Remembering the Social Aspect of Sustainability: TOMS Shoes

Many of us are very familiar with what is called the “triple bottom line” of sustainability: People, Planet, and Profit. What this means is the concepts and processes that are truly sustainable aren’t just about hugging trees or resource conservation, but consider ecological impacts (the planet part), economic impacts (the profit part) AND social equity impacts (the people part). Most of us have gotten a pretty good handle on the planet aspect (recycling, avoiding pollution, relying less on fossil fuels turning toward rapidly renewable resources) and the profit aspect (saving money by reducing energy and water use or resource conservation) but it can be much more difficult to fully grasp the people part of the equation.

When I’m teaching classes on sustainability, I like to tell the story of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of forestry practices and wood manufacturing processes. In my opinion, FSC is one of the few certification processes that truly takes the social aspect of sustainability into account by including indigenous peoples’ rights and community relations and workers’ rights as two of their principles.

Another example of a group, in this case a for-profit company, that takes social responsibility very seriously is TOMS shoes. TOMS does a lot of great things from a sustainability standpoint including lines of shoes made completely of vegan and organic materials and this fun little page that shows you how to reuse your worn out TOMS shoes. By far, though, TOMS is best know for their one for one program where for each pair of shoes you buy, they will give a new pair of shoes to a child in need to help prevent foot injury and the spread of soil borne diseases such as parasites.  TOMS’ program has been so successful that that this September they will be giving away their one millionth pair of shoes. Pretty amazing what a small start up company can accomplish if they place a priority on social responsibility, huh?

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