The Power of a Brand Behind Sustainability

With the iconic swoosh and all familiar slogan’s such as “Just Do It,” it isn’t hard to recognize the magnitude of the Nike brand. Even for people who have no interest in athletics whatsoever can identify the masculine, edgy, no-nonsense manner in which the company promotes itself  and does business. This past Monday as part of MIM’s Age of Pacific Lecture Series, Tom Kelley, the Global Brand Director on Sustainable Business & Innovation, spoke with students about the framework of Nike’s brand and how this is leveraged to drive sustainability.

Nike quoteThe ultimate mission for the Nike brand is to bring innovation and inspiration to every athlete* in the world. Through promotions and marketing activities, Nike strives to perfect the balance of Great Athletes + Great Products + Great Stories. While the formula behind  Nike’s marketing strategy is broad, the main ingredient is to understand customers needs. “Always listen to the voice of the athlete,” states Kelley, and ask how are we listening to their needs and bringing innovation to them. Not only is Nike known as an innovative brand, from their waffle-iron soles to the new Flyknit running shoes, but also as a global leader in whatever tasks the company sets its sights on.

Taking all of these factors into managing marketing activities for Nike Better World is what Tom Kelley has been working on for the past six years. He emphasized that while Nike has not changed their overall mission, there is a definite push to evolve the current business model. The company actually began sustainable activities years ago with programs like the Reuse-a-Shoe initiative that collects worn out athletic shoes and recycles the materials to create playground and athletic surfaces. Nike takes a proactive approach in creating innovation for sustainability by continually reducing the materials required for each shoe, evaluating and editing strategic frameworks with contract factories, looking into the next generation of materials that aid a closed-loop supply chain, and joining venture capital labs to seek new solutions for materials and adhesives with a smaller impact upon the environment. Another approach that Nike takes seriously is to start conversations with individuals and communities about the effects the company has upon sustainability issues and how these problems can be amended.

As Kelley described, one of the largest barriers to the promotion of Nike Better World is the vague uncertainty surrounding the term “sustainability.”  The word has been thrown around so much that it barely holds any substance for one of Nike’s target audiences, young high school athletes. While these kids may wish to do the right thing and are empowered to do so, they lack the information necessary to enact sustainable changes. This is where Nike comes in through a manifesto of change: instead of copying the renowned PR pitch about a company’s CSR initiatives, Nike presents their views on sustainability via an avenue their audiences are already familiar with. A new video for Nike Better World, The Making of Making, states outright “Make no mistake, we hate sustainability.” Immediately this is the blunt, powerful communication expected from the leading athletic brand, no fluffy flowers here. The direct voiceover combined with video clips of hands and craftsmanship, continues on to empower the makers of things to change for the better. This is not a sustainability department using Nike as it’s cover- this is Nike taking over the concept and making it their own. As Tom Kelley said, Nike’s approach is “do good with a vengeance” by serving the needs of athletes and the planet at the same time.

The Making of Making by Nike Better World

*Tom Kelley stressed the importance of this asterisk in Nike’s mission statement because Nike views everyone with a body as being an athlete. The company does not limit their activities to only support people dedicated to sports and athletics, but also to those lazy couch potatoes who, hopefully through Nike’s encouragement, will begin moving.

Juli Tejadilla


  Juli Tejadilla is a full-time student in the Masters of International Management program. She previously graduated with two Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and Studio Art from Linfield College. While her interest in international business began as an undergraduate student, she has been traveling around the world since she was nine months old. She hopes through the MIM program to learn key insights to conduct business internationally and to establish herself as a global citizen.


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Filed under Age of the Pacific Lecture Series, Juli's Entries

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