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Nike joins NASA, USAID to develop sustainable fabrics

<p>Nike and several U.S. agencies create LAUNCH System Challenge 2013 to seek innovations in sustainable fabrics.</p>

Nike, NASA, U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department have launched a challenge to create new, sustainable materials.

It's an effort to bring collective genius, unprecedented networks and new resources to overcome some of humanity's toughest sustainability challenges, they say.

"LAUNCH System Challenge 2013 seeks innovations that will transform the system of fabrics to one that advances equitable global economic growth, drives human prosperity and replenishes the planet's resources," the group says.

They are looking for innovations that potentially can scale in two years, as well as game-changing early stage technologies and prototypes. Innovations can be business models, financial instruments, technologies and programs that accelerate research, education and capacity building.

Specifically, they are looking for:

• Fabric materials that have positive social and environmental impact, such as multi-purpose synthetic and bio-synthetic materials; smart and/or self-healing materials; fabrics that efficiently and effectively enable recycling; and applications that eliminate toxins in fabrics.

• Processes for manufacturing fabrics that use low or positive environmental impact approaches, with a bias toward inclusive business models that positively develop human capital, respect rights and deliver shared value:

• Solutions that increase energy, water and raw material efficiency in the manufacturing process.
• Manufacturing processes and technologies that enable maximum conversion of materials and minimum consumption of natural resources.
• Solutions that put workers at the heart of the innovation process.
• Zero waste or closed-loop systems that eliminate waste and create equitable, empowered workforces.
• Scalable innovative business models that are sustainable and equitable.
• Manufacturing processes that reuse waste.

Nike logo image by ~ezs via Compfight cc.

• Programs that support local micro, small and medium enterprise inclusion across the system of fabrics.
• Information and data exchanges that build entrepreneurial capacity and worker inclusion, enabling greater participation in value chains.
• Data generation and capture technologies and mechanisms to increase transparency across the value chain.

The challenge is open to individuals and teams. The 10 best ideas will be selected in August and their creators will participate in Launch Accelerator, which provides access to funding and other assistance for six months.

Sixty percent of Nike's carbon footprint comes from materials, but it's a difficult area in which to innovate. A standout leader on corporate sustainability, Nike is giving suppliers access to online tools to help them find the most sustainable materials available. The company is committed to eliminating all releases of hazardous chemicals across its global supply chain by 2020.

"When you look at innovation in materials, of course there are innovations, but many are incremental, not disruptive," Hannah Jones, Nike's vice president of sustainable business and innovation, told Fast Company. "When you go into the disruptive area, it comes down to chemistry. And when you go into the chemistry industry, they say, 'Textiles are a miniscule part of our business.' So the the amount of R&D chemists puts into materials is minute."

Even with a sound idea (or chemical compound), mass producing that compound can be impossible without serious industrial support. So the team is specifically looking for working material prototypes that merely need the right injection from VCs or a business model tweak to scale, she says.

Launch was started in 2010 to find solutions to difficult sustainability challenges of various kinds and so far have focused on water, energy efficiency and beyond waste.

This article originally appeared at Sustainable Business News and is reprinted with permission.

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