Nike is bringing its “A” game to the climate-change debate. After pledging earlier last week to achieve 100 percent renewable energy in company-owned and -operated facilities by 2025, the sportswear juggernaut announced on Friday its collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Climate CoLab to seek “revolutionary new ideas” regarding low-impact textiles. “For more than a decade, we’ve worked hard to understand where our greatest impacts lie,” Hannah Jones, Nike’s chief sustainability officer and vice president of its innovation accelerator, said in a statement. “We know materials make up about 60 percent of the environmental impact in a pair of Nike shoes. This knowledge has focused us on the need to bring new low-impact performance materials to scale through innovative solutions.”
CALL FOR INNOVATION
Nike’s disclosures follow the release of an MIT Materials System Laboratory study, which recognized the creation and processing of apparel materials as significant contributors of global greenhouse-gas emissions.
According to research, the leather industry creates more than 2.4 billion meters of hide each year, with a total impact of about 130 million tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of 30 million passenger vehicles.
2013 saw the production of roughly 25 billion kilograms of cotton worldwide, which generated the same volume of greenhouse gases as 51.3 million passenger vehicles.
Meanwhile, polyester production for textiles is expected to double to about 73 million tons by 2030, or as much as 200 Empire State Buildings.
All of these present not just material issues, but opportunities, as well.
“Materials are not simply a bundle of physical properties; materials influence the manner in which a product is fashioned, the form of that product, and, ultimately, its performance while in use,” wrote MIT in the report. “As a result, manipulating materials can revolutionize the nature of commerce, its interaction with the environment, and the character of resource use.”
Still, materials can “change the rules of the game,” MIT noted. And no industry is better situated to shake things up than textiles and apparel.
“Few industries provide a more immediate image of the pervasive impact of materials than those we turn to on a daily basis to clothe us,” the paper added. “The textiles and apparel industry and the materials on which they rely all have important economic, environmental, and social impacts throughout the globe.”
To that end, the MIT Climate CoLab Materials Challenge, which opened for submissions on September 25, wants to ferret out better ways to engage industries, designers, and consumers in “valuing, demanding, and adopting low-impact fabrics and textiles.”
“What if we were to rethink everything from scratch?” the contest asks. “What would radically new materials look like? Are there ways to completely reconfigure our manufacturing processes for zero emissions? What are business models that enable consumers to erase their apparel carbon footprint?”
Proposals, which can take the form of technical solutions, new business models, educational tools, awareness campaigns, or corporate solutions, can be at any stage of development. They just can’t target specific geographic regions or require extensive regulatory intervention.
The winner will receive $10,000 in prize money—in addition to widespread recognition, of course.
“Through this collaboration with Nike, the MIT Climate CoLab can help kick-start the conversation around materials by galvanizing our global community to start to tackle this immense challenge,” said Thomas W. Malone, principal investigator and founder of the MIT Climate CoLab project. “The Climate CoLab is harnessing the power of collective thinking to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges and develop solutions to drive a new shared understanding that, ultimately, can enable transformative change.”