As NIKE works to craft a system, it has outlined seven ways in which a circular vision transforms the company and what’s next on its path to a more circular future.

The Beaverton, Oregon-based company says its circular vision is rooted in bold, science-based targets built on more than 30 years of exploring ways to reduce impact on the environment. 

Its ultimate aim is to develop an industrial value chain with no beginning or end, closing the loop from product design all the way through the raw materials stage to manufacturing, shipping, retail and product take-back.

Within the system, waste will be a main source for new materials, virgin materials are bio-based, and the manufacturing process itself creates zero carbon emissions.

What’s more, product is created not only without impact on the environment, its creation uses waste that would have gone to a landfill, and every item is designed with the future in mind, anticipating how it will be broken apart or transformed into something still valuable at the end of its useful life.

For Nike to achieve this goal, it believes designing for circularity is key. This means sourcing better materials and rethinking design methods, manufacturing processes, and how Nike gets products back from athletes to refurbish or recycle them, the company explains.

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“By focusing on progress and not perfection and by making better choices, we embrace the chance to reconsider our craft in hope that it forms a groundswell of change,” says John Hoke, Nike chief design officer.

Noel Kinder, Nike chief sustainability officer, adds: “We are galvanising and empowering everyone to make smarter changes, and we’re building diverse, inclusive teams to drive relentless innovation for athletes and the planet. That step-by-step, holistic approach is the key to keep moving toward a circular future. And the creative innovations it yields are in full swing.”

Nike points to seven examples:

Inspiring a planet-protecting Ethos
Move to Zero is Nike’s journey to move to zero carbon and zero waste to help protect the future of sport. Nike says it is foundational for realising its vision of circularity and works to not only minimise its environmental footprint as a business but to also maximise avenues for positive impact as a brand. Move to Zero includes commitments such as eliminating single-use plastics, investing in new material-development programmes, creating renewable-energy-powered logistics centres.

Enabling breakthrough performance product while reducing impact on the planet
Across its brands, Nike says its teams are enacting creative solutions at all levels, with considerations made for trims, dye techniques, pattern efficiencies and material sourcing. Such steps have led to launches such as the Space Hippie collection, made of scrap material from factory floors, and the Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature, Nike’s pinnacle running shoe transformed to be its most sustainability-minded sneaker. Nike has scaled these developments with the new 2022 Move to Zero collections, a trove of what Nike calls “iconic” products all made with sustainable materials and methods.

Extending the life of materials and products
Nike is piloting programmes and expanding existing ones worldwide to enable consumers to recycle and refurbish their products. All are key to meeting Nike’s 2025 target to donate, recycle, or refurbish ten times more product than it did in 2020 and work toward its circular end goal.

Scaling innovative sustainable materials
2022 marks the 30th anniversary of Nike Grind, which is made of manufacturing scrap and end-of-life footwear that’s used to make Nike products in addition to playgrounds and running tracks. In Nike’s 2021 fiscal year, Nike Grind recycled more than 750,000 pounds of rubber waste.

Transforming Nike supply chain
Nike says collaboration with its suppliers has accelerated its journey toward a circular future. It adds trust, built over decades, has encouraged partners to embrace new standards for recycling and routinely create fresh approaches to solve recycling challenges. “When you think about the scale of the manufacturing partners we work with, they are huge businesses in their own right,” says Marine Graham, vice president of responsible sourcing and manufacturing. “The cool part is that we’re actually changing the way our suppliers do business, not only for their Nike portfolio but for their entire enterprise.

Initiating dialogue among the global design community
In 2019, Nike created the workbook ‘Circularity: Guiding the Future of Design’ and to engage with and challenges designers to create for a circular future. The hope is that the workbook inspires considered choices that shift the world forward, Nike says.

Partnering across the industry
Nike says all of this work is amplified when it joins forces with other apparel and footwear companies. As a collective, it says, companies can moree effectively call for new recycling innovations or explain the value of recycled feedstock, like Nike Grind, to governments that can restrict the transportation of waste and aren’t sure if recycled feedstock is useable.

What’s next for Nike

“We’re constrained only by the pace that we and our industry can dream up materials to move us farther,” Kinder says. “How quickly can we develop additional alternatives to leather, alternatives to cotton? How can we work with our key supply-chain partners to create and mandate manufacturing methods that facilitate lower-carbon or lower-energy production? Right now, materials account for 70% of our carbon footprint. This is one of the reasons we’re investing heavily in the materials research and innovation space — we know it’s the single biggest unlock to us achieving our goals.”

Nike also has definitive numbers from its 2021 fiscal year to show its success, noting recycled polyester now makes up 38% of Nike footwear’s total polyester usage, double what was used in the 2020 fiscal year. The company also recycled more than 55% of its manufacturing scrap across footwear and apparel, thanks to increased demand from local recycling markets and global Nike Grind customers.

While it acknowledges there are “real and myriad” challenges to building a circular system and economy, Nike believes driving toward a truly circular system is its role and responsibility.

“Driven by the ingenuity and grit of Nike’s teams, the company is committed to keep moving toward this circular future,” it says.