In the early days of the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) movement, Nike was one of many companies hit hard by the "transparency revolution" — a new class of consumers who demanded the highest level of ethical conduct from their favorite brands.
Through the Nike Better World program (check out the sexy new HTML5 site), the company was one of the first to take a strong leadership position on issues like fair labor and environmental sustainability and (perhaps because of its willingness to dialog openly about its struggles in steering a multibillion dollar corporation with thousands of supply chain OEM's spread across the globe) it bore a large brunt of criticism from NGO groups, despite its remarkable efforts to become more transparent. (Nike was the first to publicly disclose its factory list and is working towards a full elimination of overtime labor in its supply chain.)
Nike, as perfectly represented by its signature "swoosh," has always been a bit ahead of the curve. The company was the first to realize that sustainability was synonymous with innovation — in fact, the company has a vice president of sustainability & innovation, Hannah Jones, who last year was named the eighth most creative person in the world by Fast Company (she beat out James Cameron, who was #9). And as part of the company's Better World initiative, they launched a project called "Open Innovation" which pursues a new paradigm for doing business in the 21st century:
To thrive in a world where resources are constrained, where people and governments and systems are fully connected, where sustainability is an imperative, not a choice, where transparency is requisite, we believe we need innovation. Disruptive, radical, jaw-dropping innovation. Innovation we cannot imagine. That kind of innovation is not going to come only from within. It will require the best of what we've got, along with unlikely partnerships, collaborations and open innovation. We believe that data and technology will be key to unleashing new innovations.
One outcome was this nifty chart that Jones shared with me after her SXSW presentation (and is being published here for the first time) which overlays global temperature anomalies and pricing of wheat, cotton and oil:
It's too early to make any direct correlations from this work, but the one-day think tank did prompt the Nike team to fund a full-time "Code for a Better World Fellow" — someone whose full-time job it will be to landscape Nike's current bank of data, create news systems of analysis and visualization, and produce recommendations for sharing Nike's sustainability data with "...communities of data-obsessed programmers, visual designers and researchers."
FYI Nike is accepting applications for this position through May 15.