While many mainstream shoe manufacturers virtually ignore sustainable design, niche companies like Brooks and Timberland have embraced the opportunity to bring sustainability into their brands. Timberland’s latest attempt is the Earthkeepers 2.0 boot, the company’s first product designed to be disassembled and recycled. The Earthkeepers line was introduced in 2007 with recycled linings and outsoles, but the new boot brings Timberland closer to a closed loop system. “Earthkeepers 2.0 is a straightforward application of the thinking that resources cycle endlessly to new uses and that the end of life in one form is the start of life in another,” said Jeffrey Swartz, Timberland’s CEO.
Here’s how the process works: customers return old Earthkeepers 2.0 boots to Timberland stores, where the company disassembles the main part of the boot, refurbishes leather parts, recycles the polyester lining, and recycles the soles into new Green Rubber (recycled tire rubber). The boot cuts carbon greenhouse gas emissions by 15% and uses 15% more recycled content than previous Earthkeepers boots.
The end product may seem streamlined, but according to Swartz, designing the Earthkeepers wasn’t easy. “The concept was informed by the need for simplicity–the lesson being that fewer components & fewer types of materials make assembly & disassembly easier and aid in effective “material streaming” after disassembly. Sounds easy enough, but not necessarily so. How do you make a product durable for as long as it needs to be, but deconstructable when the consumer is done using it?” Timberland decided to use its patented D-Link technology to break down tire rubber at a Green Rubber factory in Georgia for recycling. Shoe leather is refurbished at the company’s factory in the Dominican Republic. The shoe would, of course, be even more sustainable if everything was broken down and refurbished in the same location, but it’s hard to fault Timberland for trying.
The Earthkeepers 2.0 boot will be available in Fall 2009. Timberland plans on expanding the recycled shoe concept to other boots some time in 2010.