Nike looks to their North Star

The Opportunity

In 1998, Nike approached The Natural Step to help the company apply the principles of sustainability to its business operations. Over the following decade, Nike made considerable progress on a number of fronts, such as addressing labour compliance issues in their supply chain, reducing emissions, and eliminating toxic materials from their products. However, by 2008 a sentiment was building among the leaders of the company that these efforts were mostly about reducing negative impacts of their business and, as such, were backward rather than forward looking. To better align its efforts with the Nike culture, the company needed an aspirational goal to drive innovation efforts and align the ongoing work into a single forward-looking direction.

The Response

With leadership from Nike’s Director of Corporate Responsibility Horizons and the General Manager of Nike Considered, Nike and The Natural Step developed a project that would lead to transformative change in the organization and further position the company as a leader in sustainable product innovation.

The Process

In 2007, The Natural Step team used its Sustainability Lifecycle Analysis (SLCA) tool to conduct a baseline assessment of Nike’s already impressive sustainability performance and began a series of visioning sessions to co-develop Nike’s long-term sustainability aims. The result was a compelling vision called “North Star” intended to guide not only the Nike Considered product line, but Nike as a whole.

The North Star includes a set of innovation goals that together describe a future when Nike products are fully aligned with science-based principles of sustainability. These goals address issues such as closing the materials loop, using only sustainable materials, achieving climate stability, water stewardship, thriving communities in its supply chain, and athletes acting as change agents. The intent is to have these goals inform the tools and processes that Nike designers use to design products, including its Nike Considered Index. Recently, Nike reached its goal to have 100% of its US footwear products meet its Considered baseline standards by 2011 and continues to up the ante on its performance measurement targets.

Guided by the North Star, Nike understands that an incremental improvement approach is not enough to achieve real progress and has committed to a “relentless focus on sustainable innovation, from evolutionary enhancements to disruptive shifts that can transform the industry.” As a true leader, Nike has acknowledged sustainable growth as part of its short and long-term vision to deliver profitable growth decoupled from constrained natural resources.

The Feedback

What really impressed me working with The Natural Step in the past year was their ability to take the principles of sustainability, understand the business model they were being plugged into, and come up with a clear and concise statement of what that means for the business.”

-Jim Goddard, Director of Environmental Initiatives, NIKE, Inc.

Learn more about The Natural Step Canada’s Service Path for Sustainable Business and how we can help your business develop a bold sustainability vision, strategy, and action plan. Please contact us to discuss your unique needs.