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Timberland Anticipates Products Becoming ‘Net Positive’ by 2030

Timberland Anticipates Products Becoming ‘Net Positive’ by 2030
(Photo: Conventional cattle ranching (left) compared to regenerative cattle ranching (right). Credit: Savory Institute)

Timberland set new 2030 environmental goals today. The global outdoor lifestyle brand wants all of their products to have a “net positive” effect on nature, giving back more than they take.

Within 10 years, the VF Corporation brand’s specific, measurable goals are: 100% of products across footwear, apparel, and accessories designed for circularity, and 100% of natural materials sourced from regenerative agriculture.

Designing for product circularity ensures that nothing goes to waste, creating a closed loop, the brand says. Regenerative agriculture practices mimic nature, which means animals are allowed to graze in natural patterns, the land gets a chance to heal, and a variety of crops replicate diversity found in nature, according to Timberland.

Zack Angelini, the manager of environmental stewardship at Timberland, discusses why the brand set these goals and their strategy for achieving them.

What prompted Timberland’s new goals?

The environment today is in a severely degraded state — 75% of Earth’s land areas are degraded, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

The goal of sustainability has been to minimize the negative impacts of product creation, with the ultimate goal of having zero impact (being neutral). We have the opportunity and responsibility to go beyond neutrality, and work to improve and regenerate the environments that we source from. It’s the idea that nothing should be created unless it actually makes the world better in a measurable way. We’re motivated to leave the Earth in a state that is more alive, abundant, and resilient than it is today.

What are the business advantages of designing for circularity and sourcing from regenerative agriculture?

Circularity, in its ideal state, can be much more efficient than the linear “take, make, waste” economy. As with anything, new innovations often present challenges and higher costs at the start. However, we see those challenges as opportunities and the higher costs as investments in the future. As we grow our circular innovations and hit efficiencies of scale, we believe that a circular model will not only be better for the Earth, but better for business as well.

Regenerative agriculture can heal the land and pull carbon from the atmosphere, actually help improve crop yields of farmers, increase farmer resilience to droughts and heavy rain, and potentially help attract younger generations into the field. This leads to a more healthy, productive, and resilient supply base for our top volume natural materials.

We also have extensive research indicating that consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment and their personal consumption choices. This is being driven largely by increased awareness of issues like climate change.

How do you plan to achieve the new goals?

We are actively working on regenerative and circular projects within all of our top volume material categories. For regenerative, this includes regenerative cattle ranching projects in the US and Australia, regenerative cotton projects in India and Haiti, a regenerative natural rubber project in Thailand, and a regenerative sugarcane project in Brazil.

For circularity, this includes recycled leather, cotton, rubber, and polyester in addition to early-stage “design for disassembly” projects, which will enable the materials in our products to be efficiently recycled again at the end of their useful lives.

All of these projects are currently in the pilot stage. We start with small-scale pilots to test and learn, then take those learnings and use them to expand the programs over time.

How will you measure progress against the 2030 targets?

Timberland and our parent company VF Corporation are actively involved in cross-industry work to develop guidelines for measuring the carbon benefits associated with regenerative agriculture. This will enable Timberland and other brands to better measure and report on our progress toward climate positivity. We will also be exploring opportunities to further develop measurement strategies for other categories like biodiversity and water.

When it comes to circularity, we are working with industry consultants to develop and pilot protocols to measure the life cycle environmental impacts of various circular solutions. We are setting internal milestones for circular and regenerative, and will determine a regular cadence of reporting progress. It is important to share our successes and challenges transparently to motivate the industry and spark the collaboration necessary to amplify our impact.

Any advice for fellow apparel industry leaders?

In order to significantly address the environmental challenges we face as an industry, collaboration with other leaders is critical.

Organizations like the Textile Exchange, the Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corps, Savory Institute, At the Epicenter, and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition serve as hubs for collaboration, facilitating the process of companies coming together to solve sustainability challenges in a cohesive way.

Is covid-19 affecting Timberland’s sustainability strategy?

Our 2030 goals were in the works long before the pandemic started. As we were in the final stages of setting our goals when the pandemic began, it only highlighted the urgency.

Significant research has drawn the connection between environmental degradation and global pandemics. On top of that, we know that climate change presents an even greater threat to society. Companies can be part of the solution rather than just contributing less to the problem.

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