I recently bought a new pair of sneakers, after an agonizing search. My feet are very hard to fit, so I am generally completely focused on finding sneakers that do fit. I was so excited that I actually found sneakers that fit I bought 2 pairs. In the course of trying on multiple ill-fitting pairs, I had never put “sustainability” and “shoes” or “sneakers” in the same sentence. Until now. In recent weeks, 2 major shoe companies (Nike and Timberland) have both announced new policies regarding the sourcing of leather for their products (some of them, anyways).
This particular story really begins with a report from Greenpeace, called “Slaughtering the Amazon”. The report connects the leather bought by global shoe companies such as Nike, Timberland, Reebok, and Adidas to the deforestation of the Amazon rain forest. The ultimate source for too much of this raw material is cattle raised from farms on recently deforested (cleared) land. The report also mentioned furniture upholstering and leather accents used in some car interiors, in addition to the shoe industry.
Part of the report was a call to action, attempting to persuade the companies to stop buying leather from the Amazon. In recent weeks, both Nike and Timberland have announced policies to do just that. Nike’s policy states: “Nike will not use leather in its products produced from cattle raised in the Amazon Biome. Nike will require suppliers of Brazilian leather to certify, in writing, that they are supplying leather for Nike Inc. products from cattle raised outside of the Amazon Biome” (The Amazon Biome is what most people think of when they think of the Amazon—the actual rainforest). Nike also commits to Greenpeace’s Commit or Cancel program, which basically says non-compliant suppliers will be cut off from Nike’s purchasing. Nike also has clauses about the farms not being on the lands belonging to indigenous peoples and not allowing slave labor in its supply chain.
For its part, Timberland is requiring its Brazilian leather suppliers to “commit to support 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.” This is in addition to procurement policies similar to Nike’s.
Beyond the environmental benefits, these policies are highly significant and educational. Both Timberland and Nike are very large companies, with global distribution networks and global impact. Both companies are very well known consumer brands. The mere existence of these policies will educate some percentage of their market about where their shoes and sneakers do and do not come from. Some percentage of these people might just decide to try on the Nike and/or Timberlands first because of this.
Maybe the Nikes are indeed worth checking out before I try on another pair of Pumas or Adidas….