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Nike’s New Sneakers Are Made Out of the Most Unexpected Material—Carbon

In partnership with technology company Newlight, Nike's carbon sneakers are made from AirCarbon, a bio-based, carbon neutral material.

Written by
Briana Dodson

First it was sneakers made from recycled waste plastics, then came an eco-friendly swimwear line. These are just two of the sustainability initiatives that have landed Nike in the news over the past few years. As pressure on the fashion industry to respond to its environmental impact increases, Nike is already answering.

Nike's Move to Zero campaign, its biggest undertaking to date, aligns all of Nike's global goals into a larger planet-saving mission—to aggressively reduce carbon and achieve zero waste. Part of this commitment includes a 65% absolute carbon reduction in owned or operated facilities and a 30% reduction across the extended supply chain by 2030. The company is also focused on eliminating single-use plastic bags in its stores by the end of 2021, and has clearly laid out its lofty goals in its 2025 vision report.

Now, the sportswear giant has done it again. This time, Nike is launching a new sneaker out of carbon in partnership with Newlight. The California-based biotechnology company has developed a process that can convert carbon into a leather and plastic alternative. The result? AirCarbon. Not only is AirCarbon carbon neutral, but it's also completely carbon negative because it's bio-based and 100% biodegradable.

"AirCarbon offers an opportunity to further reduce our impact on the planet," said Noel Kinder, chief sustainability officer at Nike, in a press release. "Materials account for 70% of Nike’s total carbon footprint, and we’re accelerating our efforts and exploring new opportunities in this space because, in the race against climate change, we can’t wait for solutions—we have to work together to create them."

Newlight pulls microorganisms from the ocean that eat greenhouse gases and converts them into the AirCarbon, or the energy storage material known as polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). After 10 years in development, Newlight has figured out how to create a white powder out of PHB that has the ability to take on a range of forms, from fiber to solid shapes.

Currently, Newlight has used this material as a plastic leather substitute for brands like Restore and Covalent to create eyewear, bags, and wallets. "Our mission is change at scale, and there are few better partners in the world than Nike to help achieve that," said Mark Herrema, CEO of Newlight. "We're excited to explore how AirCarbon can help Nike decarbonize its products and achieve its ambitious carbon-reduction goals."

Although we may not see Nike's carbon-negative sneakers for a while, these big initiatives are definitely something to look forward to.

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