Posts Tagged ‘Leather Working Group’
Categories: Hikers to Handsewns: Products & Design, Making Our Difference: TBL CSR
When you think about eco-friendly materials, leather probably isn’t topping the list … and as an organization committed to reducing our environmental footprint and serving the needs of our consumers, leather presents a real challenge. We get asked, “why leather?” often enough that we asked the question of our materials and supply chain experts, who had this to share:
Leather is a by-product of the food industry (meaning that cattle are a source of meat, first and foremost – leather is a secondary use). So when we talk about the environmental impact associated with leather, we’re primarily talking about the tanning process (tanning is the process of preserving the leather so that it doesn’t break down over time). Tanning is a necessary but resource-intensive process, and that makes leather the most environmentally-impactful material we use. Using a less durable material could mean less short-term environmental impact, but it could also mean that our products would need to be replaced more often, which poses additional environmental problems.
The durability of our footwear is due in large part to the quality leather we source and at present, there is no acceptable synthetic substitute for that quality leather. We do make some shoes out of non-leather materials and there are high-performance synthetics available, but none currently that mimic the look, feel and durability of genuine leather well enough to satisfy many of our consumers.
Within the leather challenge, we do see opportunity: although no one tanning process is superior overall in reducing the environmental footprint of leather, we work closely with the tanneries we use to encourage sound management and continuous improvement in environmental performance, and several years ago helped to convene a cross-brand, cross-tanner working group (the Leather Working Group) to create a common, streamlined environmental assessment for tanneries for energy use, water quality and reduced waste. The working group rates tanneries as non-compliant, compliant, Bronze, Silver or Gold; 98% of the leather that Timberland currently uses for our footwear (not including apparel and accessories) is from Silver or Gold-rated tanneries.
We believe that by engaging with like-minded companies and helping to influence improvements in the way it is processed, we can help create real, positive change in the leather industry.
The Leather Working Group (LWG) is a multi-stakeholder group which seeks to promote sustainable environmental business practices within the footwear leather industry. As a founding and active member of the LWG, Timberland has participated over the past several years in the Group’s efforts to make tanners better aware of best practices and resources, and to help them improve the environmental impacts of their own operations and products.
When the environmental issue of deforestation in the Amazon came front and center about a year ago, the LWG once again proved invaluable in convening its stakeholders to influence positive change in the leather industry. The LWG environmental stewardship protocol (which many LWG brands use to assess their suppliers) now includes a section on hide traceability … which will ultimately ensure that the origin of the materials with their supply chains is known and traceable all the way back to the plant where the hides originated.
In Earthkeeper-speak, this all means that the LWG takes the issue of deforestation (as we all do) very seriously — seriously enough to include in their assessment protocol the requirement that suppliers must be able to trace the origin of their leather, all the way back to the cow. It may sound simple enough, but in fact this level of traceability is tougher than finding a needle in a haystack … and when you consider that cattle grazing is a primary cause of Amazon deforestation, it’s way more important.
We’re proud of the LWG’s efforts to be a part of an important problem-solving effort — not just for our industry, but for the global environment.
To read the Leather Working Group’s recent press statement regarding hide traceability in Brazil, click here:
Categories: Making Our Difference: TBL CSR, Rantings of Responsible Bootmakers
So when 65,000 new friends introduce themselves to your e-mailbox in a week, endlessly resending a form letter written by Greenpeace accusing your company of being part of the deforestation of the precious ecosystem called the Amazon rainforest, what would you do?
To understand Greenpeace’s assertion that our business practice directly leads to deforestation in the Amazon, you’ve first got to know that it is cattle ranching that is causing the deforestation — ranchers cutting down the forest in order to allow livestock to graze. That livestock is raised primarily for tailgate hotdogs or your mom’s meatloaf recipe — not for leather. Leather is a co-product of beef which accounts for less than 10% of what a farmer gets paid for his cow. The hides that result from raising cattle for food become the raw materials which Timberland’s suppliers turn into leather for our footwear. Further facts — we source about 7% of the leather for our products from Brazil — obviously, a small percentage of our overall need. And finally, in our industry, best practice for diligent brands that focus on the social/civic aspects of their value chain audit and manage processes and materials back to the tannery — but not all the way back to the cattle production process. To accurately assess our role in the issue requires working backward up the supply chain, through the tannery who is our supplier, to another company, the beef processor in Brazil, in order to know where the cows grazed.
