Last week, the company famous for its durable leather boots launched a working relationship with Colorado’s The Savory Institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit group facilitating the large-scale regeneration of the world’s grasslands.
Mimicking the natural movement of herd animals, regenerative grazing practices allow grass to rest and re-grow after being feasted upon by hungry heifers. That downtime makes for an overall healthier ecosystem, as grass acts as a magnet for CO2, Zachary Angelini, Timberland’s manager of environmental stewardship, told Sourcing Journal.
“Regenerative cattle ranching piqued our interest about four years ago when we learned of several scientific papers demonstrating how these practices could help to actually pull carbon out of the atmosphere—where we obviously don’t want it—and store it in the soil, where we do want it, because it increases fertility and the ability for soil to hold water,” he said.
The partnership with The Savory Institute augments the company’s established work championing the issue of regenerative farming.
Last fall, Timberland joined forces with Other Half Processing, which sources cattle hides from Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed regenerative ranches. The Minnesota-based group partners with farmers, ranchers and tribes to source hides and quality cattle byproducts from animals that are more sustainably raised.
Through that pilot program, the brand sourced traceable hides that will be utilized in select footwear and accessory collections set to hit the U.S. market this fall.
Conventional approaches to cattle ranching have been identified as a major contributor to climate change, Angelini said, promoting soil degradation and losses in biodiversity. “Regenerative cattle systems not only contribute less to these major environmental problems, but can be used to actively reverse them,” he added, by building up the health of the soil and promoting above and below-ground biodiversity.
Timberland has been working to revamp problematic practices in leather tanning for more than a decade. The company co-founded the Leather Working Group in 2005, which audits and directs tanneries across the globe in the pursuit of more sustainable processes.
Now, Timberland is taking on a different part of the leather supply chain, focusing on the farms where cattle are raised. Since delving into the practice of regenerative farming, the brand has been working to integrate farms and ranches that advocate for the practice into its supply chain—and create a pathway for the rest of the industry to follow.
“Our aim is that through this network, we can partner with leading brands in both the food and apparel space,” Angelini said. There are opportunities to make use of “the wide variety of materials coming from regenerative farms,” he said, and through these collaborative efforts, groups across industries can “send signals through the marketplace” to increase the amount of land being used regeneratively.
In addition to meeting USDA standards, the farms in Timberland’s Regenerative Leather supply chain are also certified and verified by third-party organizations like the American Grassfed Association (AGA), and The Savory Institute’s Ecological Outcome Verification Program.
“The AGA ensures that the cattle are 100 percent grass fed, meaning never fed grain during their lives,” Angelini said. The AGA guidelines also stipulate that cattle must reside on open grass pastures, and must never be given growth hormones or antibiotics.
The Savory Institute’s Ecological Outcome Verification program measures regenerative outcomes like soil health, carbon sequestration, soil water holding capacity, and biodiversity.
On the product side, Timberland is committed to growing its regenerative leather use year over year, with the aim of achieving widespread adoption across product lines, Angelini said.
The fall 2020 season will see the debut of a shoe made with leathers sourced from the Thousand Hills Cattle Company within its Earthkeepers Edition line. Through the product line, Timberland pilots eco-innovations that it hopes to eventually scale.
Timberland is also pursuing regenerative sourcing opportunities in Australia and Brazil, Angelini said.