Nike Could Soon Be Making Regenerative Sneakers Using AirCarbon

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Iconic Nike sneakers could soon be made out of a regenerative material that actually captures more emissions than it needs to be produced. Partnering with Californian biotech Newlight Technologies, the sportswear giant is now exploring the use of AirCarbon to replace plastic and leather materials in everything from bags and wallets—and maybe even Air Force 1s.

Nike has just partnered up with Newlight Technologies, the company behind AirCarbon, a carbon-negative biomaterial made from microorganisms in the ocean. Being carbon-negative means the biomaterial actually captures more greenhouse gas emissions than it emits into the atmosphere. 

Regenerative sneakers?

Through the collaboration, Nike will be exploring different uses of AirCarbon in its collection, with the primary goal of replacing synthetic materials like plastic, as well as non-animal-free and high-emissions materials like leather. 

AirCarbon Pellets and AirCarbon Leather (Image: Newlight Technologies)

Currently, material use accounts for as much as 70% of the brand’s total carbon footprint, making it imperative to find sustainable alternatives if the company is to slash its impact on the planet—and in turn, retain its increasingly eco-conscious consumer base. 

“[It will] advance Nike’s mission to create products that are better for athletes and the planet,” said the sportswear giant. 

Nike’s chief sustainability officer Noel Kinder added that the partnership with Newlight will enable exploration of “new opportunities in this space” as the company “races against climate change”. Other materials that the company has explored include Pinatex, the vegan leather alternative partly made from pineapple leaves, which it recently used to make a range of new animal-free sneakers. 

Decarbonising industries, from food to fashion

Nike is trying to incorporate more sustainable materials into its collection. (Image: Nike)

Newlight says that working with Nike brings the firm one step closer to pushing forward a zero-carbon economy. The company, which developed AirCarbon after a decade of R&D, says that it wants to replace the use of fossil fuel-based synthetic fibres and plastics across everything from foodware to fashion.

“Our mission is change at scale, and there are few better partners in the world than Nike to help achieve that,” said the firm’s CEO Mark Herrema. “We are excited to explore how AirCarbon can help Nike decarbonize its products and achieve its ambitious carbon-reduction goals.”

According to an independent life-cycle assessment conducted by the Carbon Trust, every 1 kilogram of AirCarbon produced in Newlight’s production process using methane seeping from abandoned coal mines, sequesters 88 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent. In addition to being carbon-negative, the biomaterial is home compostable, ocean and soil-degradable too.

Besides working with Nike, the company has tested AirCarbon-made foodware like cutlery and straws with burger chain Shake Shack across its U.S. locations. 


Lead image courtesy of Nike.

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