Nike’s Lorrie Vogel on Closing the Loop. Part 2- The Human Impact

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Laura Kurgan, Chris Jordan, Lorrie Vogel and Assaf Biderman – Pop!Tech 2009 – Camden, ME

In Part One, Lorrie Vogel explained some of the work Nike is doing to increase recycled and organic content in their products. Our conversation continues with discussing how Nike designers are encouraged to use sustainable principles in their work.

SS: You mentioned something about rewarding designers for innovating around sustainability, how does that work?

LV: As with any company centered on innovation, the process begins with Nike’s designers. To influence the designers to make responsible choices, Nike designers are scored against the Considered Index. In order to get new Considered innovations adopted faster, Nike gives innovation points to designers who come up with a brand new idea, as well as to teams who adopt considered innovations in the first year.

SS: And how are employees outside of the design department scored against the Considered Index?

LV: At Nike, there are so many different groups in different matrices, a lot of them are expected to calculate their CO2 footprint. But the Considered Index is primarily for designers.

SS: Sustainability 101 and Step by Natural Step (mentioned in this press release)- are they teaching personal sustainability practices, or teaching employees how to spot opportunities to be more responsible in the choices they make in their jobs?

LV: The principles of Natural Step are aligned with the principles of science, so people can apply them to their daily lives, or to business and how they create products. I love that they’re a non-profit, they work with both universities and companies. As a non-profit, they’re trying to evolve with each client, as opposed to a for-profit consultancy which might be delivering the same tool to all of their clients. Using a non-profit works well with our values of open innovation and our urgency to speed the process of making sustainable materials as cheap and plentiful as the common materials used today.

SS: At the conference, an audience member asked: What about longer lasting shoes? Why not just make something you can wear forever?

LV: We get this a lot, actually, being accused of driving people to consume more. But it doesn’t matter if you use it for one year or a hundred years, it’s in a landfill for millions of years! I want to change the dialogue from consumption to transaction.

With consumption you take something out, and the price doesn’t reflect the total environmental cost, the true cost, of the product. At the end of the day it’s human nature to get tired of things, to want new clothes, but can you create clothes in such a way that you don’t deplete resources? That’s the important question.

If at the end of a product’s life, you didn’t recycle it, it’s consumed. But if it’s recycled, it’s just another transaction in the material’s life. Then it’s not wasting resources. So those materials are still available to society.

SS: Returning to materials, what are the 19 environmental impact questions that designers must answer when selecting materials?

LV: We’ll release the entire index through Green Xchange, so keep checking back. We’re partnering with Creative Commons to create the Green Xchange because to tackle the biggest problems on planet, we can’t all get there on our own. We need to leapfrog current technologies and utilize each other’s tools to move faster toward the goal. So we’re working with Creative Commons to open green patents, in order to facilitate innovation. Creative Commons makes it much simpler to share intellectual property.

SS: Another audience member asked you about labor practices, despite all the improvements Nike has made in that area.There is a fascinating Harvard Business School case about Nike’s beginnings in China ~20 years ago, and how difficult it was to bring Chinese factories up to the level of quality Nike customers expected. Having been the poster child for the entire industry’s labor practices, Nike’s statement on the topic of fair labor practices is refreshingly straightforward.

LV: The interesting thing is that now, our competitors want to use our factories, because they know they’re pre-approved, that Nike has such high compliance standards.

Photo Courtesy: / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons License

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