Waste management, particularly plastic, is a big environmental problem. As the World Environment Day 2019 is being hosted by China, the focus is on beat the pollution, including the air pollution. Everything around us can be a reason for environmental pollution. Which puts the onus on us, as consumers, to buy smartly. From companies and brands that have environmental sustainability initiatives in place, and don’t fail to follow through on those goals. Nike is a prime example of an apparel and footwear brand that is utilizing the newest manufacturing technology to reduce the footprint on the environment.
“At Nike, we know that the future of sport is interlocked with the future of our planet. That understanding serves as our North Star for sustainability. Without fresh air and clean water, athletes can’t thrive. Without stable climates and healthy ecosystems, they can’t push to reach their potential,” says Noel Kinder, Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer, in a blog post. Companies such as Nike are realizing the importance of newer technologies to achieve a smaller environmental footprint. Nike says that 99.9 percent of finished footwear manufacturing waste in Q4 2018 was recycled for further use, or converted to energy. “We also heeded the science of climate change, seeing the threat it could pose to our athletes. Without clean air, how do we run or play?”, Mark Parker, CEO, Nike had said earlier.
A key ingredient here is the Nike Grind. Grind is the project under which Nike uses recycled surplus manufacturing materials and athletic footwear in new footwear, apparel and even outdoor playing surfaces. This includes scraps of rubber, foam, leather, textile and plastic . Till date, Nike’s data suggests that as much as 120 million pounds of surplus materials have been recycled and reused—this is approximately the same quantity to fill 700 jumbo jet aircrafts completely. Nike has also recycled 30 million pairs of sports shoes, which if lined up, could circumnavigate the earth five times over.
Last year, Nike and Converse branded footwear consisted of more than 3 million pounds of reused rubber. A million pound quantity of textiles made their way into the fleece apparel sold to consumers last year. Even the Nike retail stores are following the sustainability path. The company says mannequins and modular display blocks, to wall and shelving displays, to flooring and seating, are all made of recycled materials.
The numbers from the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and is expected to rise to 60 tons per minute by the year 2050, if the current rate of plastic usage is maintained. Nike says they have diverted more than 51 million pounds of waste materials globally (that is equivalent to 10 Olympic-size swimming pools) between May 2016 to 2017. It has also used 4 billion discarded plastic bottles for its products. The materials that are salvaged and reprocessed, including the ones left behind during the manufacture of new products, include rubber, foam, fiber, leather and textile blends. These are separated and ground into granules for use again.
Microfibers are considered extremely dangerous for the environment. Microfiber fabric is made up of fibers that are approximately 1/100th the diameter of a human hair. According to a study published by the Environmental Science & Technology journal, one item of clothing can produce more than 1,900 microfibers in just one wash cycle. The World Economic Forum says that these minuscule fibers travel through water pipes and enter oceans and rivers, where they are often consumed by sea animals and pollute the water. Humans can drink water polluted with microplastics and eat fish who have microplastics in their bodies.
The process of dyeing the fabric is estimated to consume as much as 100-150 liters of water for every kilogram of textiles being processed for manufacture. Nike instead uses a water free colour dyeing technology called ColorDry, developed by Dutch company DyeCoo. The company also refers to the development of Flyknit material used in shoes which reduces waste by 60% compared to a traditional running shoe. All the core yarn for Flyknit shoes is now 100% recycled polyester. “We invented a new process for Flyknit constructed in a 360-degree form, and is incredibly efficient, creating less waste than traditional cut-and-sew methods,” said a Nike spokesperson during the Q3 2018 earnings call.
A 2013 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists Randolph Kirchain and Elsa Olivetti suggests that manufacturing a typical pair of running shoes results in an average of 13kg CO2e/unit of carbon footprint. There are more than 25 billion pairs of shoes manufactured every year. The Nike Free RN Flyknit shoe (registers 5.3kg CO2e/unit while the Nike Vapormax Flyknit is 6.2kg CO2e/unit, two of the most efficient shoes you could buy.