Nike offers this statement on sustainability: “Our purpose is to use the power of sport to move the world forward. We believe in a fair, sustainable future – one where everyone thrives on a healthy planet and level playing field.” The former president of Nike Golf, Cindy Davis, shares the story of how Nike Golf embraced sustainability while increasing the performance of golf athletes in the design, development and manufacturing of apparel and equipment.
Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management
Nike has a strong and deep commitment to sustainability practices and has led the way in the athletic footwear, apparel and equipment industry for many years. Nike Golf specifically pushed the envelope on innovation on several fronts at Nike – waterless dye technology, heat press seams, and development of golf balls that are fully recyclable.
These innovations were developed in partnership with elite athletes like Tiger Woods. Nike balances the needs and aspirations of athletes while at the same time developing new approaches to the design and manufacturing process that are better for business and the environment. In the area of apparel, Nike Golf worked to minimize noise and distraction, including the placement and technology used for seams, which was good for the athlete and good for the environment.
Innovations were developed in partnership with other industries. Nike Golf partnered with DuPont to develop a core to the golf ball that is recyclable. It took five years to develop this new manufacturing process and go to market. In addition to ensuring the product met sustainability goals, it had to meet the exacting specifications of Tiger Woods and other elite golf athletes. As with any innovation, there was a moment of truth when it was time to bring the new product to market. The consumer would decide whether the development and manufacturing approach was something of interest – and it was.
Cindy Davis leads with a deep sense of purpose. Doing the right thing is her source of strength. “It always pays off,” she says. Her own experience as an elite athlete – making the cut at the U.S. Open as an amateur at age 20 with her father as her caddy and her mother cheering her on from the gallery – guides her to this day.
During years of training and hard work as an athlete, she developed tenacity and calm in the face of challenge. Within the first year of her work as president of Nike Golf, she was faced with turbulent times when a high profile Nike Golf athlete received significant negative press. After months of navigating the internal and external storm of adversity, Davis was able to speak honestly and personally at an annual meeting to rally her team.
In addition to being a testament to Davis’s approach, these qualities speak to the innovation approach at Nike: set audacious goals and then methodically work toward them – individually, as a team, and as a larger organization.
While focused on developing and manufacturing high performance footwear, apparel and equipment in close partnership with elite athletes to meet today’s market opportunities – learning from athletes directly – she also has the long view to recognize that the overall success for the company is to innovate in ways that provide efficiency and sustainability.
Nike’s environmental and social targets set a vision for a low-carbon, closed-loop future as part of the company’s growth strategy. Nike’s moonshot ambition is to double its business while halving the company’s environmental impact. It has set three strategic aims to guide this work: minimize environmental footprint, transform manufacturing and unleash human potential.
Seventy-five percent of all Nike shoes and apparel now contain some recycled material. Nike has diverted nearly 5 billion plastic bottles from landfills since 2012. Nike has direct impact in its own processes and also serves as a worldwide leader and innovator influencing other companies and industries.
Nike Golf is one such division that is actively integrating these approaches into their work. The team recognized that innovating in these areas is important to consumers. “The next generation is insisting on it. They want to know more about what they are buying, where it came from, and are willing to pay more for a more holistic approach to manufacturing,” says Ms. Davis.
And, Nike employees feel a sense of purpose and positivity knowing that they are contributing to a sustainable planet and future.
Nike has had a strong market position for decades and is known for being on the cutting edge of innovation practices. The integration of sustainable business practices into their regular operations and innovation cycle has been methodical and ambitious.
Nike Golf’s approach to innovation – deep partnerships with elite athletes to support development of high performance footwear, apparel and equipment – has been infused with an authentic commitment to sustainability. This formula provided short-term market success while at the same time setting the stage for long-term growth and efficiency.
“Innovate and translate – translate what the athletes want and what the planet and communities need – has been our process,” says Ms. Davis. “It is a creative process that engages the consumer, our employees, our vendors and the communities where we have a presence.”
This approach has yielded strong performance across financial and sustainability metrics while also moving whole industries toward new ways of thinking and manufacturing that will bring benefits beyond Nike’s reach.
Ms. Davis recognizes that smaller companies may be more nimble in their approaches. “The bigger a company becomes, the more internal processes are needed to integrate priorities, objectives and standards,” she says. “Larger companies need to find a way to keep up entrepreneurialism because with larger investments they can impact whole industries at scale.”
In addition to identifying and measuring their own performance in the areas of minimizing environmental footprint, transforming manufacturing, and unleashing human potential, Nike is an industry and corporate leader, inspiring performance in other organizations.
Here are some examples from the Nike Sustainable Business Report FY16/17 in the area of minimizing environmental footprint:
Success measures are also offered in the Nike Sustainable Business Report FY16/17 in the areas of transform manufacturing and unleash human potential.
Cindy Davis, Vice President Nike Inc. and President Nike Golf (retired)
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Business Website: www.nike.com
Year Founded: 1964
Number of Employees: 10000+
Nike is engaged in the design, development, marketing and selling of athletic footwear, apparel, equipment, accessories and services – in North America, Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, China, Japan and emerging markets. Nike has brand product offerings in nine categories: Running, NIKE Basketball, the Jordan Brand, Football (Soccer), Men's Training (includes baseball and American football), Women's Training, Action Sports, Sportswear, and Golf.