Nike Takes the Climate Change Fight to the Cloud

Nike Takes the Climate Change Fight to the Cloud

Nike's product design tool and a patent-sharing program it helped create show how any company can use technology and collaboration to fight climate change more broadly.

The sports gear company was highlighted at a session during Dreamforce, a cloud computing conference in San Francisco this week, as an example of how businesses can change how their employees think and influence other industries.

"High-tech both holds major keys to the solutions (to climate change-related problems) as well as being part of the challenge," said Eric Olson, senior vice president of advisory services at Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and editor-at-large for ClimateBiz.com. The tech industry accounts for 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, as much as airlines emit, but it also has the potential to reduce the footprint of other industries by more than 20 percent.

"A lot of the innovations we've seen," Olson said, "is how information technology enable all of us to work together in better, smart ways."

Seven years ago, Nike started working on a new tool for its designers to use, focused on the environmental impact of products. Nike released a public version of its Environmental Apparel Design Tool last week, sharing a technology it put $6 million into.

The tool gives designers immediate information on the sustainability of their designs at the earliest stages of product creation. "It's constantly giving them feedback and educating them on how to make better choices," said Lorrie Vogel, general manager for Nike's Considered program.

Designs get an overall score based on their materials, treatments and waste, and Vogel said that design teams are now continually focused on making higher-scoring designs.

The tool is an example of what Ted Howes, co-head of IDEO's energy group, later mentioned when talking about how to implement sustainability. One thing that's needed, he said, is systems that give real feedback and not just data. "People are the smartest part of the cloud," he said.

In releasing its design tool, Nike said it hopes other companies use and build on it, and another way it's fostering collaboration with other companies and industries is through the GreenXchange, a cloud computing-based forum for companies to share intellectual property and patents.

Vogel said that after Nike added details of its environmentally-preferred rubber it created, not only did other sporting good companies show interest in it, but so did bicycle companies, car tire makers and others.

"What we hope for the GreenXchange is we really start to accelerate collaboration to move to more sustainable innovation," she said.