Posts Tagged ‘Outdoor Industry Association’

Measuring What Matters and the Higg Index

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an article about the newly-launched Higg Index, which will allow brands, factories and chemical manufacturers to score the relative sustainability of their products. Eventually, the intent is to also make that information available to consumers to better inform their purchasing decisions — much in the same way you can compare nutrition labels to make smart choices at the grocery store.

The Higg Index was developed by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) in partnership with the Outdoor Industry Association Sustainability Working Group (OIA SWG).  Timberland is proud to have been a founder, and to continue to play a leadership role, in both of these groups. In fact, the Higg Index was inspired in part by our Green Index® rating system, which “scores” Timberland products based on their environmental impacts.

The launch of the Higg Index is important news, and a sign that we’re moving in the right direction of increased transparency and sustainability in the footwear and apparel industry.  We look forward to working with the other members of the SAC and OIA SWG as the tool develops.

Progress marches on!

Apparel Competitors Unite

These days, there are countless apparel manufacturers and labels out there that make their own unique eco-conscious claims. Problem is, nobody’s really on the same page on what truly constitutes an environmentally-friendly product. So what’s a consumer to believe? How can they make informed purchasing decisions when every company uses a different scorecard?

The answer is collaboration. Toward this end, an industry-wide group of leading brands, retailers, manufacturers, non-profits, academic experts and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came together to create the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) . The SAC is working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products around the world by developing common measurements and a common environmental understanding of products’ impacts across our industry.

To accomplish this, the SAC built on the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) ’s Eco Index™, a standardized tool for measuring the environmental impacts of outdoor products (things like boots, clothing, tents, and more). The Eco Index™ evaluates impacts in six key areas of a product’s lifecycle: Materials, Packaging, Product Manufacturing and Assembly, Transport and Distribution, Use of Service and End of Life.

The SAC adapted the Eco Index™ for apparel in an effort to give brands like Timberland more control over reducing environmental impacts right from the outset, rather than relying on factories. Factories, too, will benefit from the Index, by having only one standard of measurement to respond to, rather than a different set of standards for each and every brand. In this way, suppliers will be able to focus more on solutions, rather than audits and testing.

The SAC’s adapted Eco Index™ is now being pilot tested in factories.  The ultimate goal is to develop a tool that can be used by brands and factories to improve the environmental sustainability of their industry, and by consumers to make more informed decisions about the products they buy.

To learn more about the ways in which Timberland is working to create its products with processes and materials that cause less harm to the environment, please visit the Responsibility section of our website.

From Awkward Collaboration, Transformative Change

I believe that the current paradigm of problem solving in the civic square is inadequate; what results from the uncoordinated efforts of well intended “players” in the world around us stares us in the face and indicts us for our limited imaginations. As a small company with big dreams, we have known from the get go that only by collaborating—with NGOs, with activists, with critics, with governments, and even with competitors—only through an engaged stakeholder network will we leverage real and sustainable change.  Building this paradigm, of awkward collaboration, is incredibly frustrating and potentially transformative.

Case in point: last summer, as part of our on-going, quarterly stakeholder engagement process, we hosted a stakeholder discussion (The Need for Product Comparability) regarding the role of environmental labeling on products in the outdoor industry.  We hosted critics, activists, thought leaders, and practitioners.  I co-hosted the call with a passionate outdoor retailer, a sustainable leader in retailing — MEC CEO David Labistour.  In the process of engaging stakeholders, we confronted real, vexing questions — as for instance, whether our industry should put an environmental label on all products starting yesterday, or whether we should focus more of our industry efforts on perfecting standards and measures and methodologies.  And underlying the discussion were months, literally months, of head-breaking conversations and negotiations within the Outdoor Industry Association, all aimed at developing and implementing an industry-wide label and metrics—the OIA Eco Index.  For an entrepreneur, for a person of principle—all this process, all this negotiating with stakeholders, all this consensus building is back breaking and worse—but as a small company with big dreams, we know that only through this paradigm of awkward collaboration are we going to make sustainable change.  The OIA will get its Eco Index built and implemented—in part because un-natural collaborators (arch competitors like Timberland and Nike and Patagonia, or customer/suppliers like Timberland and MEC) are doing the awkward work of real collaboration.

Establishing meaningful dialogue in order to change the old problem-solving paradigm can be awkward in its own right.  Out of a passionate blog post I wrote grew a real conversation with a principled competitor — Jochen Zeitz, the Chief Sustainability Officer of PPR.  Credit to Mr. Zeitz for reaching out and establishing a conversation, which discovered a shared urgency around the need for deliberate collaboration in an industry that can be fiercely insular. In the last 10 years, we have spent time with our competitors and with our suppliers and with our customers—awkward collaborations, most of those– to share information, dig deep, and see what we can learn from each other. In every instance I’ve come away learning something, better for the process.

