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Checking Out: Colleen Vien

Timberland’s sustainability director feels environmental changes are best when manufacturers and processors are involved in setting their own standards



What started your career in environmental activism?

In my first job out of school, with Sybron Intl. in Milwaukee, I was part of a team doing environmental site assessments on the properties the company was thinking of acquiring, so they could be sure they weren’t violating the laws and regulations.

Did that spark your passion?

It was eye-opening to see how much the environment is impacted by business. And not just the air we breathe, but also the health and well-being of the surrounding communities.

How have you carried this belief over to your work at Timberland?

I was hired to oversee the supply chain code of conduct, to make sure Timberland’s suppliers were adhering to certain environmental standards, such as improving the tanning processes for the leather that Timberland purchases. Timberland was one of the founders of The Leather Working Group, a consortium of manufacturers, suppliers, non-governmental organizations and brands that developed protocols for assessing the environmental compliance of leather manufacturers.


And how do you do that?

By involving the tanneries themselves in establishing their best practices. We concluded that being the compliance police, walking in the door with a checklist and grading suppliers on a pass/fail basis, was not what drives change. What drives change is having a conversation and helping them come up with the solutions.

Were there other challenges?

Yes, developing a best-practices standard for our cotton providers. There are a lot of pesticides used in the growing of cotton. Timberland has made a public commitment that by 2020, all of the cotton we procure will be organic, or will adhere to the protocols of the Better Cotton Initiative or will be of U.S. origin.

What is currently the most challenging factor in Timberland’s playbook?

To have durable water-repellency without chemicals. It’s not only a health issue for the workers who deal with those chemicals, but it’s also an end-of-life issue for the millions of tons of products discarded into landfills.


Do you find your job rewarding?

I’m proud to be working for a company that truly cares and wants to drive the rest of the industry. We’ve demonstrated that we can do good things without jeopardizing our business profitability. In fact, “doing good” can actually be a differentiator that adds value to the business.

Green in More Ways than One

Colleen Vien hails from Green Bay, Wis., and is a lifelong Packers fan. So how did she feel when a move from Wisconsin to New Hampshire placed her in New England Patriots country?

“I was okay with the Patriots,” she says. “But at one point in my career, I was offered a relocation to Pittsburgh. I was not okay with that. The Steelers? That was just a football arena I wasn’t interested in being part of.”

“People ask me if I wear one of those foam cheese wedges on my head,” she says. “I say, ‘I don’t have to wear a cheesehead, I am a cheesehead.’ ”

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