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Innovating Responsibly
Making quality boots and shoes is our business. Unfortunately, our business is not without its impacts . That’s why we focus on ways to create our products with processes and materials that cause less harm to the environment.

 

 

 

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Ever walk down the supermarket aisle and wonder how many soda and water bottles would end up in a landfill? If so, we invite you to walk down an aisle filled with Timberland® footwear. In 2012, millions of used plastic bottles made their way into our shoes and boots.

With sustainability at the core of Timberland’s culture, we’re dedicated to developing products and materials that have reduced environmental impact. Our product line that best represents these values in action is the Earthkeepers® collection, introduced in 2007.

“The idea is to put the most environmentally responsible materials possible into our products,” says Emily Alati, director of materials development for Timberland. “We created more and more material options to substitute for virgin raw materials where possible to meet this goal.”

One of those materials is recycled polyethylene terephthalate—commonly called PET—the plastic used to make water and soda bottles. Today it’s used in Timberland® products for everything from linings, laces, uppers and insulation, to faux shearling and even the backing of faux fur.

Incorporating recycled PET into footwear design has not been as easy as simply swapping it in for another material. According to Alati, “If you’re going to incorporate an environmental approach, you have to design the product from the ground up. We must ensure that all products meet our style and performance standards—and keep an eye on cost.”

Timberland puts as much recycled content as possible into product design and works to ensure these choices are cost effective. We’ve even developed guidelines, under which every material that goes into our products must meet certain criteria. “Whether it’s a textile, leather, foam, or plastic that goes into the product, we research it extensively to make sure it’s the best available option,” Alati explains. Timberland® products use many different materials that incorporate recycled PET, including SmartWool® faux shearling (made from merino wool and recycled PET), Polartec® fabric, and Bionic® canvas.

Timberland has even developed its own material. Our exclusive ReCanvas fabric, a material with the look and feel of cotton canvas that’s made from 100% recycled PET. To create ReCanvas fabric, Timberland partnered with one of its global suppliers—a weaving facility that specializes in innovative fabrics.

Alati says that Timberland has saved more than 75 million bottles from landfill by incorporating recycled PET materials into its footwear products. From an environmental standpoint, our commitment to using environmentally responsible materials has helped Timberland use fewer virgin materials while also decreasing our carbon footprint. Plans are in the works to measure how much CO2 the brand has saved from going into the Earth’s atmosphere as a result. From a business standpoint, there’s a bottom-line benefit, as well. “We’ve figured out a way to make a dramatically more eco-conscious product while still running our business successfully,” says Alati.

The Earthkeepers® collection is now Timberland’s fastest growing and largest product line—demonstrating that consumers care deeply about eco-conscious products. “Our recycled materials look, feel and perform exactly like brand-new, virgin material,” Alati says. “Consumers don’t have to give up anything to know they’re helping make a difference to the environment.”

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Timberland Joins Other Brands to Develop Footwear Index

It used to be that grading the environmental impacts of apparel and footwear products and their manufacturing processes was like judging an Olympic event where one competitor was pole vaulting, another was diving, and a third was performing a floor exercise in gymnastics. There simply was no standard for evaluating one against the other.

In 2007, Timberland joined forces with REI to launch a group within the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) that was then called the Eco Working Group. The group set out to find a common way to measure the performance of outdoor industry products. The impetus for the project was the “nutrition label” concept that Timberland had introduced the preceding year. According to Betsy Blaisdell, Timberland’s senior manager of environmental stewardship, “REI and others thought, ‘That’s a really cool idea. What if we came up with something similar so that consumers could make more informed purchasing decisions?’”

What started as a small group of leading outdoor brands turned into an industry-wide effort involving nearly 200 brands and their suppliers. The initiative got so much momentum that other industry sectors—like the apparel industry—took notice and organized to adopt the tool. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is the largest collaboration of the world’s leading apparel brands and retailers working together on a more comprehensive, industry-wide scale. In addition to leveraging the OIA’s work, they have incorporated data from Nike to make a tool specific to the entire apparel industry.

The result is an Excel-based tool that asks “literally hundreds of questions,” according to Blaisdell. The scores are then broken down into three areas: a brand-level score, which measures how the brand is managing its environmental footprint from a policy standpoint; a facility-level score, which measures the impacts of suppliers’ manufacturing processes; and a product-level score, which allows one product to be rated against another in terms of its environmental footprint. “We’re in the process of adding social-related questions,” Blaisdell says.

