Nike Won’t Green It

Discussion
Jun 30, 2009

By Tom Ryan

Nike Inc. is one of the most eco-conscious
companies in the world but you wouldn’t know it from its marketing efforts.
While the brand is about being fast, excelling and persevering as well
as being the coolest kid on the block, it’s not about being green.

“Nike has always been about winning,” Dean
Crutchfield, an independent branding consultant in New York, told BusinessWeek. “How
is sustainability relevant to its brand?”

Since its Reuse-A-Shoe footwear recycling
program was launched in 1993, sustainability has been a key focus and the
company is regularly praised by eco-groups for those efforts.

In October 2008, Nike again raised its eco-goals
in with the debut of the latest products under Nike Considered Design.
The program sets strict standards for using eco-conscious materials, reducing
waste in factories and cutting toxins. In Spring 2009, 15 percent of Nike
footwear met “Considered” standards.

Nike also set ambitious goals to have 100
percent of Nike footwear meet baseline Considered standards by 2011, all
apparel by 2015, and all equipment by 2020. Once these benchmarks are reached,
waste in Nike’s supply chain will have been reduced by 17 percent and environmentally
preferred materials increased by 20 percent.

But Nike remains mum to the public about its
environmental efforts and its reluctance to spread its green message comes
despite eco-efforts being regularly touted in advertising by the likes
of General Electric and Wal-Mart. Eco-messages also drive many campaigns
for competitors, such as Patagonia, Timberland, and Columbia. Many of these
campaigns are designed to inspire consumers to be more eco-conscious and
to make a difference in the world.

Nike executives told BusinessWeek that
eco-conscious and “do-good, feel-good” marketing doesn’t fit the ethos
of the brand. They
said they learned this lesson themselves when the company launched a line
of eco-friendly walking boots, likewise called “Considered,” in 2005. Made
with brown hemp fibers and an earthy look, critics called the $110 shoes “Air
Hobbits” and
said the shoe design detracted from its high-tech image. The line was soon
removed from the market after poor sales.

Lorrie Vogel, who oversees Nike’s green business
practices, said the lesson for Nike was that its green efforts should continue,
but its customers shouldn’t be able to tell.

“We want to do more and say less,” said Ms.
Vogel.

Discussion Questions:
Do you think green marketing would be detrimental to a brand like Nike?
Is Nike missing an opportunity by not promoting its green efforts?

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15 Comments on "Nike Won’t Green It"


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David Livingston
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Nike execs have it right. Most likely, their target customer would be turned off by “green” marketing messages. Nike’s green initiatives are fine for the business magazines but not on the advertising pages. Nike says they learned their lesson. Why should we second guess them?

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

As the article says, Nike is about “being fast, excelling and persevering,” it is not about being green. Not all companies need to embrace an eco-friendly message to resonate with consumers.

While it does not tout its eco-friendly credentials, Nike is working hard behind the scenes to be an eco-friendly company. Many companies do not need to use an environmental message. Having a commitment to aid the environment and fulfilling that commitment is enough.

Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Who ever said you can’t be considerate of the environment and still be cool, techy and performance-driven? You don’t have to wear it on your sleeve but certainly, companies like Nike can and should do more than their fair share to show leadership on the environmental front. A brand can and should be more than just about making money.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Most of the companies touting green are poseurs. Sustainability isn’t a USP or a marketing strategy.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
11 years 10 months ago

“How Green Was My Valley” was a great movie way back when, highly promoted and then it passed on, proving you can’t make a corner in the world, i.e., a river is not a river that does not run.

“How Green Are My Nikes” is today’s challenge, being weaned on today’s prevailing environmental culture. But being green isn’t as important as running cool and nobody knows how to embrace cool like Nike. Again proving that a river isn’t a river that does not run. I think Nike has its objective straight.

Ian Percy
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I agree with Chris; there’s a lot of green pretense out there and behind the scenes these companies do more environmental damage than anyone. Nike’s apparent approach of quietly doing what they can to contribute to sustainability while staying with their brand is smart. When consumers become aware of these initiatives via word of mouth the impact will be so much more significant than seeing it touted in a TV ad.

