When most people think of Vans they picture a shaggy-looking dude rolling around on a skateboard through graffiti-streaked alley ways. Since its inception in 1966, the Vans brand has become synonymous with skateboarding, youth culture and, of course, shoes. Certainly the last thing to come to mind would be sustainability. As a leading global footwear and apparel brand, Vans recognizes that its roots in skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding depend upon a healthy environment. While I initially set out to discover something detrimental about the company, I quickly learned that it deserves “mad props” (i.e., respect). The company’s sustainability initiative, dubbed “Vans Sole,” sparked a number of energy and waste saving practices on an operational level, coupled with programs designed to make an impact in local communities.
Vans was not always perfect, however. In 2012, the company conducted a waste audit of its corporate headquarters and determined that it sent too much waste to landfills. In order to rectify this issue, Vans set a goal of diverting 50% of its waste from landfills by the end of 2014. Continuing the trend, Vans’ prominent distribution center in Santa Fe Springs became a zero waste facility in 2013. Such a feat entailed recycling over 1,600 tons of waste each year, recycling more than 8,000 pounds of cardboard each day (enough energy to power the average American home for more than 7 months) and starting a Box Reuse project aimed at reusing as many inbound shipping boxes as possible for outbound shipping. As if that were not enough, Vans joined the the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, “an industry-wide group of over 100 leading apparel and footwear brands, retailers, suppliers, nonprofits, and NGOs working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products around the world.” The coalition strives to promote the “Higg Index,” which measures the environmental performance of products. Vans analyzed many of its own products using the Higg Index to determine ways that its apparel could be produced in a greener fashion.
A key differentiator for Vans and its Vans Sole concept is that it recognizes not only the environmental aspect of sustainability, but also the community aspect. Vans started programs such as the Vans Custom Culture art competition, A.skate Foundation and Vans Gives Back days to ensure that the communities that it does business with are thriving. As a loyal Vans customer, I am encouraged to see that my money is going to a company that truly values stakeholders that are not necessarily apparent. By dedicating resources to preserving the environment and local communities, Vans is creating value for more than just themselves. Surely Freeman would be proud! Through my research, I have not found a single piece of evidence or news that incriminates Vans in any way. This seems rather atypical of such a large company, and I hope that Vans is able to continue the trend.