Sustainability That Lasts

I was at a sustainability conference this week, thinking about my boots. 'Business casual' is interpreted very loosely in Silicon Valley. CEOs turn up for meetings in t-shirts. Ties are donned ironically. I was wearing my Red Wing boots as they're durable, comfortable and, thanks to the recent hipster movement, suddenly fashionable, standing out in a sea of khakis and loafers.

The panelists talked about reducing carbon footprints and packaging, reducing product documentation, reducing energy and raw materials. There was talk about conflict minerals and NGO collaboration and consumer's interest in recycled products. But there was no talk about reuse. One of the conflicts yet to be resolved is the fact that selling more items means a greater footprint, despite all efforts to the contrary. Making something last longer (thus using it longer) is often the best way to reduce your personal carbon footprint. Which is why I was thinking about my boots.

Red Wing boots are awesome. I've been in love with them since I was a child. My dad wore them so I wore them, long before they became trendy on the coasts. One of the best things about them is how long they last and how they improve with age. And as I sat in there in my hipster boots and my ironic tie, I wished everyone at the sustainability conference would watch this video about Red Wing boots. It's called "Not the Throw Away Society" and highlights Red Wing's shoe repair business. Even the concept of 'shoe repair' seems quaint, as we've become a society comfortable assuming that whatever we buy will soon be discarded.

The video is fantastic at showing a service (and a way of thinking about products) that every manufacturer should consider. It is also true to the Red Wing brand: honest, straightforward, simple and earnest—all characteristics of the Red Wing brand. Rather than touting their sustainability creds or the greenness of their shoes, Red Wing simply assumes that you'll be wearing their boots for as long as you can. And as the maker of those shoes, it's their job to help you do so—not to just sell you another pair when the first ones wear out.

This is a lesson that many brands must learn about sustainability—stop focusing on selling more and focus more on lasting longer.

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