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You may not know this, but Timberland has quite a reputation as a sustainable company.
Yeah, I know. I had read here and there over the years about the outdoor footwear and apparel company’s commitment to manufacturing its products responsibly, but they don’t advertise this fact often, so it’s easy to forget!
I’m thinking I should talk to you more about their efforts, because according to Timberland’s consumer survey earlier this year, nearly four out of five consumers wish brands would offer more eco-conscious styles, and about the same number wish brands and retailers would tell them more about what they are doing to create sustainable fashion.
The survey also showed that more than half (55%) of consumers say they don’t understand what eco-conscious means when it comes to clothing, shoes and accessories.
My job, as your sustainable fashion writer, is to remedy that.
What a Sustainable Big Brand Looks Like
Timberland has always focused above all on creating super high quality products that will last a long time in your wardrobe. This is not fast fashion, for sure. But in 2016, Timberland announced some bold sustainability goals for 2020, and they’ve been tracking their progress toward those goals over the past two years. These initiatives apply to everything, not just a capsule collection, which is impressive.
They’re hoping to:
1. Produce 100% of their footwear with at least one component containing recycled, organic, or renewable (ROR) content. That used to include itty bitty components such as webbings, trims, and labels. But last year, in a move to meaningfully increase their use of ROR materials, they decided that in order for it to count, it has to be a major component. That new policy dropped the reported number down to 67% of all footwear shipped in 2017. But it seems to have worked to improve their materials, because their use of recycled PET increased by the equivalent of 3 million plastic bottles, to a total of 40 million plastic water bottles used last year.
2. Sustainably source 100% of their cotton for their apparel from U.S.-origin, certified organic, recycled or Fairtrade or sourced as certified-Better Cotton through Better Cotton Initiative, all of which use less water and fewer insecticides than conventional cotton grown outside the U.S. The Better Cotton Initiative is a fashion industry push to teach farmers in developing countries like India more sustainable methods of cotton farming that use less pesticides and water. It’s not certified organic, but it’s made a huge difference in the past few years, and it’s easier to come by than organic cotton which makes up less than half of a percent of the global supply of cotton. As of the end of 2017, Timberland had reached 81% of its total cotton sourcing for apparel being more sustainable than conventional.
3. Source 100% of leather footwear, apparel, and accessories from LWG Silver or Gold-rated tanneries. They’re now at 93.1% for all apparel, and 99% for footwear. I was curious about what this means, so I researched the Leather Working Group. In essence, this group was formed by brands to audit and rate tanneries on their environmental performance: how they handle their waste, where they get their energy from, and their emissions. For example, there’s only one rated leather tannery in Bangladesh, even though there are over 200 tanneries in the notoriously toxic leather tanning district of Dhaka. (And Timberland doesn’t source any leather from Bangladesh.) But there are plenty of rated tanneries in the U.S. and Italy, and many other countries with stronger environmental regulations. Timberland sources from these best-in-class facilities.
4. Have 100% PVC- and PFC-free footwear and apparel. In 2017, 3% of all Timberland footwear shipped contained PVC. According to Timberland, there are stringent performance expectations in certain styles that PVC-free alternatives currently can’t meet. (The oils that are naturally present on leather interfere with the efficacy of water-based adhesives.) The same challenge arises when it comes to PFC (per-fluorinated compounds), which are potentially hazardous to humans – at the factory as well as to the consumer. In 2017, 91% of their waterproofing was PFC-free, but they’re held back by performance issues of the alternatives. However, they have been able to reduce the amount used in their shoes through programs like employee training, better containment of VOC adhesives to prevent evaporation, upgrading VOC application equipment, more targeted application, and increased material pre-treatment processes to minimize the VOC adhesives needed. (Why yes, sustainability is complicated. Why do you ask?)
5. 100% recycled material packaging. The area where Timberland has achieved their goal already? Packaging. All their packaging is made from recycled materials and water-based inks and has been for years.
Ask any expert, and they’ll tell you the best thing you can do for fashion sustainability is buy less and buy better. And Timberland products have an impeccable reputation for quality and long-lasting wear. Their sustainability initiatives are a fantastic cherry on top of being a trustworthy company that inspires loyalty from professionals, outdoor enthusiasts, and fashion consumers alike.
Tell me in the comments: Do you own a pair of Timberland boots? What do you think?