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Nike, the albatross, and sustainable design

October 24, 2009

photo by Kris Krüg

A dead baby albatross is a tough act to follow.

Nike’s Lorrie Vogel took the stage at Poptech this week to talk about the company’s sustainable product design efforts.

Immediately preceding her was an devastating presentation from photographer Chris Jordan, who shared a series of photographs from Midway Atoll of baby albatrosses who had died from ingesting plastic from the massive Pacific Garbage Patch.

Conference organizer Andrew Zolli, visibly moved, asked for a moment of silence and then Vogel took the stage to talk about her efforts as general manager of Nike’s Considered team.

She was frank about the challenges that Nike and other manufacturers face, especially the company’s reliance on petroleum-based polyester and resource-heavy cotton. It takes about 700 gallons of water and 1,100 square feet of land to produce the cotton for one Nike T-shirt.

Interviewed two days later, she said the albatross moment spurred her biggest takeaway from the conference:

People were still surprised to hear information on the Pacific Garbage Dump. We talked about that five years ago when it was the size of Texas. Now it’s twice the size of Texas.

People were shocked by what they saw with the albatross. But that was in National Geographic three years ago!

So what I’m most concerned with is that we keep hearing these things, but we’re not actually acting on it. So when people are shocked by it, it’s even more shocking to me because it’s been out there for a while. I think my big takeaway is I really want to see more movement toward solutions.

Click here for more coverage of Poptech and the Reuters live blog.


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