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents because the company made a conscious decision to stop buying as many renewable energy certificates and focus more on managing actual reductions.

Is this a step backward? Indeed, I think is not. In fact, what is great about Nike's report is that it provides an illustration of how sophisticated and complicated sustainability strategy can really be. Nike has had enough experience over the past five years to adjust certain initiatives, not only to reflect changes in corporate strategy but to reflect its growing knowledge about the impact of ALL the environmental, waste management an energy efficiency issues that go into sustainability management.

Consider this comment from Nike' Vice President of Sustainability and Innovation (nice title, eh?) Hannah Jones, which is part of the press release:

"The link between sustainability and Nike as a growth company has never been clearer. There are serious potential impacts of social, environmental and economic shifts on labor forces, youth sport, supply chains and products."

In other words, for Nike, sustainability efforts moving forward will be less about risk management and more about innovation, collaboration, transparency and advocacy that will position it as a leader in a "sustainable economy."

Notably, there are five new things that Nike highlights, which are slightly than past priorities:

  1. The need to combine sustainability design ideals with those that will result in better athletic performance. This is something that Nike calls Considered Design.
  2. The GreenXchange, a Web marketplace where Nike encourages the sharing of intellectual property and ideas that have to do with sustainability
  3. Lean and Human Resource Management, which marries lean manufacturing principles and green business principles
  4. Sport for Social Change, such as the Grassroot Soccer in Africa project (a community program that combines HIV/AIDS awareness with sports activities)
  5. The formation of a group called BICEP (or, Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy), which encourages a cost on carbon and is an advocacy group for "strong U.S. climate and energy legislation"

Warning, you'll need a lot of coffee to get through the report, which is about 200 pages long (although the great use of infographics helps a lot).

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure