GoGreen ’11 Portland Green Line Series: Nike’s Hannah Jones on the Importance of Collaboration

Nike, being a global company, has the advantage of throwing a lot of weight behind its core values. But that same size and reach also pose a challenge when it comes to aligning every single factory, product line and aspect of your supply chain with the company’s “North Star” goal: A 100 percent sustainable, closed loop system. The folks at Nike just use this as fuel to fire their collective drive—going so far as to collaborate with their competition in order to achieve goals necessary to success for all. In this edition of the Green Line Series, Nike Vice-President of Sustainable Business & Innovation, Hannah Jones, tells us why working together is the best and fastest way for us all to win.

GoGreen Conference: Sustainability is a complex undertaking at any size business—especially at one as large as Nike. What are your priorities? How do you ensure you’ve accounted for all known aspects that affect your goals on sustainability?
Hannah Jones
: We have been on a journey to build a more sustainable company ever since Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight started the company. Bowerman was always interested in creating a lighter shoe which translates into less waste.

NIKE, Inc.’s long-term vision is to create products and business models that are decoupled from constrained resources. Nike has made progress, we’ve learned a lot from being in this space and we’ve applied these learnings to address key industry issues around labor, environment and our supply chain. But there’s still more work to be done.

We’ve taken on challenging issues and invested significant resources in new ways to make products and share what we’ve learned. However, in order to accelerate the industry’s progress to a sustainable future, it’s imperative that the industry works together and collaborates in order to create lasting, scalable, systemic change.

We cannot do this work alone, and so collaboration is key.

GG: What has been more difficult to enact—operational change at the corporate level, behavior change at the consumer level, or controlling a global production supply chain? What solutions have you developed to make progress within this biggest challenge/opportunity area?
HJ: Nike’s global supply chain is large and complex. It has taken years to address certain issues, but as our business continues to become more complex, we see the need to create new solutions. In the absence of industry standards, the challenge is working together as an industry to reshape the system and how we all approach supply chain processes.

Nike was the first to disclose the locations of our Nike brand contract factories. Once you start to measure and demand transparency, you find issues and areas that do not meet your standards. The good news is we are committed to continual improvement.

Auditing and monitoring factories are a key component of Nike’s approach to addressing challenges in our global supply chain. However, we believe that focusing on the root cause of these problems will have the most positive impact, and it will require bringing together a wide spectrum of stakeholders to develop innovative solutions to solve for these very complicated issues.

For example, this year, we helped Indonesian contract factory workers receive Freedom of Association (FOA) rights through a two-year negotiation process with the Play Fair Campaign and other stakeholders. We have more work to do, but encouraging industry transparency will only help us to collaborate and accelerate our path to a more sustainable economy.

GG: How important has proper reporting been to your continued efforts? Is it as important for a privately-held company as for a publically-held company, like Nike?
HJ: Reporting is an important component in our efforts to address sustainability issues. Reporting demands accountability that makes us stronger, better, wiser and more conscious of our mistakes, and the opportunities still to be met. If the industry is truly to work together, encourage transparency and collaboration to move us towards sustainable innovation, reporting is a necessary component for any company.

GG: We hear regularly that when you take on sustainability, you have to be ready to take criticism. How do you approach critique of the work you’ve committed your career to, at a company you believe in? Does it inspire or frustrate you?
HJ: We have learned a lot on this journey over the past 15 years. Early criticism challenged us to look at our supply chain and find new solutions. But now a larger industry effort is needed to ultimately move us forward to our vision of a closed loop future and a sustainable future.

GG: Are there publically available resources/tools that Nike has found useful and that other businesses can tap into in order to enhance their own sustainability programs?
HJ: The Natural Step Network has been a great resource in helping to align our “North Star” of a closed loop future. In the absence of industry standards, these resources are very important and we believe that industry transparency will be key to ultimately accelerate sustainable innovation.

Our most recent tool that we shared with the industry, the Environmental Apparel Design Tool, is an example of more than seven years and $6 million investment in research. We feel it’s important to share these tools and insights with each other to hopefully build on what we’ve learned.

GG: In Portland, we’ve experienced first-hand the advantages of having a city/state government that is committed to sustainability. How big of a role can business play in shaping our political response to climate change? 
HJ: Businesses can be influential in shaping policy. Nike is deeply committed to the passage of meaningful climate and energy legislation. As a founding member of Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), we believe state-level and federal legislation will create a platform for stimulating green job growth to help reboot the economy and unlocking innovation that is essential to help create technology and infrastructure solutions.

GG: Nike’s sustainability efforts started with employees. What advice can you offer to green teams or individual personnel looking for inspiration on how to drive change at their companies/organizations?
HJ: Enable employees to think big about sustainability and reward well-crafted plans. At Nike, sustainability has become an internalized value on campus, from our composting system (employees compost their own garbage) to our community garden. To find inspiration, you must first make sustainability a real priority, and then internalize the value as an integral part of your business.

Hannah Jones is Vice President of Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike, Inc. Learn more from Hannah at GoGreen ’11 Portland, where she will give plenary remarks, October 4th. For more information on GoGreen ’11 Portland or to register, please visit: portland.gogreenconference.net. Get the latest GoGreen ’11 and sustainability news by joining our email list or via our Twitter feed (@GoGreenPDX) and Facebook Page (facebook.com/gogreenconference).

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