Fashion and footwear brands have long been the target of environmental activists, not only for the wastefulness of “fast fashion” but also for excess produced during the manufacturing process itself. To combat this, many brands have taken proactive steps by introducing take-back programs and a few, like Speedo, have innovated to include manufacturing scraps in new products. Now, one company is taking this one step further, working to truly close the loop on its journey toward zero waste.
Earlier this month, Nike revealed that 71 percent of its footwear and apparel now contains waste from products in its own manufacturing process. The announcement ladders up to Nike’s goal to have zero waste from footwear manufacturing sent to landfill or incineration without energy recovery by 2020. Nike is taking a two-fold approach to waste reduction, both during the manufacturing process and after consumer use. The material, called Nike Grind, is made from a combination of recycled sneakers from its Reuse-A-Shoe program, plastic bottles and manufacturing scraps. Nike’s president and CEO, Mark Parker, stresses the new methods incorporate sustainability from inception and don’t impact performance; “Coupled with smarter designs, we can create products that maximize performance, lighten our environmental impact and can be disassembled and easily reused.” Nike’s commitment to waste reduction is nothing new. In addition to the company’s longstanding partnership with NASA, the U.S. State Department and U.S. AID, the Reuse-A-Shoe program was established in the early 1990s and the first use of the “slice and grind” technology was introduced in 2005.
Although product take-back innovation was one of the biggest trends in CSR of 2015, many approaches to weaving those materials back into clothing have been centered on single products or lines. Nike’s approach proves closing the loop can be taken to a larger scale, with seven out of every 10 Nike products containing recycled waste. As the company moves closer to its 2020 zero waste goal, we’ll likely see even more innovations pushing the entire industry toward a more sustainable fashion and retail space.