Design Challenge: Making Green Matter

Timberland design director Pete Lankford wrote a blog post this week for Ecouterre, a website devoted to the future of sustainable fashion design.  In it, Pete discusses the importance of end-of-life considerations and why they matter … in fashion design, and with consumers.

Below is an excerpt from Pete’s blog post; to read the post in its entirety, please visit our friends at

Our way of life today is defined by an incredible abundance of “stuff” that we buy, use, and toss out. Ironically, we now have a very different and an entirely new set of reasons to be frugal with the world’s resources: climate change and resource degradation.

To borrow the title from Thomas Friedman’s book on green issues, the world of today is increasingly hot, flat, and crowded. In a sense, you could say we solved the Depression era of scarcity too well. By this I mean that we’ve figured out how to make goods cheap, abundant, and durable but to such a degree that we consume too much and in the process create incredible quantities of trash.

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I work as both a creative director and practicing designer at the Timberland Company and head up our green design efforts showcased via the Earthkeeper collection. Effective design has never been more challenging. We live in a world that is incredibly interlinked, complex, and dynamic—where relationships are forming and dissolving constantly. Designers have a difficult time keeping up, much less being effective. This is especially true of green design where each choice (alone and as part of a whole) affects the outcome.

Several years ago, Timberland decided to launch an ecologically minded or green line of footwear. Like most companies engaged in creating greener products we began quite naturally by focusing hard on the variables we could reduce or remove: boosting recycled content in base materials, sourcing regionally, and choosing reduced-energy manufacture processes. In short, we pursued a strategy of reduced carbon footprint; making incremental improvements by creating less waste and making more efficient use of materials at hand.

But a strategy of incremental improvement is not necessarily a powerful and resonant message with consumers. Touting 39 percent recycled content over last season’s 34 percent may be a hard-won and worthwhile step and yet, quite reasonably, will not hold the public’s attention.

Why should this matter? In the end, if I don’t persuade you to pick my shoe over the competition’s less-green offering, then all my company’s green efforts don’t mean a thing—all potential, no realization. My point here is that effective design communicates to users clearly and powerfully in a simple—and therefore understandable—manner. If you don’t, you lose at point of sale.

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