Greenpeace calls on Timberland to stop supporting deforestation in the Amazon, 2009

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Time Period:  
1 June
29 July
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Pará, Brazil; Stratham, New Hampshire, United States
To pressure Timberland and other shoe manufacturers to "help protect the Amazon and our climate by refusing to buy leather from deforestation” (Lindsey Allen)

On 1 June 2009, the global environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace released the findings of a 3-year undercover investigation of the Brazilian cattle industry. The report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” traced the convoluted supply chain of leather and beef products from cattle ranches to the recent and illegal deforestation in the state of Pará at the heart of the Amazon rainforest. The organization exposed the complicity of the national government in subsidizing the slaughter and called out several corporate leaders, including Adidas, Nike, Reebok, Timberland, Honda, Ikea, and Wal-Mart, for their “blind consumption” of raw material.

According to Lindsey Allen, a senior forest campaigner at Greenpeace, Timberland received a “courtesy letter” letting them know that they were about to become the target of a public shaming campaign. Because of its demand for leather, Timberland, among other tanning-goods manufacturers, was implicated in the unlawful and unethical clearing of forestland for the growing Brazilian cattle industry. Hundreds of the ranches supplying cattle to Timberland’s supplier Bertin S.A., the world’s largest leather exporter, were active in slaughtering the Amazon, some exploiting modern-day slavery, and one occupying sacred indigenous land. "To be true climate leaders, Nike, Adidas, Timberland and other brands must help protect the Amazon and our climate by refusing to buy leather from deforestation,” explained Allen.

Timberland planned to work privately with its suppliers in order to avoid being publicly shamed, but also to compete morally with other companies, like Nike, who had immediately jumped on board with Greenpeace to avoid deforestation in the Amazon. Yet, believing Timberland was acting too slowly compared to other top name shoe companies that were going straight to upper executives of Brazilian suppliers, Greenpeace followed through on its courtesy letter by urging costumers and environmental activists to write Timberland to persuade them to re-assess their commitment to their leather sources, and in turn, save the Amazon rainforest. The report’s release precipitated the mobilization of tens of thousands of Greenpeace supporters over the next few weeks; Timberland’s corporate inbox was flooded with 65,000 emails from a letter provide by the Greenpeace website “ask[ing] Timberland to step up already.”

Jeffrey Swartz, CEO of Timberland, grew concerned about Greenpeace’s allegations, “I figured if that many people were taking the time to send an e-mail, there must be at least half a million not sending e-mails who were also pissed off. That’s a big number. Our brand’s reputation was at stake.” Furthermore, with Nike already acting in the way they were being pressured to, Timberland could no longer use delaying tactics to stall on their reassessment if they wanted to become morally competitive.

As an aptly-named, for-profit brand with an environmentally responsible image, Timberland “wanted to confront that notion head-on, to convince them [Greenpeace supporters] that if they really want to help the rain forest—to make a sustainable environmental impact—they need the help of companies like Timberland.” After all, Timberland prides itself on being a company with “environmental sensibility,” and not just the frugal cost cutting initiatives aimed at minimizing the use of their resources; Timberland prints “nutrition labels” on its shoes calculating the energy input that goes into every pair and tries to avoid leaving a boot-sized carbon foot-print on the Earth by using renewable energy to run its factories (11.56% of total at the time).

Timberland’s team decided to get in touch with its supplier. To Swartz’s chagrin, the team learned that Bertin “didn’t actually know where ranchers were pasturing their cattle—so Greenpeace might be right.” With pressure being applied across the cattle industries, by both shoe companies and grocery chains that buy beef, the supplier faced the implicit threat of company pullout at the behest of disgruntled consumers.

On 22 July, Nike announced that it would discontinue sourcing materials from any suppliers operating in the Amazon biome. A week later, on 29 July 2009, Timberland reached an agreement with Bertin to commit to a moratorium on purchasing cattle raised in newly deforested areas of the rainforest, ensuring that Timberland would not be contributing to any new deforestation in the Amazon. That autumn, the four largest Brazilian slaughterhouses agreed to phase in the moratorium. For their part, Greenpeace praised Timberland as “the industry leader in environmentally and socially responsible Brazilian leather procurement.”

Research Notes
Hawthorne, Fran. Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.

Crocker, Michael; Allen, Lindsey. “Greenpeace Praises Timberland’s Policy on Amazon Leather.” Media Release.

Shapley, Dan. “Nike and Timberland Stop Buying Leather from Deforested Amazon.” 2009. The Daily Green.

Swartz, Jeff. “How I Did It: Timberland’s CEO on Standing Up to 65,000 Angry Activists.” 2010. Harvard Business Review. vol:88 iss:9 pg:39.

“Timberland Responsibility: Goals and Progress Scorecard.”

Additional Notes: 
In a Greenpeace blogpost celebrating the “Victory in the Amazon,” the link for the “full list of minimum criteria these companies have committed to” redirects to an error page because the url is extinct. Accessed Feb. 10, 2013.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
John Pontillo & Joshua Peck, 17/04/2013