Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Transcript: How Nike ran with the notion of environmental sustainability

Nike reduced its environmental footprint by handing out gold, silver and bronze medals for designs that incorporated sustainable elements.


KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to [associate professor] Glen Dowell from the [Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management] at Cornell University.

Sustainability in organizations – what advice would you have for managers to have their organizations more environmentally sustainable?

GLEN DOWELL – I think too many organizations still approach sustainability as a separate issue, as: "We are going to have an environmental health and sustainability, or EHS, group," or "We are going to have this as a separate group of people who think about this."

Story continues below advertisement

But in order to really move organizations forward, it has to be something that is integrated into the very fabric of an organization and its strategy. It has to be something that is thought of at all levels, and then people take it as part of their jobs everywhere in the organization.

That makes it really, I think, a key example of organizational change. That is, really, the issue that managers need to think about is: What are the behavioural issues that I need to exemplify in my own work as a manager and that I want my employees to really take to heart and to really work on in order to move the organization forward?

So, it is not so much – you know, we all get enthralled by new technologies and how are we going to incorporate clean technology, and green or clean energy, into our day-to-day lives, but a lot of it is, as more of my research is showing, really the behavioural side. How do we nudge people to make better decisions day-to-day, either in the organization or in our own lives and in our homes? What are the things that can make us really take these things seriously and move forward?

So, for example, we have seen that organizations that can incorporate a little bit of the competitive nature in all of us into these sustainability challenges can make bigger strides. Organizations that approach sustainability in a way that is consistent with their core strategy and corporate culture – for example if you are a low-cost organization like Wal-Mart, you don't try to do this in a really high-end, sexy, way. You try to figure out how to lower your costs even further, while being more sustainable, and that is where we have seen greater strides and more success.

KARL MOORE – Glen, you make a great point that we have got to change the culture and how we do things. How have you seen that in organizations and that actually play out?

GLEN DOWELL – Where I have seen it play our most successfully is, again, where the leaders have looked at the organizations and say, "How can we incorporate sustainability in a way that is consistent with the people we already have and what they believe?"

There is a really interesting case of Nike, for example. Nike is taking this very seriously, and they have had all sorts of issues in social sustainability but they also have a big environmental footprint. They, being the contract manufacturers of course, use a lot of water and Nike, in their attempt to become more environmentally sustainable with their footwear products, made it highly competitive.

Story continues below advertisement

If you read about the corporate culture of Nike, it is a sports culture, not surprisingly, and it is a place where crushing the competition is a mantra. So in order to weave sustainability in, in a way that was consistent with how their employees already thought, they gave out gold, silver and bronze medals for design that incorporates sustainable elements.

I am not claiming that they are perfect, but they made significant strides with their footwear by having people behave in a way that they were already excited about – but adding this element in and then also bringing people together from design, manufacture and marketing to bring this together in a way that they could understand because it was consistent with how Nike already operated.

Report an error

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