Nike Have Published A Guide To Circular Design, and it’s good

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We are pretty big fans of Nike. I think everyone I work with is sick and tired of hearing me wax lyrical about their marketing and product innovation. While Nike’s design is often lauded their manufacturing ethics have been debated for the last 20 years. In the last 5 or so years, they have moved to become leaders in sustainability and corporate transparency.

As part of this, they have publicly released a very impressive document. It's definitely worth having a read, they share some basic principles that all designers should follow to ensure we are designing products and services that benefit the world, and not take from it.

Here are my 5 takeaways…

Sustainable design begins at the design phase. Ask any designer, huge impacts can be made a long time before a single stitch is sewn. The report opens by talking about materials choice. They ask questions like “Consider your brief or project aims. What are the required, benchmark and/or ideal materials? What about standard trims and notions?” It’s a great encouragement to challenge the current status quo. We can make decisions that will have little impact on the consumer but a large environmental one. 

Waste avoidance. A little known fact about the manufacturing process is that 5% is automatically allocated to “wastage”. What this includes are the little parts that are not used during the cutting or moulding stages but also the mistakes and reworks. An example of the way that Nike has addressed this is to use techniques that have less wastage. The Fly Knit product is one of these, using knitting you can knit the shape of the shoe and avoid the wastage that comes in the cutting process. Another example is reducing the number of prototypes. Not only does this save material usage but also there are savings in shipping, human labour hours and energy. 

Consider Disassembly. Soft goods tend to be a mishmash of elements and a nightmare to disassemble. We use a lot of different materials that are sewn, glued or welded together to form the whole. This makes them incredibly difficult to recycle or upcycle as they are almost impossible to disassemble. We say almost impossible NOT impossible. During the design phase, you can make decisions as to how the product is assembled and consider the end of life. 

Packaging,  Nike is working hard to reduce single-use plastic packaging and is looking seriously at biodegradable options to reduce the number of materials going into landfill. Due to Nike’s size changes, they are making at a company level will impact the wider supply chain and will affect choices that other brands can also make that do not have the development budgets of Nike.  

Repair, This is one aspect in which Nike has been slow to react. Patagonia is the leader in this field with their repair and second-hand market models. Nike is making moves into the repair and reuse markets. Due to their size, this could make a huge impact on the length of time a product is used before it hits its absolute end of life.  

Nike is one of the worlds most innovative brands, and it's great that they’ve shared their research for the good of everyone. Due to their size, any small improvement for Nike can have a huge positive impact. I am personally happy that they had the courage to release this report. They may take some criticism, but overall it is a positive move for the consumer goods market. 

Rear the full report here