In 2007, Timberland pioneered eco-labels on their apparel, modeling them after USDA nutrition labels. The imitation was deliberate, said VP of Corporate Social Responsibility, Mark Newton. With the wealth of green information that is currently tracked, measured, analyzed and debated, the intent was to capture the essence of several large categories on a very small parcel of garment real estate. The absence of numbers keeps consumers from getting bogged down by a figure that would need a detailed explanation and wouldn’t be consistent with measurements on other ecolabels.
This way, consumers can scan the label for the metric that means the most to them – whether it is climate impact, resource consumption or eco-conscious materials – much the same way that consumers scan food labels to discern calories or sodium content.
Newton, who joined Timberland less than a year ago, admires Timberland’s try-it-and-see-if-it-works business approach, combined with the company’s openness about its goals and shortcomings, and, most of all, its commitment to both the planet and to its customers. Since their introduction, Timberland has been working to improve the labels (and the products they describe) based on customer feedback. Newton explained that the intent of the labels has always been to spark conversation with consumers and build relationships.
“We’re not trying to put this stuff on there to show off green attributes. There is more than just green involved. We use it to draw attention to the face that we care about these things and bring the customer into the conversation. These measures also guide further innovation in our products.”
In her book, The New Rules of Green Marketing, Jacquelyn Ottman praises Timberland’s effort as a “watershed mark in transparency,” but subsequently commented that she wished that the labels contained more product information. “If our eco-labels only boast of ‘planet-saving’ attributes, their allure will be short-lived and their impact will be limited. In a marketplace proliferated by vague, repetitive green claims, it is no longer enough to merely explain benefits to the planet.”
Timberland was thinking along the same lines. Its online tech guide goes beyond the physical eco-label and explains the apparel company’s additional icon language. In addition to eco-conscious information, it delves into what makes Timberland products warm, cool, dry and comfortable, among other attributes. Newton explained that it “shows not just what we’re doing, but where we’re going.”