Just Do It, Sustainably: Nike Gets Greener with Sustainable Venture Capital Initiative

"It took us a while, but we finally figured out that we could apply these two core competencies -- design and innovation -- to bring about environmental, labor and social change." -- Mark Palmer, President and CEO, Nike, Inc.

Nike Inc., the world’s largest sports and fitness company, has announced the creation of a new strategic initiative called Sustainable Business & Innovation (SB&I), to "better enable Nike to transition to sustainable business models."

The SB&I model is an evolution of the company’s corporate social responsibility function, and employs 130 people who "work closely with dedicated sustainability specialists who are integrated into other parts of the organization, such as retail, logistics and information technology." The company, headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon, employs more than 33,000 people around the world and revenues of USD 19.2 billion.


SB&I has a three-part strategy: deliver innovative enterprise-level sustainability solutions, integrate sustainability into Nike’s business model and partner with stakeholders (employees, consumers, government, civil society, industry) to scale solutions.

"Ten years ago, few companies had a corporate responsibility team," said Nike president and CEO Mark Palmer, in the foreword to Nike's FY07-09 Corporate Responsibility Report. "Today, we’re evolving beyond the words corporate responsibility to a 'sustainable business and innovation team.' We see sustainability, both social and environmental, as a powerful path to innovation, and crucial to our growth strategies." Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the SB&I initiative "will primarily make equity investments in young companies focused on alternative energies" and also "seek out companies that promote healthy lifestyles."


Nike recently accepted Greenpeace’s "detox challenge" to eliminate toxic chemicals from its entire supply chain and product life-cycle by 2020. In July, the environmental group released their "Dirty Laundry" report, which found that Nike was among several popular clothing brands linked to Chinese textile firms that were causing water pollution by the release of hazardous chemicals, some of which can disrupt normal hormone function in humans and other animals. The other brands linked to the toxic waste include Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Bauer Hockey, Calvin Klein, Converse, Cortefiel, H&M, Lacoste, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation (PVH Corp) and Puma.

Puma was the first to come clean, with an announcement in July that it would become toxic-free. Nike followed, releasing a statement on August 17 saying that the company is "committed to the goal of zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020. To make this a reality, Nike, Inc. will continue phasing out hazardous chemicals in our supply chain and we will accelerate the phase out of the highest priority hazardous chemicals. NIKE, Inc. will continue to work with brands, material suppliers, the broader chemical industry, NGOs and other stakeholders to achieve this goal. We will drive towards innovative solutions for transparency in chemical management disclosure."


Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, was believed to have flown across the fields of battle, bestowing honor upon the victors. But she also inspired the celebration of the arete -- the ancient Greek concept of excellence in both physical and moral states. For many years, Nike the company has been championing the physical part of arete. Now, the moral part is finally getting its due.



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image: Statue of Nike from Olympia, Greece (credit: wikipedian:pufacz, Wikimedia Commons)