The following is excerpted from the most recent issue of The Corporate Citizen, the Center’s biannual magazine.
Setting audacious long-term goals and working toward them is the central challenge of every business. One of the challenges for high-performing companies is creating evolutionary goals that are based on a vision for a sustainable future.
Addressing Boston College’s CEO Club in May 2014, Mark Parker, president and chief executive officer of NIKE, Inc., shared the company’s evolutionary process: “We wanted a mission statement and a set of values and guiding principles that were really true to the spirit of the company—that were forward-looking, aspirational, and something that employees would actually reference and use in their work.”
The result was a clear mission statement: “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete (if you have a body, you are an athlete) in the world” and a set of 11 maxims—meaningful, lively, and actionable principles that speak directly to the cultivation of a fearless and expressive culture.
- Nike is a company.
- Nike is a brand.
- Simplify and go.
- The consumer decides.
- Be a sponge.
- Evolve immediately.
- Do the right thing.
- Master the fundamentals.
- We are on the offense. Always.
- Remember the man. (The late Bill Bowerman, Nike co-founder)
Transition is never easy—especially for large organizations with complex networks, numerous policies, and a variety of stakeholders. That’s why Parker adopted the personal mission of creating a dynamic environment where curiosity is encouraged and rewarded. “As a leader, I manage with a tolerance for uncertainty, and I’m willing to accept mistakes,” he said.
This supportive approach to creativity puts Nike in a better position to act on its maxims and expand its horizons—both in business and corporate citizenship— by pushing the boundaries of what people expect or imagine.
“I believe that growth and sustainability aren’t contradictory, they’re complementary,” said Parker. “I also believe that businesses that fail to see this won’t have much of a future. Reducing and eliminating waste, achieving new levels of efficiency in energy consumption, decreasing our water usage—all of these areas present exciting possibilities to harness innovation and to collaborate with new partners to meet our sustainability goals and add value to the business.”
So far, Nike has shot for the stars. For its LAUNCH program—an open innovation platform that aims to identify and solve sustainability issues—the company is collaborating with NASA, The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and The U.S. Department of State. Founded in 2010, LAUNCH focuses on making an impact at a systemwide level by attacking the most urgent challenges facing our society.
“We all want to help accelerate innovation that will answer some of the world’s most pressing and complex challenges—things like water and waste and the need to really evolve our economy and our communities to a much more sustainable future,” said Hannah Jones, chief sustainability officer and vice president, innovation accelerator at NIKE, Inc. during last year’s LAUNCH 2020 Summit.
It is a well-known tenet of corporate citizenship that—if not addressed—foundational societal problems will undermine all attempts to address smaller, more localized issues. How can you reduce chronic disease when the local population has no access to healthy food? How can you increase education when the survival of a community depends on children fetching water all day? In many cases, the larger issues must be addressed first; however, these larger issues are pervasive and they spread across the globe. LAUNCH aims to attack them by focusing the greatest, most daring, and most innovative minds in the world on one purpose. Though LAUNCH, there is an open call for innovation, finally selecting the strongest inventions for an immersive program that provides access to capital, creativity, and capacity.
LAUNCH has lived up to its promise. Past challenges have tackled everything from combating disease to supplying basic needs, with programs such as:
- Carbon For Water: delivering the technology to provide access to clean water to 4.5 million people in Kenya.
- Gram Power: providing thousands of people in India with affordable, renewable energy.
- Bioneedle: a biodegradable, implantable needle that delivers vaccines and dissolves in the body, allowing for mass distribution and minimal waste.
Now, LAUNCH is tackling the social, environmental, and economic impacts of materials and manufacturing through a series of global challenges. Last year, the program took on the world of fabrics. In 2014, the focus is on ‘green chemistry’. The challenge was announced last spring, and the top innovations were announced at a forum in January 2015. By encouraging the design of sustainable chemical products and processes, Nike and its partners hope to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals, promote end-of-life recycling, minimize the use of constrained resources, and more.
“Innovation is most powerful when it’s activated by collaboration between unlikely partners, coupled with investment dollars, marketing know-how and determination,” said Parker. “Now is the time for big, bold solutions. Incremental change won’t get us where we need to go fast enough or at a scale that makes a difference.”
The LAUNCH program is an attempt to address the large-scale issues that threaten the planet, while at the same time protecting the continued viability of Nike’s business by ensuring that the materials required to produce its products employ safer and more sustainable materials whenever available.
“About 60 percent of the environmental footprint of a pair of Nike shoes is embedded in the materials used to make them,” said Jones.“When you multiply that across our business, and across the industry, it’s clear that innovation in sustainable materials is a huge opportunity, not just for Nike, but for the world.”
This method of prioritizing issues, developing strategies, and attacking large problems extends beyond LAUNCH to Nike’s overarching sustainability strategy. Through the use of scenario planning, Nike gets a better understanding of what issues are emerging and what potential impacts they may have on future business.
According to Nike’s FY12/13 Sustainable Business Performance Summary, the company has used scenario planning to sharpen understanding of the potential impact of sustainability issues on the business and to inform decision-making. The company can model the rippling effect that a percentage change in the use of a more sustainable material might have across the value chain. It can also analyze how initiatives, such as those that improve energy or water efficiency, or decrease waste, could impact the company’s competitiveness.
By aligning corporate citizenship priorities with that of its business, Nike shores up customer and stakeholder support, and—perhaps more importantly—ensures that resources are properly allocated, allowing the company to tackle large problems effectively through efforts like the LAUNCH program.