NEW YORK: Brand owners like Nike, Starbucks and SABMiller are taking an increasingly collaborative approach as they pursue eco-friendly innovation.

Sportswear giant Nike recently unveiled an Environmental Apparel Design Tool, with this software showing how well prospective products perform in terms of reducing waste and sustainable material use.

Based on a $6m investment and seven years of development, this system has been made accessible to external companies in a bid to foster universal standards.

"Over the past four years it has proved to be invaluable at Nike and has helped us create products with a higher sustainability standard," Hannah Jones, Nike's vp, sustainable business and innovation, said in a statement.

"By releasing the tool we want others to improve on it and we hope to … encourage widespread industry adoption of sustainable design practices and have more sustainable products available for the consumer."

This platform was employed in making Nike's football shirts for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and the organisation plans to roll out a footwear equivalent, alongside material and water assessment tools, in 2011.

"As a company committed to developing a sustainable business, we welcome this type of industry collaboration," said Mike Barry, head of sustainability at retailer Marks & Spencer.

"The Nike tool will help apparel companies and retailers design more sustainable product. We firmly believe that sharing knowledge like this helps us all move towards a more sustainable future faster."

Elsewhere, coffee house chain Starbucks has established the aim of ensuring every cup can be reused or recycled by 2015.

Having already incorporated office paper in its cups since 2006, Starbucks hopes to take a major step further following a successful six-week trial.

"This innovation represents an important milestone in our journey," said Jim Hanna, Starbucks' director of environmental impact.

"We still have a lot of work to do to reach our 2015 goal, but we're now in a much stronger position to build momentum across the recycling industry."

Currently, 86 branches in Manhattan are monitoring whether old receptacles can be made into paper towels and bath tissue, while an initiative in Chicago will test if they could be transformed into napkins.

Starbucks has allied with Mississippi River and International Paper to achieve these objectives.

"What's really exciting about the 'cup-to-cup' concept is that it has the potential to benefit not only Starbucks, but the entire food service industry," Greg Wanta, International Paper's vp, food service.

Elsewhere, SABMiller and Innovia Technology joined forces to predict what the brewing market could look like in three decades.

The worst case scenario was "marginal survival", offering restricted access to water, surging energy costs and frequent migrations of people, with one possible response being a mobile brewery carried on a ship.

"The descriptions are intended as food for thought rather than as blueprints for building new facilities," said Rob Wilkinson, director of Innovia. "However, the example of the brewery on a ship is entirely feasible."

Under the "energy deprived" option, water was readily available but energy costs were high, so SABMiller may use its plants as community hubs, sharing resources with farmers.

The introduction of a "continuous brewing system" might overcome water scarcity and low energy prices, while the "plentiful supply" schema made reducing emissions, and similar strategies, the priority.

"Whilst this research has produced some imaginative solutions, the business case behind the thinking is very serious," said Maurice Egan, SABMiller's group head of manufacturing.

"We need to ensure that, given the rapid pace of technological developments, the impacts of climate change and growing wealth in developing economies, SABMiller has the capability to define, design and deploy our future breweries and supply chains."

Data sourced from Nike, Starbucks, SABMiller; additional content by Warc staff