Sustainable products need innovative materials

Lorrie Vogel is general manager sustainable product research and discovery.

Lorrie Vogel is general manager sustainable product research and discovery.

Innovating for the athlete is an exhilarating process.

As designers, we get to imagine and create products that make athletes better. But we’re not just innovating for the athlete — we’re trying to innovate for a better business and a better world, creating the best performance products with lower environmental impact.

At Nike, we use thousands of materials to create our products and approximately 60 percent of the environmental footprint from a pair of our shoes is related to our materials choices. These choices provide our designers with the greatest opportunity to reduce environmental impact. To create the best performance products through the lens of sustainable design, we've been working for many years to help our designers choose materials wisely and innovate ways to reduce our impact with respect to water, land and energy resources.

Nike has steadily increased the use of Environmentally Preferred Materials since 2004. We used 7 million kilograms of organic cotton — the equivalent of 15 million t-shirts — in our apparel in 2011, as well as enough recycled polyester to effectively remove 280 million plastic bottles from landfills and other waste streams.

But we continue to research infinitely available and infinitely recyclable options.

We have also developed the Nike Materials Sustainability Index. The first version of the index was developed in 2006, to evaluate the environmental impact of the materials we select. It’s continuing to evolve to include more materials, and also provides an evaluation of the vendors who produce these materials, enabling Nike designers to make informed choices about the products they create.

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