Rachel Magni
Guest
Rachel Magni
11 years 10 months ago

We tend to observe that the “coolest,” innovative companies like Apple and Google get credit for “greenness,” even if it’s not reality in practice. So Nike doesn’t need to scream green, just continue to push the needle on all fronts, and they will get likely credit for it anyway.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 10 months ago

Wow! Nike gets it! As someone else above mentioned, poseurs, zealots and trend opportunists are often less than honest in their marketing campaigns. Unfortunately, lots of the “green marketing” we have been seeing falls into that category when neither the product or its manufacture bear any resemblance to green. Good on Nike for not falling into a trap and for keeping their powerful brand message pure and consistent.

Michael Boze
Guest
Michael Boze
11 years 10 months ago

Nike is a market leader. Years ago, Nike remained very quite on the human-rights aspect of the factories where it produced its products. They took a lot of grief in the marketplace because they did not speak out on these issues.

Nike has now become a leader on this issue. It seems to me that this lesson could be applied to the green aspect of there business as well. If you’re a market leader, not lending their voice to this concern is a miss for them and a misperception for the consumer.

They had an excellent regrind program for years, building tracks made of old shoes. They need to raise their visibility on this issue.

Phil Rubin
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

How refreshing that Nike is continuing its marketing leadership by not being like every other leader-wannabe and stamping green/eco/sustainable on its products. Yes they tested something, but green, like other things such as social media, is too often a tail wagging a dog, being force-fit into a strategy that doesn’t accommodate it.

There is a fundamental difference between business practices and brand marketing, something that Nike fundamentally understands.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I absolutely agree that Nike should act green, but for its brand presence, doesn’t have to talk about it. In the still early stages when the danger of a brand message becoming only “greenwashing,” I think that Nike can be comfortable in avoiding the same environmental message promoting that other brands do. Nike’s reputation will not be enhanced by that.

However, if they act green, and some time in the future companies will be required to demonstrate their past involvement, Nike can access their archives for their accomplishment stories–they get the best of both worlds.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 10 months ago

Companies won’t miss opportunities by not promoting green efforts, especially if they don’t have any green efforts at all. Research shows that Americans are growing significantly less enamored, swayed, and faked-out by so-called green programs. It’s a sham, and we’re starting to figure it out. That’s because the definition of “green” is too broad. Terms like recycling and sustainability can be understood and supported, but too many weird concepts have crept under the “green” tent. “Carbon footprint” is one. “Cap and trade” is another. Ethanol has been widely discredited as a solution to anything but padding the pockets of corn growers, and ethanol companies are failing fast. How about the proposal to buy clunker autos for $4,800 when we can’t even prove that their “gross emissions” are harming the planet?

Nike remains sane. Doing more and saying less. Good for them.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 10 months ago

Nike needs to let its green light shine. Staying mum about the good that the brand does doesn’t help the brand. Indeed, if a potential Nike consumer doesn’t do a bit of research to uncover Nike’s green efforts, then that consumer may well equate the brand’s green efforts as no better than a Nike competitor who isn’t even doing anything green.

And I really don’t understand how Nike can characterize the consumer’s reason for buying the brand as only being the desire to feel fast, slick and hip. Those are definite motivators, but a brand’s green efforts are also a motivator–even for the hip and slick.

Ciri Raynor Fenzel
Guest
Ciri Raynor Fenzel
11 years 10 months ago

Nike is ahead of the game as usual. They recognize that maintaining eco-friendly business practices will simply become the ante to play in the game. It isn’t a viable positioning to sustain the Nike brand nor differentiate it. I respect Nike for not utilizing it’s sustainable actions to appeal to customers.

Kai Clarke
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Nike is missing out on a great opportunity. 2009 is not 2005 with air hobbits, and Nike, of all companies, should know that they need to continually re-position and refocus their brands. Today’s culture wants to know about being eco-friendly and by not sharing their efforts with the public, Nike leave the door open for their competitors to do this. This is about winning, and Nike needs to realize this as well.

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