In a sign that eco friendly shoes are moving out of the hemp, vegan, crunchy cliches and into the broader world is the newly released Nike Trash Talk shoe. Nike themselves have had a sustainably made shoe line called Considered, that, while a great effort, stayed firmly in the brown shoe, casual segment, not touching the performance end of their product lines, the majority of what they produce.
It now appears that they’ve begun branching out, with the trail athletics oriented Humara and Takos shoes, that incorporate recycled shoe rubber, and their trail jacket, that uses recycled polyester.
The Trash Talk, however, marks a coming out of sorts, as this has been created in partnership with Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, and they made it a point to let it be known he was wearing them at the All Star game in February.
So, is there substance behind their green claims, or is it hyped greenwash?
After checking into it further, it appears they are sincere, and have created a shoe that combines performance considerations along with innovative sustainable ones. This includes making the upper from leather and synthetic leather waste from the factory floor that’s stitched together to make a visually distinct look. The midsole uses ground up foam, also from factory production. the outsole uses a mixture of reduced toxics new rubber, and Nike Grind rubber, that has come from recycled shoes.
And how does it perform? Good question. In a search for the word from the streets, I encountered a number of articles, mostly a regurgitation of the press release. Though the verdict is still out on the shoe, their does seem to be a great deal of attention around it, due to the high profile placement on the feet of an NBA star. And that’s a good thing, showing to a wider segment of the population that a quality, stylish athletic shoe can be made with green design.
How does Nike perform, in terms of sustainability? Take a look at their CR report and from there go further, to see their PDF “Considered Design and the Environment”, and you’ll see that their efforts are not merely recent vintage trend riding, but a, well, considered, long term effort that began quite a while back. For example, they began investigating ways to reduce toxic materials in rubber outsoles in 1988, and by 2002, reduced by 96% the amount used, then further improved by 2005. Their Reuse-A-Shoe program to recycle shoe leather, insole, and outsole has been going since 1993.
They are of course a large company and make use of a number of suppliers. In an effort to simplify the process of “cleaning up” their products, not expecting that your suppliers have the desire or resources to do as you do, they have created restricted substance lists, covering manufacturing, packaging, finished product, and electronics. They also have set a range of sustainability standards for themselves, and intend to have every shoe they make meet those by FY 2011. One could say why don’t they move faster, but with 50,000 different shoe lines, and a number of customer considerations to be met in each one, it’s in my opinion a reasonable time frame to aim for.
In the end, it appears that Nike is indeed talking trash, but in this case, how to make creative reuse of it, and reduce the amount produced in the first place.
Nike Trash Talk hits the streets April 22nd, 2008.
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. His overarching talent is “bottom lining” complex ideas, in a way that is understandable and accessible to a variety of audiences, internal and external to a company.