Friday, June 12, 2009

Conscious

If ‘going green’ sounds like a marketing ploy to you rather than some genuine effort by a business to become more environmentally responsible, then you are certainly among millions of skeptics.

In this week’s BusinessWeek, Reena Jana discussed Nike’s recent attempts at becoming eco-friendly. Four years ago, the iconic sneaker company sold a line of boots called “Considered” that were made from brown hemp fibers, but they did not sell very well. Purveryors felt that the design and quality were compromised for the sake of joining the eco-conscious party.


Essentially having tucked its tail between its legs after “Considered”, Nike took a different course in releasing its latest products. As Jana explains;
The lesson for Nike was that its green innovations should continue, but its customers shouldn't be able to tell. "We want to do more and say less," is the way Lorrie Vogel, who oversees Nike's green business practices, puts it. The company also has to be careful about promoting itself as socially responsible because of its past use of sweatshop labor in Asian factories.
This article struck the fancy for a few reasons. For starters, it’s not hard to fathom that the quality of the shoes have improved from a few years ago. In fact, even the production of the latest Air Jordans (XX3) falls more in line with this new philosophy as Jana mentions the “jigsaw puzzle” design. Yet since this Scribe hasn’t had the callback from any of the NBA teams about a Summer League tryout, it’s hard to determine the nuances between a traditional make and the eco-shoe as an athlete.

Secondly, the silent treatment is an interesting approach. While Nike is conscious of another potential public relations disaster, it appears that they are also taking the adage, “don’t talk about it, be about it”, to heart. In order for Nike’s green efforts to be taken seriously, it seems that it has to be taken for granted by its consumers. Sure, other companies may have good reason to tout their eco-friendly practices in the face of some cynics, but those efforts still feel like bandwagon-jumping.

Mostly, a green Nike conjured up thoughts of a presentation I had done while in college about the company. For the Management Communications course taken in 2004 (senior year), each student had to profile a company in a ten-minute oral and visual presentation with a question-and-answer session to follow. The company needed to be embroiled in some ongoing controversy – an example being a firm emerging from the fraud scandals of the earlier part of the decade – and the student needed to convince classmates (deemed the shareholders of said firm) that investing in the company was still a worthwhile proposition.

I chose Nike because I had just finished reading Naomi Klein’s No Logo, a book where the Canadian journalist and activist railed on several global corporations for exploitative practices such as moving factories overseas where an abundance of cheap labor awaited their arrival. (If the book sounds familiar to those who have followed Scribe over the past two years, it should as it was sourced here before.) The book gained popularity (and infamy) for assailing Nike for its use of sweatshops and the company’s tit-for-tat retort for all of Klein’s accusations. While I did not agree with every word in No Logo, the topic was familiar enough that attempting to convince my peers that Nike was worth the investment because of an influx of new athletes to endorse the products such as Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade (for Converse, which Nike just purchased at the time).

Without getting into details I can’t exactly remember, the presentation and Q&A was a success. Yet, after fast forwarding to the current realities of our world and our greater awareness of the company’s past, I wonder how successful Nike will be in not only selling these new products, but in changing its perception as an irresponsible corporation. How can a game-changing innovation convince people that this is a new day and age for a brand when it won’t promote the innovation itself? Better yet, does Nike even want to reshape its public image if it’s still selling Jordans, LeBrons and Kobes despite dour times?

Thoughts?

1 comment:

Jim Keady said...

If you are interested in learning the latest about the campaign to end Nike's exploitative labor and environmental practices, check out www.teamsweat.org.

Peace, Jim Keady