Peggy Reid

Circular Economy Director, Nike

Trying to better understand the ways in which our biases and culture impact economic decision-making is incredibly relevant for any business leader who wants to shift consumer behavior.

By Adam Sylvain

As circular economy director at Nike, Peggy Reid T’98 oversees waste reduction and circularity across the company’s entire supply chain. This entails partnering with design teams and factories to eliminate waste in the first phase of production, moving products through Nike’s supply chain to consumers with a lighter carbon and waste footprint, and extending the life of those products and materials through a portfolio of reuse and recycling programs.

This can be everything from product refurbishment and resale to recycling our waste materials into our own products or selling it to other businesses, explains Reid. All of these solutions allow us to keep products and materials at their highest, best use for as long as possible.

One of these signature reuse programs is Nike Grind, which launched in the early 1990s as an intrapreneurial solution to a confounding business and environmental issue—too many shoes ending up in landfills. By breaking down used and defective shoes, along with manufacturing scrap, Nike Grind creates new recycled materials that are used by Nike and other companies to create products ranging from running tracks and athletic courts to retail spaces and furniture.

When Reid first joined Nike 10 years ago, she was tasked with assessing the long-term viability of Nike Grind. Now in its 30th year, it has grown to become a profitable, global sustainability program and a key part of the company’s movement toward a zero-carbon and zero-waste future. Reid says the work is continuously rewarding and far beyond what she could have predicted when she started her MBA journey at Tuck.

After graduating from Wellesley, Reid attended Harvard Divinity School intent on entering academia as a comparative religion or ethics professor. Her main academic interest was in applied ethics which she explored by taking classes across Harvard in medical ethics, public health, education, and public policy. One of Reid’s courses at the Harvard Kennedy School had an internship requirement that would ultimately change the course of her career.

I was working on a project with IBM that was focused on childcare and women’s mobility in the workplace, recalls Reid. That experience revealed to me the tremendous opportunity corporations have to create positive change. I knew I wanted to have a seat at the table in making decisions that take into account both people and the planet.

Among Tuck’s current MBA students, the school’s many offerings related to sustainability are a significant draw. The Revers Center for Energy, Sustainability and Innovation is a primary hub for many curricular and co-curricular programs that allow students to delve deep into topics like sustainable energy, ESG investing, and corporate responsibility. When Reid enrolled at Tuck in the fall of 1996, opportunities for students interested in sustainability and the climate were far more limited.

At that time, there really weren’t any MBA programs that had defined offerings around corporate responsibility, sustainability, or climate change—they just didn’t exist, says Reid. I was one of a few students at Tuck who were members of a national organization called Students for Responsible Business (now Net Impact), but we were all speaking in an echo chamber and there was no viable career path to follow.

In addition to a rural environment that perfectly suited her love for the outdoors, Reid says the biggest advantage Tuck offered was the exceptional teaching and access to faculty. Former Tuck professor John Vogel was a trusted thought partner on issues related to ethics and nonprofit management and professor Bob Hansen’s course on game theory excited a lifelong interest in behavioral economics.

It continues to fascinate me, and we see it again and again, how humans don’t always behave in the ways we think they should according to classic economic theory, shares Reid. Trying to better understand the ways in which our biases and culture impact economic decision-making is incredibly relevant for any business leader who wants to shift consumer behavior. Without a clear road map to follow, the first phase of Reid’s post-Tuck career was experimental—first spending time as a strategy consultant and later joining a technology startup. The opportunity to refocus on business as a lever for social and environmental impact came when she landed a role at Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Center for Social Innovation.

The position brought Reid back into the academic world where she was able to draw from an array of intellectual resources and learn from some of the early pioneers in social entrepreneurship. She says the experience revealed the power of cross-sector collaboration—bringing together private and public entities and NGOs—to address critical issues like sustainable agriculture, health care, clean energy, education, and biodiversity conservation. It was a connection she made while judging a social impact case competition at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business that eventually led her to Nike’s sustainability team.

Even as the level of interest in sustainability continues to grow exponentially, Reid says there is a lot of work to be done to better understand consumer expectations and behavior on these issues.

Consumers increasingly believe brands should be socially and environmentally responsible, but we’re still seeing consumer behaviors that don’t necessarily match up with those expectations, says Reid. For example, according to McKinsey, the average individual is buying 60 percent more garments today than in the year 2000 and is only keeping them for half as long. Reid adds that only about 15 percent of these textiles are getting reused or recycled.

The stakes are high for businesses and the planet, but she says opportunity abounds for new leaders ready to contribute.

The job search is completely different today and there are so many different directions you can go, says Reid. As an aspiring ethics professor, I could not have predicted I’d be leading Nike’s circular supply chain strategy. My advice is to follow your interests and stay open to where they may take you.

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