Timberland is a globally renowned retailer of outdoors wear inspired by the unique culture and rich heritage of New England. They are a brand marketed towards any consumer that enjoys the outdoor lifestyle, whether that be hiking trails or city streets, you can be sure to find something that suits you.
They have over 300 suppliers in more than 30 different countries around the world, however, Timberland has always had a strong commitment to innovate and provide in a responsible manner, no matter where their products are made.
In our exclusive interview with Collen Vien, Director of Sustainability at Timberland, she can guarantee that everything they make from apparel design to new store openings, is founded upon giving back to the community in a strive to be quality Earthkeepers, from establishing rigorous environmental standards throughout the entire product life cycle to taking part in worldwide volunteer projects to celebrate Earth Day.
What does being ethical mean to you?
What does being ethical mean to you?
Colleen Vien: Being ethical means applying standards of behavior to the way we live our lives – the specific values, standards, rules, and agreements people adopt for conducting their lives. It means being equitable, fair, and dealing with people that conforms to self-imposed high standards of public conduct.
What do you believe to be the biggest issue within the ethical industry today that needs the most addressing?
Colleen Vien: Transparency and accountability. Too often in life, and in business, there are those who choose to be selective with their obligation to be transparent about their behaviors, divulging only what is necessary or that which paints the image that they are seeking to portray. This can be partially linked to there being a lack of accountability for many social standards or room for interpretation – ethics self-defined versus legally mandated. Unlike beauty, values are self-imposed rather than defined by the eye [mind] of the beholder. Only those brave enough to be publicly prescriptive of the ethical standards they impose of themselves will be the ones truly transparent and accountable.
Was Timberland born out of an Eco focus or did it have to evolve to become more ethical? Was this a challenging adjustment? How did the brand overcome these obstacles?
Colleen Vien: Timberland has a long heritage of environmental stewardship, responsible sourcing and social justice. Timberland’s past and future are fueled by a desire to innovate and operate in an accountable, responsible and sustainable manner. That holistic approach touches everything we do – grounded in a simple premise: to make things better. A guaranteed waterproof boot born in 1973 led to a brand belief that with passion, hard work and determination not only would our boots be better, but the lives and communities around the globe that we do business in could be better too. For Timberland, social justice predates environmental consciousness. Our employee volunteerism program and our supplier code of conduct both launched in the early nineties. Developing our Earthkeepers products and releasing public goals for reducing our GHG emissions were shaped nearly a decade later.
In terms of challenges, we learned firsthand the power that scale can have in driving an ethos of eco-conscious products. In 2007, when we launched our first Earthkeepers boot, it was challenging to locate eco-conscious materials at a price point that met our business needs. However, with passion, hard work and determination the EarthkeeperTM boot hit the market and consumers responded quite positively. With the success of that boot, the economies of scale began to balance allowing those same materials to be procured in large volume across multiple product lines and categories. Today, that ethos of designing and manufacturing more eco-conscious products is no longer tied to a single product line, but pervades all of our products.
In terms of innovation, how have you incorporated ethical procedures into the Timberland business? Have you ever sacrificed sustainability over profitably to remain a competitor?
Colleen Vien: Sustainability strategies are built directly into our business strategies. Our materials designers, developers and sourcing teams have sustainability and responsibility criteria, guardrails and goals. Community service strategies are part of our talent retention and attraction, leadership development, and business account management strategies. Our marketing, consumer insights, and corporate communication strategies include goals related to values messaging. All of these cascade down throughout the organization and back up to the highest level for annual performance reviews.
I can say with confidence that Timberland has not had to sacrifice sustainability over profitability in that we have not and would not allow profits to be more important than making an ethical decision. However, as mentioned before, we do need to be cost-conscious in making decisions to go above and beyond.
At what moment did you realize/feel like Timberland was really making an impact? Do you feel like the brand’s implementations to go ethical are making a difference?
Colleen Vien: It became very evident, very quickly, when I walked in the door in 2005 that Timberland was the real deal, truly “walking the walk.” At the very top and throughout the organization the DNA of doing well and doing good showed up strong. Forty hours of annual paid time for community service was one evidence of that, but for me the strongest realization was how they interacted with their global supply chain in a much more proactive way going beyond basic compliance audits and investing in a dedicated team to help factories make improvements, implement management systems, and invest in worker wellbeing not just within the factory walls but within their communities as well. It spoke volumes to me that this is a brand that thinks beyond risk mitigation and really cares about making a difference.
What are you future targets in terms of ethical responsibility? How are you moving forward with your objective to remain “sustainable”?
Colleen Vien: Last year, we announced our newly established 2020 targets against our core CSR pillars – products, outdoors, and community. We maintain a strong commitment to prior long-standing targets such as 100% leather from tanneries rated Silver or Gold from the Leather Working Group or to be 100% PVC free in our footwear; we’ve pushed targets higher for metrics such as community service hours and millions of trees being planted; and we’ve added some new targets such as having PFC-free DWR in our products and sourcing 100% of our cotton from more sustainable sources. You can get a full view of our 2020 targets at https://www.timberland.com/responsibility.html.