Sustainability is becoming impossible to ignore in the outdoor industry. In this series, we look to our industry leaders for guidance, inspiration, and best practices in sustainable business in the outdoor-product space. Breaking Trail is an Outdoor Retailer Series that is powered by Walden Hyde. Here, Walden Hyde speaks with Jim Zwiers, Senior Vice President of Wolverine Worldwide & President – Performance Group about creating win-win scenarios for brands and sustainability.
What does sustainability mean to your company?
Wolverine Worldwide is focused on reducing our global ecological footprint on current and future generations through environmentally sustainable business practices.
This pervades through many areas including design, materials, manufacturing, distribution, employee engagement, product packaging, and retail end of life.
What are you doing that is exceptionally important?
We strive to do the right thing for our communities while achieving our mission to provide amazing brand and product experiences to consumers. In addition to our philanthropic efforts, we also focus on what we can do within our own systems and facilities to achieve this balance.
For instance, we are one of the largest consumers of renewable energy in the state of Michigan. Also, we look for ways to cut waste in shipping and our packaging and packing materials are from recycled material.
Concentrating on making high quality products not only reduces waste but also increases our value proposition. Two of our brands have implemented programs to extend the life of our products. For example, some of our Patagonia footwear styles are resoleable, and our Chaco Z sandals can be repaired so that customers can keep their shoes but replace worn webbing.
Our team members are essential to increasing material efficiency, especially during the design phase. If we can cut waste in manufacturing by addressing issues early on, it saves both materials and money. Environmental decisions often coincide with cost considerations, and we are able to create a win-win.
Likewise, because our video-conference system allows us to decrease travel, it reduces impact on the environment.
How do you engage employees around sustainability?
We talk with employees about what we’re doing as a Company through our WEST (Wolverine Environmental Sustainability Team) program and education sessions at various points throughout the year.
Some team members have also been a part of the OIA’s Eco Working Group and have participated in the process to advise the group about how to make the Higg Index applicable for footwear. Our developers are working to apply the Higg and other resources to make our products more sustainable and to consider the cradle to grave impact of our products.
Employees also see what we’re doing through our company culture. Sometimes this shows in the small details, like offering biodegradable utensils and a compost program in our cafeteria.
What motivates you to do this?
First of all, it’s the right thing to do. Just as we are active in our local communities by supporting charitable organizations like the United Way, so too we consider our responsibility as a global citizen. One way we do this is through being responsible with our use of resources and our impact on the environment.
There’s also a clear business case – being a responsible company encourages employee engagement, increases consumer loyalty, reduces risk, and in some areas, reduces costs.
It also increases our innovation. Figuring out how to design more sustainable and ecologically friendly products, distribution systems and packaging challenges and motivates our team to problem solve. It pushes us to work differently, resulting in better products.
What’s keeping you from doing more? What are some challenges?
Our first priority is developing products that people crave and building brands people love. Doing it the right way is critical to that mission. There are times when a slightly more ecological choice is contrary to making the best product, and since the customer isn’t asking for it, it is not a tradeoff we can make. We’re mindful that sustainability attracts customers and loyalty, but we will not sacrifice on making the best and highest quality products.
The Higg Index that is in development will push the industry forward, but we need to make sure it’s usable and reflects the true impact of products on the environment. If it’s too complex, it will lose power. One challenging thing about an industry wide index is that companies’ definitions of sustainability vary. Some are more focused on water, while others are interested in carbon emissions or materials and land fill waste. It’s also hard to quantify community involvement.
Where do you see this going in the next 5 years?
I believe that sustainable practices in the industry will be enhanced as companies continue to share best practices. Sustainable practices should not be a proprietary advantage, but rather the industry should combine efforts for the betterment of the earth and our communities.
I hope that within the next few years there will be even more visibility to successful environmental programs that companies have implemented so that others can adopt these best practices and we can get behind them as an industry.
I believe consumers will continue to expect more from companies and this will drive our industry to make sustainability an even more important part of all we do.
About Wolverine Worldwide, Inc.
With a commitment to service and product excellence, Wolverine World Wide, Inc. is one of the world’s leading marketers of branded casual, active lifestyle, work, outdoor sport, athletic, children’s and uniform footwear and apparel. The Company’s portfolio of highly recognized brands includes: Merrell®, Sperry Top-Sider®, Hush Puppies®, Saucony®, Wolverine®, Keds®, Stride Rite®, Sebago®, Cushe®, Chaco®, Bates®, HYTEST®, and Soft Style®. The Company also is the global footwear licensee of popular brands including Cat®,Harley-Davidson® and Patagonia®. The Company’s products are carried by leading retailers in the U.S. and globally in approximately 200 countries and territories. For additional information, please visit our website, www.wolverineworldwide.com.
About Jim Zwiers
Jim Zwiers is a Senior Vice President of Wolverine Worldwide and is President of their Performance Group. In this role, he leads the strategic business direction for Merrell footwear and clothing, Chaco, Cushe, Patagonia Footwear and Saucony on a global basis. Jim has been with Wolverine Worldwide for 15 years in various roles and is a board member of the Outdoor Industry Association and the Outdoor Foundation. With an unusual background as a CPA and Lawyer by training, Jim has a strong passion for the outdoors and enjoys hiking, cycling, fishing and water sports of any type. He loves coaching youth sports in his community and getting youth outside and is a strong advocate for the outdoor industry.