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Brown and Wilmanns Environmental began working with Nike in 2004 to develop a multidimensional tool that could be used by Nike product creation teams to improve the environmental performance of footwear and apparel products. We organized the tool structure and gathered the data on which the tool is based, and Nike incorporated the first version into its Environmental Apparel Design Tool. Subsequent improvements led to the Nike Materials Sustainability Index (Nike MSI), which serves as the primary method for selecting environmentally preferred materials for use in Nike products and feeds into the Nike Apparel and Footwear Sustainability Indexes.

The original impetus for developing Nike MSI was the plethora of so-called “sustainable” materials that suppliers were offering to Nike. It was quite difficult to distinguish environmental impacts among a variety of bio-based fibers and materials (for example, organic cotton and hemp, rayon made from bamboo, polymers such as nylon-11 and polylactic acid, and partial bio-based materials such as polyurethane with soy polyol and polytrimethylene terephthalate with bio 1,4-propanediol) as well as conventional materials such as polyester and nylon that include post-consumer recycled content. It became clear that a standardized method for assessing the relative merits of materials was needed. Commercially available tools and methodologies that might be useful in analyzing the tens of thousands of materials in Nike’s supplier database relied on proprietary data sources that could not be publicly disclosed and often did not include many of the materials of interest to Nike.

The Nike MSI, based on the eight years of work that Brown and Wilmanns Environmental did with Nike, is a major component of the SAC’s Higg Index.

Nike MSI uses aspects of life-cycle assessment (LCA) methodology, but is not a substitute for an LCA study. It is a practical, efficient approach to ranking the relative environmental performance of a large number of materials. It uses life cycle inventory (LCI) data covering the origins of raw materials through the processing and manufacturing stages necessary to create a material ready to be used in footwear and apparel production (known as “cradle-to-gate”). Nike MSI covers four critical impact areas: Chemistry, Energy and Greenhouse Gas Intensity, Water and Land Use Intensity, and Physical Waste. Individual indicators within the impact areas are scored using appropriate LCI data. All aspects of the methodology, data sources and assumptions, and calculations are detailed and transparent.

Brown and Wilmanns Environmental developed the methodology used to create a Base Material Score. This score is then modified by Material Environmental Attributes points that reward better chemistry, recycled and organic content, and water conservation, and Supplier Practices points that recognize best practices within a specific supply chain.

Nike has used the MSI in its product creation process since early 2011 and is already seeing substantive improvements in suppliers’ material scores. Brown and Wilmanns Environmental continues to work with Nike to refine the methodology, incorporate new materials, and improve data.

In July 2012, Nike made the tool publicly available through the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) in an effort to support an industry-wide approach to measuring the environmental performance of materials and to encourage others companies to contribute their own efforts to the wider community. Nike MSI is a major component of the SAC’s Higg Index.

For more information about Brown and Wilmanns Environmental’s work with Nike MSI, please contact us.