Open Innovation for Sustainability – A Discussion of the Nike Green Exchange.

Despite its rising popularity, open innovation has received relatively limited attention in the discussion of how to implement ‘green’ innovation, a fact which is of particular relevance within the context of the Rio+20 summit 2012. The GreenXchange (GX), which was launched in 2010 by Nike along with nine other organizations, is an important exception to this trend. The GX is a web-based marketplace for intellectual property (IP), which appears not to have lived up entirely to the original expectations set out at its creation. Other than Nike, only one other company – Best Buy – has agreed to place its IP assets on the GX and the vast majority of the posted IP cannot be used in the creation of commercial products. This paper explores in what ways the GX exemplifies both the usefulness and limitations of open innovation for sustainability and discusses the lessons that can be drawn from the GX experience in terms of the broader thinking on innovation, intellectual property and sustainability. It concludes by proposing ways that can help such initiatives be made to function better.