Green’s all over the shoes these days

By Adam Brock

The Times put up a great interview today with Jeffrey Swartz, Timberland’s CEO. For the past few years, Timberland has been pursuing sustainability more aggressively than nearly any other American company its size, incorporating recycled materials whenever possible and voluntarily putting labels on their packaging detailing the environmental footprint of their products.

In the interview, Swartz gives a candid assessment of the lack of green leadership in the footwear industry. He explains why environmental sustainability is a lot harder for shoe companies to tackle than social responsibility, and makes a plea for industry-wide collaboration to make the greenest shoes desirable.

We haven’t positioned environmental attributes as aspirational, as qualities that will make people who buy our shoes feel good about themselves. The result is that people may think of green shoes as things that they should buy, but not necessarily as things that they want to buy.

And how will companies compete environmentally without resorting to greenwashing? With standardized, industry-wide environmental impact labels:

If we all make the tags bold and colorful, shoppers will notice them. And if they are on all the shoe boxes, it will become automatic for shoppers to compare green tags among brands, just like they compare price and color… When that happens, we’ll all be fighting to have the best tag. No car company wants to be known for the worst gas mileage, and no shoe company will want to be known for the least environmentally friendly shoes.

Sounds like a promising plan to me. Now if Swartz could just get Nike on the phone…

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