Leveling the playing field: Nike closes the loop
While Nike is known as a major international force for producing long-lasting athletic gear, innovative marketing tools to spread the word about new products and celebrity campaigns, and a leader in getting America to move, the $19.2 billion company is also continuously investing within to promote an overarching philosophy around sustainability to “innovate toward a better world.”
Nike’s increased interest on Sustainable Business and Innovation (SB&I) has been seamlessly integrated across the company’s business strategies to provide greater returns to the company’s business, communities, contract factory workers, consumers and the planet as a whole.
“There are two aspects to the work we do,” Sarah Severn, Director of Stakeholder Mobilization, Sustainable Business and Innovation at Nike, says. “One is around our product and developing a closed-loop business model, and the other is framed around the ‘access to sport.’” Severn recently was a guest panelist at the Innovative Products for Sustainable Societies third annual summit at the University of San Diego.
In 2005, Severn became Director of Horizons, through which she identifies trends and opportunities for business and sustainability. For the past 10 years, Severn has lead Nike’s efforts surrounding climate change and is also focused on developing the company’s climate change advocacy strategy.
CLOSING THE LOOP
“How will we thrive in the future when it comes to sustainability? We have to refrain from using scarce resources,” she says. “Our biggest footprint, some 60 percent, is in the raw materials that actually go into our products, rather than manufacturing or the transportation of our goods.” Nike is currently working on four efforts to reduce the impact of its product and to improve its environmental footprint by reducing waste, toxics released, energy consumption and water.
“With our closed loop innovation model, we look at the way things are produced and make them with the intention of bringing them back, or recycling them, to reuse the raw materials for future products in some capacity,” Severn says. “You could build products to be biodegradable for future compost, but we believe our products still have value after they’ve been used and would rather take them back for future use.” For instance, Nike designed the jerseys for the World Cup 2010 and constructed them from 100 percent recycled polyester from plastic bottles.
The company believes the future will demand closed-loop business models that assist in moving closer to achieving zero waste by reusing, recycling or composting all materials.
LOOKING AHEAD AT INNOVATION
Nike continues its North Star ambition for an entirely closed-loop system, especially with their “Reuse A Shoe” program, in which Nike takes shoes back, recycle its materials and puts the components into the creation of sport surfaces, such as installed basketball courses and soccer fields.
“We’re using this as a shift in our business model, to change the structure of our supply chain, and we need a whole ecosystem of people to do this,” she says. “We continue to encourage the democratization of innovation.”
Further the company’s philosophy for embracing innovation, Nike will launch its Green XChange (GX) program that brings together companies, people and ideas to create sustainable change. “Green XChange will be the home to over 400 patents and act as a space for patent exchange and licensing, while allowing for the flourishing of innovation and shared knowledge,” she says.
“Nike is committing to placing more than 400 of our patents on GX for research, demonstrating our belief that the best way to stimulate sustainable innovation is through open innovation,” said Mark Parker, NIKE, Inc. president and CEO. “Our hope is that this will unleash new innovation to help solve current obstacles to sustainability issues.”
Innovation is at the heart of Nike’s business growth strategy and its focus to becoming better also improves their mission for a sustainable economy; one where people, profit and planet are in balance.
With GX, Nike hopes to make it easier for individuals, businesses, academia and researchers to collaborate and share best practices in an effort to share intellectual property, and create and adopt technologies that have the potential to solve global sustainability challenges.
Nike continues to be a growth company by aligning its strengths and taking advantage of opportunities given. With a clear business strategy for sustainability and innovation toward a better world, the company will surely continue to identify new ways to create value and positive returns on investment for the business, shareholders, employees and ultimately, the environment.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.