Given that we don’t have “trace-ability” in the value chain back to the cow grazing in the field, it would have been infinitely easier, when Greenpeace first brought the issue to our mailbox, to simply stop doing business with our Brazilian supplier. No more leather from Brazil, no more issues with tracing hides which may have come from cows grazing in deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest. We’re only talking about 7% of our production — so cut and run, right?
Tempting, but not the right thing to do. Disengaging would have solved OUR problem — no more headaches or emails from angry activists — but would do nothing to solve the problem of deforestation. Even as we fumed at the way Greenpeace had approached this issue we asked ourselves, what is the responsible thing to do? Do we walk away and let the beef processors sort this out with Greenpeace, or do we risk further ire, by staying in the conversation and engaging the leather tanner and the beef processor to solve the real environmental challenge? What would you choose to do?
We decided to stay engaged. We pressed our Brazilian leather supplier, Bertin, for a plan that would answer the challenge posed — demonstrate that the cattle grazing in the field were not contributing to deforestation. Find a way to ensure trace-ability back into the value chain — now. For a brand with only the leverage of our small percentage of overall Brazilian leather purchases, we tried. And to Bertin’s credit — they have engaged with us to the same end.
Three months later, real progress to report. Bertin has made great strides in its commitment to supporting the deforestation moratorium, including meeting face-to-face with both Timberland and Greenpeace to better understand the problem and discuss proposed improvements. Last month Bertin publicly announced their official Amazon cattle moratorium (meaning they will no longer source cattle from protected areas of the Amazon) and is working aggressively to meet traceability targets to ensure the origin of all the cattle they source is acceptable and not contributing to Amazon deforestation.
Prodded by Greenpeace, and encouraged by Bertin’s willingness to make real change, we have bent our efforts to address the issue of Amazon deforestation on an industry level, working with other members of the Leather Working Group (LWG) – a multi-stakeholder group which seeks to promote sustainable environmental business practices within the footwear leather industry. The LWG recently proposed creating an HWG (Hide Working Group) [I’m not making these acronyms up!] to create an assessment process specific to hide traceability – similar to the process the LWG uses to work with tanneries on environmental issues within the tanneries themselves. Bertin has indicated that they will engage in the HWG, as will other tanneries and many brands, including some of our arch competitors like Nike and Adidas.
It’s easy to provide a neat summary of progress against a complex issue in a few short paragraphs; the work behind the words has been much more challenging, demanding tons of time, effort and resources — from the CEO and a whole group of activists within the company. For its part, Greenpeace has done an outstanding job gathering data, creating a complete and compelling case for the issue, and mobilizing its tens of thousands of supporters to call for action from brands like ours on an issue they care about. Their effort has driven change into the system. We applaud their activism, even as we wish next time—and there will be a next time, in the complex global value chain — they would seek to engage brands like ours before they pull the “let’s confront ‘em” lever.
As for our supplier, Bertin – now one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of animal products – to implement concrete changes in its own policies and processes in such short order is nothing less than impressive. We’re proud to partner with an organization that views environmental responsibility as critically and urgently as we do.
Business can be a force for positive environmental change … collaboration yields more powerful outcomes than the effort of one … learnings reinforced by our experience to date on the Amazon deforestation issue. We’re not closing the book on this topic yet – we’ll continue to monitor progress through regular reports from Bertin and through our work with the LWG and HWG, and we’ll continue to share milestones and challenges with you here on Earthkeepers.
CEO thanks Greenpeace for full frontal email assault? Next thing you know, world leaders will actually come up with a meaningful global agreement at Copenhagen…
President & CEO, Timberland
For more than 20 years, Timberland has been committed to active environmental stewardship, including a long history of combating climate change through partnerships like the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), and taking responsibility for our product supply chain through strong code of conduct and transparency programs. One thing we’ve learned for sure, no matter how good our efforts and intentions, no one company can “go it alone,” and so we are grateful for the work of NGOs such as Greenpeace in exposing problems deep with in the Brazilian leather supply chain. Deforestation in the Amazon Biome, particularly deforestation since July, 2006, by farms that may ultimately provide cattle and hides to our leather supply chain is not in any way acceptable to us.