The SAC voted to approve this new index in June 2012 renamed the Higg Index. The SAC’s index is intended to measure—and even inspire—a similar fundamental shift in product design and manufacturing. Brands and their supply chains began piloting the Higg Index this past summer.

While the SAC’s work was underway, Timberland and other major footwear brands like Adidas and Nike formed a separate group within the SAC to develop an index specific to footwear. “It’s a very collaborative effort,” Blaisdell reports. In addition to experts within these footwear brands, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and academia are also involved to create the most informed and in-depth tool possible.

Timberland hopes that the culmination of this work will be an index that allows brands to work with retailers and suppliers to make decisions that are informed by environmental and social impacts. Working collaboratively with suppliers—and ideally one day with consumers—will empower all of us to make better choices that have a positive impact for our planet.

The Higg Index is now live but will only be internal facing for the next several years. The Footwear Index will be available in the summer of 2013.

Because Timberland remains committed to transparency, we will continue to use the Green Index® rating to provide consumers with environmental performance data for footwear until the consumer-facing industry standard is achieved. Based on her work with the SAC and OIA, Blaisdell is optimistic that collaborating brands in the SAC and OIA efforts may reach an agreement on communicating the impacts of these tools to consumers in the next few years.

After all, developing a tool that lets consumers evaluate products on an apples-to-apples basis is the ultimate goal. And for that, industry-wide cooperation is essential. As Blaisdell puts it, “No one brand can really move the needle on its own. It’s through collaborative efforts like these that we can see improvements in the environmental performance of our supply chain.”

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Simplicity Itself: Timberland’s New Line of Earthkeepers® Footwear
Suppose you were to create the most environmentally sensitive shoe Timberland had ever made. You’d want the finished product to be high quality, crafted from eco-conscious materials and manufactured with as little energy as possible, right? That’s exactly the idea behind the Earthkeepers® Hookset Handcrafted collection, which Timberland introduced this spring.

Our Earthkeepers® line is grounded in a philosophy of reducing our impact on the planet while making premium gear. To do that, we strive to incorporate organic and recycled materials into the design, seek to minimize environmental impacts in our manufacturing processes, and offer transparency in the form of our Green Index® rating, which lets you compare the impact of one pair of Timberland® footwear to another.

So, when Pete Lankford, Design Director for Earthkeepers and Timberland Boot Company, began thinking about a new Earthkeepers® collection, he wanted to create something that would exemplify the philosophy.

Four materials, expertly combined

“The Hookset Handcrafted collection is all about simplicity,” Lankford says. “We started with the question: ‘If we could only work with four materials, what would those be?’ We knew the materials would have to be things people were familiar with—things that they trusted. But we also knew they had to be attractive and durable.”

The four materials the team chose are:

  • Organic cotton
  • Natural rubber
  • Aluminum
  • Leather pieces

Lankford notes that all of these materials are eco-conscious. Latex rubber, for example, is sourced right from the living tree, and organic cotton is grown without toxic fertilizers or pesticides. Even the leather represents clever repurposing: some of the leather details in the Hookset Handcrafted collection were sourced right from the cutting room floor—and all leather in the collection is LWG silver-rated. In fact, the footwear has proven so popular that the factory ran out of leather scraps and used non-scrap LWG silver-rated leather to fulfill some of the orders.

The Earthkeepers® Hookset collection is made by hand and dyed individually, honoring Timberland’s proud tradition of handcrafted footwear. Because the collection is handmade and requires less machinery to make, it’s cost-effective to produce. Additionally, using fewer materials and making shoes by hand reduces its environmental impact, allowing the collection to achieve an average score of 3.5 out of 10 on Timberland’s Green Index® scoring system—the lowest score in the history of the company.

“When we set out to create the Earthkeepers® collection, our goal was to produce footwear that’s every bit as premium as everything else we make, and made with less impact to the planet,” says Lankford. “The Hookset Handcrafted collection marks a major milestone—proving that quality, durability and craftsmanship can coexist with eco-sensitivity and create a remarkable shoe.”

Hear from Pete Lankford directly and learn more about the collection here.

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