Nike’s Han­nah Jones and soc­cer great Abby Wam­bach are finding pow­er­ful, tar­geted ways to foster re­spect for the planet and all who live—and play—on it.

Fast Company - - Contents -

Soc­cer star Abby Wam­bach and Nike sus­tain­abil­ity head Han­nah Jones on mak­ing change that mat­ters.

EEn­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and equal op­por­tu­nity are two of to­day’s most press­ing global is­sues. Nike sus­tain­abil­ity head Han­nah Jones and soc­cer star Abby Wam­bach talk with Fast Com­pany’s Jill Bern­stein about how in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions and in­di­vid­u­als alike can bring mean­ing­ful change to the world.

How did you two be­come chal­lengers of the sta­tus quo?

ABBY WAM­BACH: The thing that led me into ac­tivism is that I am a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I’m so lucky for that. I al­ways try to fight for the lit­tle guy or the voice­less, be­cause in cer­tain parts of my life I’m the mi­nor­ity, whether be­cause I’m gay or a woman. That’s where any true ac­tivism is born—my heart­breaks. Find out what breaks your heart and do what­ever you can to fix it.

HAN­NAH JONES: When I was 16, I had a white Mo­hawk and I was a DJ on a pi­rate ra­dio sta­tion that kept get­ting raided by po­lice. Let’s just say that my par­ents didn’t think that was an en­tirely good ca­reer plan. But I had a men­tor who sat me down one day and said, “Han­nah, at some stage you’re go­ing to have to work out for your­self whether you are more pow­er­ful shout­ing at the sys­tem from the out­side or chang­ing it from the inside.” That has guided ev­ery­thing I’ve done ever since.

Ath­let­ics is a pow­er­ful plat­form for change. It’s got a global reach, a work­force that spans from the fac­tory to the play­ing field, and celebrity role mod­els. How do these things help you with your cur­rent ef­forts?

HJ: When I grew up in the U.K., girls didn’t play soc­cer; we just didn’t. What Abby and other women in sport are do­ing is telling girls around the world, “You get to play soc­cer.” This is the new nor­mal. [At Nike,] we’re all about in­no­vat­ing the new nor­mal. Leather has a re­ally big en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print, but ev­ery­body loves leather. So our [new Flyleather] shoes

are made of waste that comes from the leather process. It’s engi­neered. It reduces the car­bon foot­print by 80% and the wa­ter foot­print by 90%. Oh, and by the way, it’s four times lighter than any­thing else that you’ve ever used, so ath­letes love it.

AW: Whether we re­al­ize it or not, we have all been poi­soned a lit­tle bit by what I call the pa­tri­archy. There weren’t enough girls’ soc­cer teams to play on when I was young that were good enough, that would chal­lenge me and make me a bet­ter player, so I had to play on the boys’ team. I al­ways used to say, “I had four older broth­ers grow­ing up and they made me re­ally tough.” Well, that is so not fem­i­nist of me. So I have to re­think, like, Why did I say that? Be­cause I’ve been con­di­tioned to be­lieve that men, that my broth­ers, made me tough. [But] I am re­ally tough, with or with­out my broth­ers, okay? Hav­ing two older sis­ters, as well, made me tough. It made me badass in my own right. When we’re try­ing to in­spire girls, we have to re­ally con­sider, How poi­soned am I? We have to first look in the mir­ror. From there, we can make true, pos­i­tive change. So that when a 13-year-old girl goes through her life, she is not think­ing the way I thought.

Cre­at­ing change in­volves com­mu­ni­cat­ing and con­nect­ing with peo­ple emo­tion­ally. How do you go about that?

HJ: Sus­tain­abil­ity was al­ways framed as some­thing that was counter to busi­ness suc­cess, that if you made a prod­uct that was sus­tain­able, some­how it would be less good or more ex­pen­sive. And some­times

that’s been true. I mean, think of green, scratchy toi­let pa­per. Not good, right?

The re­frame that hap­pened is that we stopped see­ing sus­tain­abil­ity and la­bor rights as a risk and bur­den [and in­stead] as a source of in­no­va­tion. Whether it’s about women’s rights or sus­tain­abil­ity or women in the sup­ply chain, if you flip it to be about an in­no­va­tion op­por­tu­nity, peo­ple step into that space with less fear. And that cre­ates pos­si­bil­ity.

AW: Think about what’s hap­pen­ing in our cul­ture. We’re get­ting in­un­dated with crazy. If we can sep­a­rate our­selves from the crazy for a brief mo­ment, we have a beau­ti­ful op­por­tu­nity. When Phi­lando Castile was killed, Twit­ter went crazy. And I was scared to say the wrong thing. Ev­ery­body gets ridiculed whether you say some­thing or you don’t say some­thing, or you say it the wrong way or you mis­spell it. Syd­ney Ler­oux, my team­mate, who is a woman of color, texted me and said, “Abby, your si­lence is deaf­en­ing.” So my ad­vice is to just say some­thing and know that [if] it’s grounded with the right in­ten­tion, it will be heard with that same in­ten­tion. And if some­body takes it wrong, that’s on them, you know? We just have to say some­thing.

How do you choose the words?

