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Why Timberland Is the First Winner of FN’s Sustainability Leadership Award

On Dec. 8, Timberland will be honored with the Sustainability Leadership Award at the first virtual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 7 print issue about its innovative plan to benefit the planet.

While many companies this year were forced to cancel their plans amid the global health crisis, Timberland used the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink its environmental mission.

“There have been challenges, but in terms of sustainability, what it caused us to do was take a pause, re-evaluate and make sure that we were focused on how to make the most impact not only on the planet, but also on people,” Timberland sustainability director Colleen Vien told FN. “We haven’t stopped. If anything, we’ve accelerated. We see the imperative to move faster and bolder to make significant change.”

In September, the brand, owned by VF Corp., announced new goals for its sustainability strategy, pledging that all its products will have a “net positive impact” on nature by 2030. As part of the initiative, the brand committed to ensuring that 100% of its natural materials will come from regenerative farms, and its shoes and apparel will be designed to be recyclable.

Meanwhile, Timberland continues to give back to nature with its tree-planting campaign: It has planted more than 10 million trees and vowed to plant 50 million more by 2025.

Tracy Smith, VP and GM of Timberland North America, told FN: “A greener future is a better future … and we all have a role to play in making that a reality.”

Timberland Store London Carnaby Street
Inside Timberland’s London store on Carnaby Street.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Timberland

Brand leaders noted that this commitment is ingrained in every aspect of the organization. “It comes from the top, but that is not enough,” said Vien. “Sustainability has to be a priority across the entire business. One way we’ve gone about making sure that happens is that the sustainability team reports into strategy — therefore, there is direct visibility. It elevates it from being a nice to-do, to being a business imperative.”

Vien noted that Timberland’s efforts to improve its materials process could have a significant impact on the industry.

“The reality is that 90% of our product comes from the raw material extraction process. And 90% of our leather products are an end result of how leather is manufactured, produced and how cattle is grown. If we can solve for that 90%, that gives us a leg up in overcoming some of the negatives. If we can have a positive tip with how we’re sourcing, it tips the whole scale,” Vien continued.

A major element of its strategy is to focus on circular design, a process that follows a reuse-and-recycle loop. It means that Timberland’s boots can be disassembled and any waste accumulated will be recyclable.

“Circular design is a path forward to get a net zero impact, but it’s [also] the sourcing of our natural materials — leather, rubber and cotton,” said Vien. “If we can source them all from regenerative agriculture sources, science is showing that regenerative agriculture is actually a climate drawdown. It can draw carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the earth and can reverse climate change.”

Timberland Earthkeepers Original Leather 6-Inch Boot
Timberland Earthkeepers Original Leather 6-Inch Boot.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Timberland

When calculating the impact of such actions on sales, Timberland doesn’t look at it as an “either-or” situation.

“We’ve proved that sustainability can be trendy with our first Earthkeeper boot back in 2007,” Vien said. “[We found] there was a magic formula between the feel, style, performance and pride in what you’ve chosen to buy. That’s the lens that we design all of our products through. It’s style, performance and green. You can’t have one without the other to be successful.”

And Smith emphasized that in today’s culture of inclusivity, Timberland’s ethos transcends all ages, genders and races. “The outdoors is for everyone; nature is universal,” he said. “Timberland is an inclusive brand, and we will continue to celebrate diversity across our organization. Our products are designed to get people outdoors — in the mountains, in the city and everywhere in between.”

For 34 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards ­— often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The first virtual FNAAs will air online on Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. ET and are presented in partnership with The Style Room Powered by Zappos, and sponsors FDRA, Deckers Brands, Soles4Souls and Foot Locker.

RSVP here for the biggest night in shoes! 

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