Timberland targets net-positive nature impact by 2030

Fashion giant Timberland has pledged to ensure that it has a net-positive impact on nature within a decade - a vision underpinned by commitments to regenerative agriculture and the circular economy.

Timberland targets net-positive nature impact by 2030

Timberland last year committed to plant 50 million trees within a five-year period

Announced today (1 September), the overarching net-positive target is supported by commitments to source 100% of natural materials like leather and cotton from regenerative sources and to design all products for complete circularity.

On the former, Timberland is funding the Savoy Institute to conduct research that will quantify the benefits of regenerative agriculture. It is already working with a selected number of certified ranches in the US to source regenerative leather, which will be incorporated in products for the first time this season, and is now developing plans to scale up this approach across its leather, cotton, wool and sugarcane supply chains.

Regenerative practices are designed to mimic natural patterns. They typically involve planting a variety of crops to preserves biodiversity and soil health; allowing animals to roam and graze as they would outside of captivity; rotating activities in line with the seasons and minimizing the use of pesticides. Such practices are not new – indigenous and rural communities have been undertaking them for centuries. As such, Timberland will work with ranchers, farmers and tribes through its partnerships.

As for the circular economy, VF-Corporation-owned Timberland will design all of its products to be recyclable at the end-of-life stage, in a drive to keep them out of landfills and incinerators. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that less than 12% of garments and accessories produced annually are recycled, and that most items that are captured are downcycled – i.e., turned into lower-value materials like insulation instead of new fashions.

Timberland will also strive to incorporate more materials which would otherwise have been wasted in its products. It has not yet set a numerical target here, but is already using recycled rubber in its Earthkeepers shoe range and has pledged to scale up the sourcing of this material, alongside recycled and scrap wool and leather and synthetics made using recycled plastic bottles.

“The environment today is in a degraded state and, as a footwear and apparel brand, we are part of the problem,” Timberland’s sustainability director Colleen Vien said. 

“For decades Timberland has worked to minimize our impact, but it’s time to do better than that… By following nature’s lead, and focusing on circular design and regenerative agriculture, we aim to tip the scales to have a net positive impact – to go beyond sustainability and help nature thrive.”

While the resource-related benefits of Timberland’s new commitments are clear, the firm is also hoping that they will drive positive social change in supply chains and contribute to efforts to stop climate change. One study found that regenerative plots are 78% more profitable than their traditional counterparts and, as such, they provide an opportunity to improve farmer welfare. And, by allowing soil to recover and different crops to grow, regenerative plots also sequester carbon. Given that the agri-food sector accounts for more than one-fifth of global annual emissions, abating these models is essential in the transition to net-zero.

Refashioned approach

The fashion industry is now widely known for its detrimental impacts on nature. It accounts for one-fifth of wastewater generation on a global annual basis and is regarded as the world’s second-largest polluter of water, for example, and is behind the logging of 150 million trees each year.

Timberland is one of a handful of large brands striving to change this trend. Fellow VF-Corporation brand The North Face is producing products with a net-negative carbon impact, owing to the fact that the wool and cotton used to make them is regenerative.

Elsewhere, Kering – which owns fashion brands such as Alexander McQueen, Gucci and Stella McCartney – uses an internal environmental profit and loss (EP&L) account to place a monetary value on the damage and benefits generated by its entire environmental impact. This form of accounting allows the C-suite to take decisions which minimise the business’ footprint while maintaining its profitability. Since it was introduced, several of Kering’s brands have met or exceeded its 2025 target to reduce environmental impacts by 40%.

Also in the luxury fashion sector, Burberry is creating a dedicated “regeneration fund” to back the transition to regenerative agriculture across its supply chains and to fund nature restoration projects near the communities in which it operates. These measures will enable the firm to “inset” carbon as it strives to reduce its Scope 3 (indirect) emissions by 30% by 2030.

Sarah George

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