At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, elite athletes will sleep on beds made of cardboard. Olympic medals are being constructed out of recycled electronics, such as cell phones. And Nike will be dressing its athletes in uniforms and sneakers made out of recycled polyester and ground-up shoe parts.
It’s part of a broader sustainability push by the shoe retailer as it seeks to reach younger and more eco-conscious consumers.
Nike last September outlined its plans to cut carbon emissions and waste. The company said it will power its owned-and-operated facilities with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and reduce carbon emissions across its global supply chain by 30% by 2030, in accordance with the Paris Agreement of 2015.
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“Athletes expect us to be committed in this space,” Noel Kinder, Nike’s chief sustainability officer, told CNBC. “They want [what they wear] to perform, and they expect it to be sustainable.”
Nike isn’t alone in its industry with these efforts. Brands ranging from Patagonia to Adidas to Puma to Gap’s Athleta have for years been incorporating sustainability into how they run their businesses.
Adidas has said it will produce between 15 million and 20 million pairs of shoes using ocean plastic this year. Athleta is targeting by the end of 2020 making 80% of its materials for the apparel and accessories it sells from sustainable fibers, such as recycled polyester and nylon.
Retailers have good reason to set such targets: Consumers in Gen Z, born in the years 1995 to 2012, are thinking about the environment as they shop. Sixty-two percent of Gen Z consumers prefer to buy from sustainable brands, according to a survey of more than 1,000 people in December by First Insight. And 73% of Gen Z respondents are willing to pay more for sustainable products, the survey said.
“Clearly this sustainability trend is all being driven by Gen Z-ers and younger millennials,” said Beth Goldstein, NPD Group’s executive director and industry analyst for fashion footwear. “They have this mindset that they will be able to change the world.”
In tandem with the Olympics, Nike is launching a “Move to Zero” collection for consumers, where all of the items use almost entirely recycled content, such as recycled polyester, or organic cotton that uses less water and fewer chemicals to manufacture.
The lineup will include a Windrunner jacket similar to the one Team USA will wear on the medal stand, joggers, shorts, crew-neck tees and full-zip hoodies.
Meantime, elite runners at the Olympics will put on a pair of Nike’s Air Zoom Alphafly NEXT%, which was designed with two “air pods” that are meant to add cushion, propel the runner and reduce the chances of an athlete losing energy. Nike has also created a version of this sneaker for everyday runners, called the Air Zoom Tempo NEXT%, that will retail for $200 when it goes on sale this fall. The shoes have mesh knit made of recyclable materials.
Despite some controversy in the running community around the carbon-plate technology placed in these shoes, and whether or not it should be considered legal for athletes, Nike’s Alphafly shoe has been cleared ahead of the Olympics.
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