How to Hug a Tree With Your Boots

An article in the September Harvard Business Review by Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz describes a great example of how chain of custody issues can put you right in the crosshairs of powerful non-governmental watchdog organizations such as Greenpeace.
As Swartz describes it, Timberland is known for its leadership in global sustainability — especially deforestation. Nevertheless, Timberland and other shoe companies became the targets of a Greenpeace email campaign claiming some of the leather in its boots came from cattle that were grazing on recently deforested Brazilian pastures.
Timberland received 65,000 challenging emails and quickly realized it didn’t have a quick answer because it had no chain of custody for leather beyond its immediate supplier. Hides are considered waste parts by meat processors, so the documentation isn’t as reliable as it is for beef.
Swartz describes Timberland’s response in detail, but a key fact for supply managers is that it is taking the company more than 18 months to implement a system that tracks every hide back to the farm on which it was raised — and assures retail customers that the farm is not on recently deforested land.
All in all, this is a great cautionary tale of how global watchdog organizations can drop a dangerous challenge to your company — right at your boots.


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