Timberland: A Model Corporation

Too often corporations disappoint us with their lack of environmental concern or disingenuous green washing. In my recent research, however, I have found one global retailer standing tall above the corporate crowd. For the record, I'm not trying to sell you anything . . . simply, I like this company's look, discovered they are environmentally conscious, and think you should know about it.

Unlike most corporations trying--just now--to hitch a free ride on the "green bandwagon," The Timberland Company maintains a long history of environmental stewardship that began by partnering with the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) in 1993. Today, 240 of Timberland's global retail stores are completely carbon neutral; the company's Ontario, California distribution center receives approximately 60% of its energy from solar power, while employees receive $3,000 toward the purchase of a hybrid. The list goes on to include 170 earth-day service projects, 40 hours paid-employee community-service, and the company's, "Plant One On Us" promotion that plants a tree for every $150 in sales revenue.

Most notable of all is Timberland devotion to customer and industry education. Whether through public facility reports, labels outlining the impact of specific products, or national conferences held to educate the retail community, Timberland is committed to sharing their initiatives with consumers and competitors alike.

Case in point, Timberland produces a publicly available facility-level sustainability report that details baseline performance information in the areas of global human rights, environmental stewardship and community involvement. The report is available in English and Spanish on the company's website.

If looking up the data is too tedious, consumers can read information printed on the company's recycled-paper shoeboxes and soy-based hangtags. Shoeboxes sport a simple label (matching "Nutrition Facts" found on food packaging) that provides corporate-specific information such as the average number of kilowatt-hours and percentage of renewable energy used by Timberland.

Similarly, some Timberland outdoor performance products include a "Green Index" hangtag, which measures and reports on the product's environmental impact in three key areas:

o Climate impact: measures emissions produced from raw material extraction through manufacturing.
o Chemicals used: based on the presence of PVC and solvent adhesives.
o Materials used: measures the use of organic, recycled or renewable.

With the "Green Index," the lower the rating, the lower the environmental impact. Zero (0) indicates the smallest environmental footprint; while ten (10) means there's work to be done. The rating is partially determined by the GaBi software program's analysis of raw materials used and energy dispelled during production. The company plans to have a Green Index for every product across the brand by 2009/2010 and is currently working with other retail chains to create a universal measurement system.

This effort to share information with customers and competing retail conglomerates is what makes Timberland a true environmental leader and corporate exemplar. In 2007 Timberland won Backpacker Magazine's Editors' Choice Green Award. Upon receipt of the award, Timberland humbly responded, "our hope is that other like-minded companies will join us in developing an industry-wide index for comparing the environmental impacts of our design choices and we also hope to inspire consumers to ask questions, and make informed decisions about their purchases." With this goal in mind, Timberland is currently working with Levi's Strauss, to share information, conduct joint assessments and communicate remediation. According to Betsy Blaisdell, leader of Timerland's environmental stewardship program, "the goal behind all of this cross-brand effort is to spend less time policing and more time encouraging improved environmental performance and workplace conditions."

Going forward, