Article | Harvard Business Review | July–August 2014

Sustainability in the Boardroom: Lessons from Nike's Playbook

by Lynn S. Paine

Abstract

One surprising role of Nike's corporate responsibility committee is to provide support for innovation. More and more companies recognize the importance of corporate responsibility to their long-term success—and yet the matter gets short shrift in most boardrooms, consistently ranking at the bottom of some two dozen possible priorities. Many years ago labor conditions in Asian contract factories prompted Nike board member Jill Ker Conway to lobby for a board-level corporate responsibility committee, which the company created in 2001. In the years since, the committee has steadily broadened its purview, now advising on a broad range of issues including innovation and acquisitions in addition to labor practices and resource sustainability. A close examination of Nike's experience has led the author to conclude that a dedicated board-level committee of this sort could be a valuable addition to many if not most companies in at least five ways: as a source of knowledge and expertise, as a sounding board and constructive critic, as a driver of accountability, as a stimulus for innovation, and as a resource for the full board. In an accompanying interview with Paine, Conway discusses the committee's creation and provides an insider's perspective on what has made it so effective.

Keywords: Governing and Advisory Boards; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Sports Industry; Asia;

Citation:

Paine, Lynn S. "Sustainability in the Boardroom: Lessons from Nike's Playbook." Harvard Business Review 92, nos. 7/8 (July–August 2014): 87–94.