And now, I’m set to do it again. Thank you, Mr. Zeitz, for taking the time to call – I look forward to meeting in Germany, and beginning in earnest the awkward dance of collaboration that drives sustainable change.

Competitors Collaborating for Industry Change

Several years ago our CEO Jeff Swartz, inspired by nutrition labels on food packaging, suggested we come up with a label for telling our consumers the environmental good and bad associated with our product.  Thus grew the Green Index, which is our rating for the environmental impacts associated with our footwear.  What started as a small manual initiative has expanded to the point where, in the near future, we’ll be able to score all our shoes automatically.  This is a great accomplishment that will help us make better, more environmentally minded decisions about our product.

While we were making these strides internally, REI (the largest outdoor retailer in the US) took notice.  In 2006, their corporate executives met individually with the major brands at the Outdoor Retailer tradeshow to share our Green Index initiative and ask if they would help make it an industry initiative.

“Imagine,” said the head of product integrity at REI, “if we all measured and informed consumers about the environmental impact of our products.  That would spur sustainable innovation and dramatically improve the environmental performance of our supply chain.”

The brands they rallied met with us in the basement of a food co-op in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Talk about grassroots!  What’s evolved since is an international collaboration of the US and European outdoor industries, the Sustainable Fashion Consortium in Hong Kong; the World Federation of Sporting Goods; the snow and water sports industries and others — more than 200 brands in our industry alone, including everyone from the North Face and Patagonia to Petzl.  Our group, called the Eco Working Group, has developed an industry version of the Green Index – an index that can be applied to any type of product be it a tent or a pair of shoes.   It was rated one of the 10 Most Hopeful Green Business Stories of 2010 by GreenBiz.com.

It hasn’t been an easy path to get so many different brands with such diverse products to collaborate, but the process has created a terrific product and drawn attention from surprising organizations.  Walmart is one.  This week they along with Gap; Nike; H&M; Levi Strauss; Adidas; Target and other global leaders in the apparel and footwear industry announced that they are collaborating with our Outdoor Industry effort to adopt our index as a common means to measure and improve the environmental performance of our supply chain.  While we still have a way to go to get to Jeff’s vision of a label that allows consumers to compare the goodness of shoes, like food … we just got one long step closer.

Timberland + Outdoor Industry + world’s largest apparel retailers = promise of sustainable change.

How Green is Your Orange … and Do You Care?

This week’s New York Times article highlighting Tropicana’s efforts to better understand their carbon footprint has sparked an interesting online discussion — questions about the true value of this kind of undertaking, what’s really in it for the company, whether consumers really care.

In my opinion, consumers today don’t care very much about carbon footprints — because we, the companies that make the goods they’re buying, don’t make it easy for them to care.  As Tropicana’s Brian Lembke stated in the New York Times article, without a meaningful point of reference that consumers can easily understand and use to inform their purchasing decisions, carbon data remains a big “so what?”

It falls on the shoulders of responsible brands to explain the so what – exactly what companies like Tropicana are trying to do in analyzing their carbon footprints and figuring out how best to communicate that information to consumers who a) are most often influenced by price in making their purchase decisions and b) hold a healthy skepticism of corporate America’s “true intentions” – understandable considering what we’re seeing in the news these days.  What we desperately need are more companies willing to take that first step to better understand their carbon footprint, and better collaboration within and across industries to create some level of standardization for how to present this information to consumers.  I know of one such collaborative working group within the Outdoor Industry Association, and imagine there are more.

While it’s true that there are countless variables in determining a carbon footprint, I disagree with the premise that a carbon number is meaningless.  Even in imperfect form, such data can be extremely valuable to organizations trying to understand their own carbon footprint and pinpointing areas of their business that are ripe for environmental improvements (such as packaging, transportation … in Tropicana’s case, growing oranges). 

Clearly we’ve got a lot of work to do to get to the point where consumers can compare carbon labels as proficiently as they currently compare retail prices or nutritional information before making a purchase.  But I fail to see the downside in putting forth the effort: if we have access to information that will better inform consumers about how the decisions they make impact the environment, we should make that information available.  If that same information can help companies better design their products, packaging and processes to reduce their environmental impact as well, all the better.  I applaud Tropicana, their parent company PepsiCo and other like-minded companies for leading the way on what I believe will prove to be a revolutionary movement.

Betsy Blaisdell
Manager of Environmental Stewardship, Timberland