Sustainability 101
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Until the late ‘80s, Nike’s environmental commitment was to be simply "in compliance" and support local non-profits. Then, as a result of scenario planning by a special task force pulled together by Phil Knight, a formal department was created in 1993 — the Nike Environmental Action Team (NEAT) — to focus on compliance, manufacturing, monitoring, and Nike Reuse-A-Shoe with a staff of three employees.

In September 1995, the US NEAT team attended a lecture by Paul Hawken, who delivered a talk based on his book, "The Ecology of Commerce." It led to an epiphany of sorts and set NEAT on a path toward a deeper understanding of the planet’s living systems. "The message seemed simple," says Sarah Severn, former Director of NEAT and currently Director of Sustainable Development. "The planet’s living systems are in decline and without them there is no such thing as society, let alone business. Our choice as a business seemed clear — continue to contribute to the decline, or enter a new era of commerce where human and business needs stop depleting living systems."

In 1998, the company launched a new policy, endorsed by Phil Knight, that committed the company to pursue sustainable business practices. The focus began shifting to the business integration of sustainability, and the Shambhala program was launched in 1999.

Participants included 65 captains — leaders from around the world and different parts of the business. Supporting the captains were 35 champions (senior managers, directors, GMs, and VPs). Over the course of nine months, the group convened to learn and share knowledge at three offsites in Portland, Oregon. Sessions focused on organizational change, sustainability knowledge, and leadership skills.

Many sustainability business integration projects came about from Shambhala captains. Today, sustainability is gaining traction in more areas of the business, and our goals have evolved since the days of Shambhala. But there is no doubt that we’re closer to fulfilling our vision for a sustainable future.


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