Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

leonkaye headshot

Nike is Unlocking the Secrets of Sustainable Materials

Words by Leon Kaye

Nike has become a sustainability and transparency leader within and even beyond the apparel industry. Now the company has launched a partnership with Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) to allow any user to mine as well as contribute to its database of cutting edge materials. At a time when many companies still hide behind “trade secrets,” Nike is turning that idea on its head in order to instill sustainable thinking in consumers, throughout its supply chain, and within other companies outside of the fashion and apparel sectors.

The effort could help Nike address the environmental impacts that its products, as well as all consumer goods at some level, have on the environment. One example is leather. It has long been assumed that this material, which is, of course, skin, is a great natural material from which to build a pair of shoes. But if you have never visited a tannery, such an experience should be on your sustainability exploration list. Walking through a tannery is an experience you will not want to repeat again. The processing of animal hides consumes vast amounts of water, energy and as for those smells, thank the chemicals. And then there are the resources required to feed all those cattle.

Nevertheless, alternatives to leather and other such materials as textile dyes, conventional cotton and fossil-fuel based polyester exist. The problem is that product designers are not necessarily aware of existing alternative options. Manufacturers and entrepreneurs may not have the resources or connections to get their foot in the door. Opening up the data behind the Nike Materials Sustainability Index even more, however, could help make a difference in matching up vendors, manufacturers, designers and other stakeholders.

The hope of the Nike-RHoK alliance is to create not only more beautiful and innovative products, but goods from hoodies to running shoes that are more environmental and socially responsible. Suppliers will be more motivated to improve the quality and stewardship of their materials and reveal more about their manufacturing processes. Designers, who often need to change a product’s composition on the fly, will have quick access to vendors so that they can make the most responsible sourcing decision in a quick amount of time. By the end of this year, the project should help more companies make high-performing sporting goods with the best possible quality.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye

More stories from Leadership & Transparency