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OM in the News: Nike’s Sustainability Push

April 24, 2011

Stung in the 1990’s by a public campaign against its Asian labor practices, Nike has been working hard in recent years to make itself a sustainability leader. Its goal (according to www.nikebiz.com/responsibility) is to embrace a “future where creation of products isn’t tied to scarce natural resources like water and oil; where manufacturing is lean, green, equitable and empowered; and where everyone, everywhere has access to sport.”

And indeed, here are just a few of Nike’s accomplishments:

1. Introducing sustainability practices into product design (eg., eliminating toxics and waste when possible).

2. Pushing lean manufacturing concepts onto contract manufacturers to create a greener supply chain and to reduce the CO2 footprint.

3. Using recycled materials throughout (eg, the DartVII running shoe is mostly from recyclables).

4. Taking defective returns, counterfeits, and used consumer shoes and turning them into material for resurfacing playing fields (called Nike Grand).

Now Information Age (April 11, 2011) reports that the company is recruiting to hire a Code for a Better World Fellow ( I have idea what this title means)– a person to help lead the effort to bring sustainability to every aspect of the company.

But the firm still does have its detractors. The daily Lean blog called Evolving Excellence, writes:  “According to your own data, 94% of your shoes are made in Vietnam, China and Indonesia.  At last check these countries rank 90th, 84th and 82nd out of 141 on the list of the greenest and most livable countries – compared to numbers like 23rd in the USA, 25th in the UK, and 8th in Australia – the places you sell your shoes.  You ship the shoes about 7,000 miles from where you make them to where you sell them… a pretty deep carbon footprint.  If you want to be sure “manufacturing is lean, green, equitable and empowered,” you might want to quit ducking the environmental regulations in the developed nations where you sell your shoes by having them made in some of the worst polluting places on earth.”

Discussion questions:

1. How important is Nike’s “green” drive?

2. On what grounds can its position be criticized?

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