HJ: We [at Nike] talk a lot about safe spa­ces. I like the words brave spa­ces be­cause I like rad­i­cal can­dor and coura­geous con­ver­sa­tions. It starts by sur­round­ing your­self with peo­ple who don’t think like you and don’t look like you and have dif­fer­ent back­grounds. If you con­test nar­ra­tive and lan­guage and ideas and so­lu­tions within that space where ev­ery­body feels they be­long and they have a voice, you’re go­ing to un­der­stand pretty quickly whether your lan­guage and your idea has res­o­nance. I think it’s the cat­a­lyst that you need to spark new so­lu­tions.

AW: We’re all in shock in cer­tain ways. It’s like you can’t talk to the per­son across the aisle. I think that that’s bull­shit, truth­fully. The only way we can ac­tu­ally start hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions is to en­ter with cu­rios­ity in­stead of pre­de­ter­mined judg­ment. Fear can’t stand prox­im­ity. So if you learn how to talk with peo­ple, you will find com­mon­al­i­ties. And if you’re ques­tion­ing whether you should do some­thing, whether it’s go­ing to piss peo­ple off, think again.

HJ: There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing dis­rup­tive and de­struc­tive. If you’re dis­rup­tive and you’re con­struc­tive, then you push the ar­gu­ment for­ward, you push the idea for­ward. But dis­rup­tive as a de­struc­tive force just takes us back.

AW: It’s im­ma­ture, right? You can’t just rail. You have to have so­lu­tions.

Pres­i­dent Trump caused a stir in pro­fes­sional sports when he started tweet­ing neg­a­tively about player protests. Abby, you spoke out in fa­vor of play­ers be­ing able to ex­press them­selves, and Nike quickly is­sued a state­ment in sup­port of ath­letes. What are your roles in these larger cul­tural de­bates?

AW: I’m not go­ing to say that it’s not com­pli­cated. My for­mer team­mate, Me­gan Rapi­noe, had been tak­ing the knee in sup­port of [Colin Kaeper­nick]. It’s a con­ver­sa­tion that has com­pletely lost the ini­tial mean­ing. Now it’s about re­spect and the flag in­stead of what it was truly about, which is black lives be­ing bru­tally as­saulted by po­lice of­fi­cers. Hav­ing played on the Na­tional Team for the bet­ter part of my ca­reer, I am a fierce pa­triot. Last year, when this con­ver­sa­tion was go­ing on with Me­gan, I found my­self re­ally con­flicted. It wasn’t be­cause of Colin or Me­gan, it’s be­cause of this thing that I’m try­ing to fig­ure out, the in­sti­tu­tion that I was raised in, the things I talk about as a U.S. ci­ti­zen and as a pa­triot. What am I stand­ing and pledg­ing al­le­giance to?

Truth­fully, Colin Kaeper­nick is an Amer­i­can hero, some­body who has put his life’s work at risk and is pay­ing the price for it. If he were to go back and try to change things, do I think he would do any­thing dif­fer­ently? Hell no. Be­cause of the con­ver­sa­tion this is spark­ing. We have to keep the con­ver­sa­tion go­ing in the di­rec­tion of where it be­gan.

HJ: I sit in a cor­po­ra­tion for which this is an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant con­ver­sa­tion. We learned the hard way that when you don’t use your voice for ad­vo­cat­ing for good and you don’t stand up for your val­ues, that si­lence quickly be­comes mis­in­ter­preted. We come from a long her­itage with [Nike founder] Phil Knight of al­ways stand­ing for the ath­lete, al­ways. He is fierce about it. At key mo­ments in cul­tural con­text, po­lit­i­cal con­text, we have to stand for what we be­lieve in.

And we be­lieve in the science of cli­mate change, so we have stood loudly and proudly for the Paris agree­ment. We have built up coali­tions of the will­ing to fight for [it]. And when the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided to with­draw from the agree­ment, we were overt about our dis­agree­ment. We have con­sis­tently stood with LGBTQIA, in­clud­ing be­ing part of the am­i­cus brief for civil union. We con­tinue to stand for it. We have stood against the im­mi­gra­tion ban. And then we’ve stood with all those who knelt. We will con­tinue to use our voice. It’s not an easy space. But a brand that doesn’t stand for some­thing is no longer a brand worth work­ing for.

You two seem to ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tives, even in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. Why?

HJ: Wil­liam Gib­son, the sci-fi writer, said the fu­ture is here, it’s just not dis­trib­uted equally.

Think about the sus­tain­abil­ity move­ment—you fly across the world and you see wind­mill farms ev­ery­where. It doesn’t mat­ter what the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing; we are all mov­ing to re­new­able en­ergy. Nike will be at 100% re­new­able en­ergy in all our fa­cil­i­ties in the Amer­i­cas within the next cou­ple of years. And it’s not just be­cause it’s an act of benev­o­lence. It’s be­cause it’s good for busi­ness.

“You can’t just rail,” Wam­bach says. “You have to have so­lu­tions.”

“A brand that doesn’t stand for some­thing,” says Jones, “is no longer a brand worth work­ing for.”

Jones, left, and Wam­bach are fight­ing for progress with “rad­i­cal can­dor.”

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