Shoe-maker Nike innovates to reduce footprint
Nike’s Considered Design is an example of harnessing innovation to meet a strategic challenge at the confluence of 3 powerful streams: a societal demand for lower environment footprint, the consumer’s continuous expectations of higher performance at lower price, the never-ending race for supply chain cost-effectiveness.
Having set the challenge, Nike identified 3 key areas to focus on to meet it: less waste, more environmentally-friendly materials, less solvent. In a classic case of rediscovering old ideas to address new challenges, its Nike Long Ball Slip-On (pictured) is manufactured without the use of solvent-based adhesives, by simply… stitching it. Our Bronze Age ancestors would not have been surprised by the technique (even if they might have been surprised by the end result!). The technique not only meets the solvent reduction criteria, but it also enables the slip-on to be disassembled and recycled, fitting in Nike’s Reuse-a-shoe programme.
Other old or at least not-so-new ideas that are incorporated in Nike’s Considered Design programme include sourcing material locally to minimise transport, favouring organic cotton, selecting tanneries that capture their effluents for treatment, etc. The innovation consists in associating old ideas with a new concept that is appealing to the consumer, economically viable for the enterprise and good for the planet.
Many companies would consider that setting for themselves the strategic challenge of going green(er) is cutting a degree of freedom and restricting their ability to meet their other strategic drivers such as product performance and cost. The reality that the likes of Nike (or Ford, as discussed in another post) are experiencing turns out to be the opposite: by setting themselves a challenge they create the necessary tension to move the company to that aspirational and elusive “next level”. Instead of incrementally improving what they do at the level where they are used to operate, the tension forces the company to move into another space where they discover entirely new possibilities beyond the reach of their competitors.
This is the “miracle” of innovation: getting liberated by the introduction of a new constraint.