When I was a student (some time in the last century – do not ask me when), Timberlands were not necessarily green, but certainly cool boots. I still remember when I bought my first pair of Timberlands. I loved them and I wore them all the time.
For me (and probably my peers) they represented a kind of “urban ruggedness”. The more I wore them, and the more worn they looked, the better it was. Over time we built up a relationship, but I am afraid it did not last (I was still a student and not ready for a long-term relationship yet). I was disappointed by the product. The real experience did not match my expectations. I thought they lasted for life, but they did not. After a couple of years they fell apart and my feet got wet. Maybe my pair were a lemon. Maybe I did not take enough care of them (too little time because of too many parties, I guess). Well, we parted. As far as I remember I inquired about repair, but it was too expensive considering the price for a new pair of shoes (I was not super sustainability conscious then). Anyway, I bought a new brand, which looked similar, and yet different. Coming from the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, “Cat” boots were considered to be even cooler at that time. I still have one black pair of Cat boots and I wear them during the winter time.
Recently, I have read about Timberland again. We also mentioned the medium-sized global apparel company in our last post on the “four Ds” of standards, certifications, and labels. I learnt that Timberland has a long-standing commitment to social and environmental issues. Well, many companies claim that, but Timberland also walks the talk. Back in 1993 Timberland signed a set of environmental ethics, introduced by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), which guide corporate conduct. Since then, Timberland has been taking steps to reduce the impact along the entire life cycle, including agriculture, tannery, transportation, retail stores, customers and communities. The company set up an internal team of people to support and review factories around the world, which make Timberland products. The Timberland representatives review the social and environmental performance against the Code of Conduct to ensure factories promote fair, safe, and non-discriminatory conditions. They build up sustainable relationships with their suppliers to implement good practices and increase productivity in the factories.
In 2006 the company also introduced indicators, which appeared on every box of Timberland footwear, to provide consumers with information about the company’s environmental performance. They called it the “Nutrition Label” (similar to a cereal box in the grocery store), which is something consumers can relate to. According to life cycle analyses (LCA) the three most important environmental impacts include climate impact, chemical use, and resource consumption. Accordingly, Timberland provides consumers with information about the percentages of: renewable energy use, PVC free materials, eco-conscious materials, and recycled contents of the shoebox. In addition to that, Timberland lists the number of trees planted per year. Internally, the product specific indicators help designers to make sustainable decisions (e.g. choosing eco-conscious material). As a result of the sustainable design efforts Timberland launched the “Earthkeepers” collection, which incorporates recycled PET bottles in their linings, recycled rubber in their soles, organic content in apparel, and leather from rated tanneries, which implement good practices in water, waster, and energy management. The relevance of recycling was emphasized in an entertaining way in the following TV ad “Lost Bottle” as part of the global communication campaign:
The company also partnered with Green Rubber Inc. to launch two new footwear collections featuring outsoles made using recycled rubber from discarded tires. Earthkeepers 2.0 pushes the limits further: This new collection is designed for disassembly, so at least 80% of this style's parts can be reused or recycled. The ultimate goal is to make “cradle-to-cradle” products. So far, the Green Index has been successful as a design tool, while driving consumer preferences towards environmental purchasing remains a challenge. There is little evidence that the Green Index has driven sales. In the absence of an independent and certified sustainability label in the footwear industry it is difficult to communicate the environmental and/or social merits of sustainable boots. In addition, these benefits just play an auxiliary role in the purchasing decision making process: “We know that no one’s banging on our door to ask for a cool green shoe”, says Timberland’s CSR manager Beth Holzman, “So we consider our environmental attributes to be a ‘gift with purchase’. It does help to differentiate us in the marketplace, but it’s the fundamental quality and value attributes that attract the consumer.”
Well, I won’t probably bang at the door of company, but I will certainly reconsider my relationship with Timberland. After 15 years or so I decided to give it a second chance: A pair of Timberland boots is on my Christmas wish list!