For more than 20 years, Timberland’s approach to supplier relationships has been one of active, mutual engagement – where we discover opportunities to improve the dignity of workers, to conserve precious natural resources, to create profit and sustainable social change — we have an unflinching commitment to work with our value chain to address failures. We seek sustainable change, not short term gestures. We seek suppliers with a real commitment to action. When we discover failures, we work zealously to address the problem. If we don’t find partners willing to make substantive efforts to change, we change partners. We have lived these principles consistently through time all over the world, and have seen many positive improvements in human rights and environmental practices in our supply chain, over the years.
Our principles apply in the Amazon, and so we are working closely with our suppliers in Brazil, including Bertin, to ensure they have an action plan in place that addresses their commitment to an immediate moratorium on deforestation in the Amazon Biome, and of course refraining from sourcing products from indigenous or protected lands or entities that engage in slave labor. In order to maintain a relationship with Timberland, all current Brazilian leather suppliers must publicly commit to supporting an immediate moratorium on any further cattle expansion into the Amazon by August 15, 2009. Additionally this commitment will include implementation of a traceability policy and monitoring to ensure adherence to these principles and a timeline to phase out of sourcing from farms which have deforested land since July 2006. We will similarly work with all other Brazilian companies that provide leather for Timberland products, including products made by third parties under license from Timberland.
We will also continue our active involvement as a member of the Leather Working Group to address this issue on an industry-wide level as we believe this is the most effective way to bring about meaningful change and policies.
Even with the best of Earthkeeping intentions, you’re bound to hit a few roadblocks. We know this from first-hand experience, as a large company whose business takes us into many corners of the world. Our value chain runs long and deep: a blessing when it comes time to design and produce quality product at a reasonable price in an acceptable timeframe … less of a blessing when it comes to influencing meaningful environmental change.
For more than 20 years, we’ve been committed to active environmental stewardship, including a long history of combating climate change through partnerships like the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), and taking responsibility for our product supply chain through strong code of conduct and transparency programs. One thing we’ve learned for sure, no matter how good our efforts and intentions, no one company can “go it alone,” and so we’re grateful for the work of NGOs such as Greenpeace who recently surfaced an environmental problem deep within the Brazilian leather supply chain. The issue is deforestation in the Amazon Biome – of particular concern to Timberland, as the deforesting is by farms that may ultimately provide cattle and hides to our leather supply chain. This is not in any way acceptable to us.
For more than 20 years, our approach to supplier relationships has been one of active, mutual engagement – where we discover opportunities to improve the dignity of workers, to conserve precious natural resources, to create profit and sustainable social change. We have an unflinching commitment to work with our value chain to address failures and we seek sustainable change, not short terms gestures, from suppliers with a real commitment to action. When we discover failures – and we do — we work zealously to address the problem. If we don’t find partners willing to make substantive efforts to change, we change partners. We’ve lived these principles consistently through time all over the world, and as a result have seen many positive improvements in human rights and environmental practices in our supply chain.
Our principles apply in the Amazon as they do everywhere else in the world. We’re working closely with our supplier in Brazil to ensure they have an action plan in place that addresses their commitment to an immediate moratorium on deforestation in the Amazon Biome, and of course refraining from sourcing products from indigenous or protected lands or entities that engage in slave labor. This will include implementation of a traceability policy and monitoring to ensure adherence to these principles. We’ll work similarly with all other Brazilian companies that provide leather for our products, including those made by third parties under license from Timberland.
In the spirit of not going it alone, we will also continue our active involvement as a member of the Leather Working Group to address this issue on an industry-wide level – constructive collaboration that we believe is the most effective way to bring about meaningful change and policies.
Roadblocks aren’t all bad, if they cause you to reaffirm your principles and more tightly focus your efforts. More than ever, we believe in this thing we call Earthkeeping … and we’ll keep looking for opportunities and innovations that help us to do it better.