In March 2020, Nike unveiled its 2025 sustainability targets focused on “people, planet, and play.” In the brand’s latest efforts towards sustainability and tackling climate issues, Nike’s latest initiative, Nike Refurbished, focuses on improving the lifecycle of footwear and reducing footwear waste.
This action comes at a time when footwear brands are trying to create sustainable shoes in mass… there’s only one hitch: Sustainable sneakers are incredibly hard to create. And to do so in a way that makes any real impact, we need to tweak our thinking to better understand what sustainability means when it comes to footwear. “When somebody says: ‘This is a sustainable shoe,’ I often see their claims as an oversimplification without due attention to many impactful considerations,” Shahin Rahimifard, director of the Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing and Recycling Technologies (SMART) previously told Well+Good. “If there is a definition for ‘sustainable shoe,’ it is one in which the entire lifecycle impact is minimized and the use is maximized.”
In realizing the lifecycle is just as important as utilizing sustainably sourced and recycled materials, Nike created a closed-loop system, where sneakers can seemingly live in infinity. The concept is simple: You return your gently used footwear to a Nike store, the shoes are inspected and graded, they get cleaned and sanitized, and finally, the shoes end up back on the shelves at a discounted price. The price point for each pair of shoes will vary and is contingent upon the style of the shoe (performance or lifestyle) and the condition (like new, gently worn, or cosmetically flawed), according to Nike.
The goal is to refurbish as much footwear as possible, with some of it being made available directly through Nike Refurbished and other pairs of gently used shoes being donated through a community partner. Footwear that has reached the end of its useful life will be recycled into Nike Grind material, which is used in play spaces, Nike products, building material, and throughout Nike stores. Beginning April 12, Nike Refurbished will be available at select Nike stores across the US, with up to 15 Nike stores participating in the initiative by the end of April 2021, and more locations to come next year as well.
“We are focused on the areas where Nike creates the biggest impact, and materials make up about 70 percent of Nike’s total carbon footprint,” says Nicole Otto, vice president of Nike Direct North America. To date, 78 percent of Nike products are created with recycled materials, but Nike is looking to increase that number. “Further, we want to make sure that we’re eliminating waste, so we’ve set a new goal to divert 100 percent of our material waste back into our extended supply chain,” says Otto.
This deeper utilization of the sustainability chain is a big move, and one that’s desperately needed right now. Until we have better technologies to create footwear out of fewer mixed materials that allow them to be more easily recycled en masse, ingenuity in programs that extend the wear-span of a single shoe should be the focus of companies with power. And Nike, which has been charting endurance for decades, is again out front in the race to extend the wear of our shoes. How far this move pushes the conversation surrounding sustainability forward is up to us.
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