Nike Is Blazing A Trail In Sustainability By Making New Apparel From Recycled Manufacturing Waste

The sportswear giant has hit the ground running with its new sustainability strategy.

In the race to reduce corporate waste and environmental impact, Nike is leading the pack.

On Wednesday, the sportswear company released its latest sustainability report, which showed that 71 percent of its footwear and apparel contains "Nike Grind," a material made from recycled sneakers, plastic bottles, and manufacturing scraps from the company's factory.

Through its Reuse-A-Shoe program, Nike collects old shoes, slices them into three parts, and grinds them into rubber bits, foam, and fluffy fiber. The raw materials are then ready for a second life pounding the pavement.

Despite past controversy over Nike's use of child labor, the company has since reformed its supply chain through greater control and transparency. To improve working conditions and lessen environmental impact, Nike now works with fewer factories, 86 percent of which met the minimum requirements for sustainability and investment in workers last year. By 2020, Nike hopes that number will be 100 percent.

Sustainability has been a top priority for Nike since 2010 when it vowed to decrease emissions rather than going the typical corporate route of purchasing carbon offsets.

After experiencing an initial setback in 2012 when Nike's carbon emissions actually increased (attributed to more sales as the global economy improved), they've made significant progress. Over the past four years, Nike's carbon emissions per item shipped have decreased by 18 percent. Now, the company aims to eliminate all waste products with its reshaped, "closed loop" manufacturing process. 

That investment in the environment has already paid off big time. Not only does Nike use recycled materials in their own products, but the company also sells them to buyers to line running tracks, gym and weight room floors, playgrounds, and carpet underlay. "I never knew how excited I could get about waste," Hannah Jones, Nike's chief sustainability officer, told The Huffington Post

Nike's sustainability commitment reflects the goals of 2015's Paris climate conference (COP21), where 195 countries pledged to enact the first-ever "universal, legally binding" global climate pact. "Post Paris, for us, we see that the long-term approach needs to be that we transform business models to work within a 2-degree, low-carbon, closed-loop future." Her "2-degree" remark references the Paris climate accord's endorsement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If global warming exceeds 2 degrees Celsius, scientists warn, the effects of climate change will become disastrous — and irreversible.

"If the world were to reframe how it thinks about waste," Jones added, "It is the delta between the ambition we have collectively to get to a low-carbon world and where we are now."

To further seize that ambition, Nike has partnered with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a British nonprofit working to create a "circular economy" through reforming the entire industrial system to recycle waste and eliminate pollution. 

Ellen MacArthur, a British socialite and environmentalist who runs the organization, said in a statement, "We are delighted to welcome Nike to our existing group of global partners who share our vision to drive system-wide change to bring about the transition to a circular economy and inspire a generation to bring about this change." 

When it comes to saving the world, Nike says, "Just do it."