For years, Timberland CEO Jeffrey Swartz has been talking about putting an "ingredients" label on every product. By educating consumers on the environmental impact of their clothes and shoes, he hopes to start a discussion that will increase their awareness of the issue.
With an average of 55 parts in every shoe, it has proven much more difficult than originally thought to source and measure every element. This fall, however, Timberland is introducing EcoMetrics with a new brand of water shoes, called Mion, which have only four separate pieces. The table lists the energy used to produce the shoe, its contribution to global warming, and how much material was wasted.
So far, the company says the response from retailers has been great (the shoes will go on sale next spring). And environmentalists applaud the attempt. But the question that really matters is whether regular folk are ready to listen—or whether they'll read their nutrition tags and still opt for the footwear equivalent of the Big Mac.
A version of this article appeared in the November 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.