Team USA will go green while competing for gold medals.

By Megan Falk
February 05, 2020
Nike

Olympic athletes embody national pride, steadfast dedication to their sport, and unwavering strength. But at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, these top-notch athletes will also be standing for a cause that’s become a huge talking point across the globe: sustainability.

In an effort to make the 2020 Summer Olympics more eco-friendly than past Olympic Games, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has been rolling out a series of sustainability initiatives focused on climate change, resource management, and the natural environment, among others. One of the first courses of action: recycling small electronic devices into Olympic medals. From April 2017 to March 2019, the committee collected nearly 79,000 tons of electronics (including cell phones) from more than 1,600 cities and towns in Japan to create 5,000 gold, silver, and bronze medals for every award-winning Olympian.

But thanks to Nike, sustainable medals will be just one of the many eco-friendly components of Team USA’s Olympic wardrobes. As the official sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee, Nike has developed new sustainable athleticwear, from low-impact sneakers to recycled-polyester jackets, designed specifically with the Olympian in mind. (Related: Climate Change Could Limit the Winter Olympics In the Future)

On the podium, Team USA athletes will rock the Nike Air Vapormax 2020. Comprised of 75 percent recycled manufacturing waste, the multi-colored knit portion of the sneaker is precisely engineered to create minimal waste in the production process. It's a one-two punch for sustainability: Creating new products out of recycled materials reduces the use of fossil fuels that are necessary to extract and process new materials, per the Environmental Protection Agency, and enhancing the production process for optimum efficiency helps to make a dent in the 10 to 20 percent of fabric that is wasted in clothing manufacturing.

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And those badass tracksuits the Olympians wear while accepting their medals? Those will be made entirely from recycled fabric, too. The original 1978 Windrunner jacket has been reinvented to contain 100 percent recycled polyester, while the joggers are constructed from 100 percent recycled nylon, with a 100 percent recycled mesh lining.

Nike didn’t overlook the minor features of these tracksuits, either: The Team USA logos, drawcord tips, zipper pulls, and Swoosh branding are all made with recycled rubber.

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The outfits are part of Nike’s new Move to Zero collection, a single aspect of the brand’s larger journey toward a zero-carbon, zero-waste future. These pieces, including Sportswear full-zip hoodies, crews, tees, joggers, and shorts, use almost entirely recycled materials and meet a 90 percent or better mark of efficiency. Along with recycled plastics and rubbers, some pieces contain organic cotton, which uses less water and energy to produce than conventionally grown cotton. (Related: How Lauren Singer, Founder of Package Free, Is Leading the Zero-Waste Revolution)

Luckily, backyard baseball players and neighborhood running clubs will soon be able to wear the same looks as their Olympic heroes. The Windrunner jacket will be available online this summer (though it won't feature the Team USA embellishment). And in spring 2020, Nike will launch Space Hippie, an eco-friendly footwear collection with sneakers fit for both the field and the street. Featuring four different styles, the collection was designed with environmental impact in mind, resulting in Nike’s lowest carbon footprint score for footwear yet. The lightweight, supportive foam sole is constructed from recycled rubber and recycled foam scraps, while the knitted exterior is fashioned with yarn that's made from at least 85 percent recycled plastic water bottles, t-shirts, and yarn scraps—a feature that’s helping to give some of the 70 million plastic water bottles used each day in the U.S. a second life. (Nike also has sneakers designed to reduce chronic running injuries.)

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Nike’s new activewear may not be the be-all and end-all of sustainable clothing. But considering the fact that synthetic garments release thousands of microplastic fibers into the water with every wash, Nike's sustainability efforts represent an important step toward ensuring that the centuries-old Olympic Games can continue for centuries more.

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