Nike bake CSR into their brand

Read an interesting piece about Nike's green initiatives. Their approach is what we call "Brand Social Responsibility" (BSR): making the product or service you sell more socially and environmentally responsible. We think this is much more powerful than the more common Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), where companies simply give to or raise money for a good cause (e.g. Tesco Computers for Schools).

This approach has helped Nike be ranked one of the 10 greenest companies in America. Quite a turnaround from a decade ago when Nike were portrayed as one of the bad boys of corporate greed.

– "Reuse a shoe": this program recycles old sports shoes and transforms them into surfaces for sports facilities. So far over 20million knackered old trainers have been recycled in this way.

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– Recycled bottle shirts: did you know that plastic from recycled bottles was used to make all of the shirts worn by the nine teams Nike sponsored at the last World Cup? In doing so, 13 million plastic bottles were diverted from landfill, preventing c. 254,000 kg of polyester waste from being buried.

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– Trash Talk shoes: these basketball shoes are made from waste and scrap materials. For example, the upper is pieced together from leather and synthetic leather waste from the factory and the mid-sole uses scrap-ground foam from factory production.

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A few important lessons from Nike's BSR efforts.

1. Bake the good stuff into your brand: Nike is perhaps the best example I've seen of baking the good stuff into a product or service, rather than just selling the same old stuff and sponsoring a good cause. This approach is shown by the job title of the lady driving Nike's BSR efforts: Hannah Jones is VP of sustainable business and innovation. This not a communication job. Its a business model and innovation job.

2. SMS: the great thing about BSR is that it can help you Sell More Stuff (SMS), as it helps make the product or service you sell more attractive. Its much more direct than CSR, where the hope is that the company behind the brand doing good deeds will make you prefer their products.

3. No trade-off in performance: the football shirts above were worn in the World Cup, and the basketball shoe was worn by an NBA player in real matches. This is what makes the product attractive: socially responsible AND high performance, with no trade-off

4. Saving costs by doing good: the other interesting angle on profit is how some of these initiatives can actually cut costs. Hannah Jones comments: "Footwear waste alone costs us $800million a year. If we can turn some of that waste into new materials, it will trade off part of the cost."

5. Link the BSR to the brand: a simple but important part of Nike's efforts is the way they are linked to the brand and sports. For example, reuse a shoe is used to create sports tracks.

Net, if you want to make your social and environmental efforts work harder for your brand and business, bake them into your product or service like Nike, rather than just selling the same old stuff and giving money to good causes. It will need more work, but have much more impact.

More BSR stuff here on Unilever, Mars and Ben & Jerry's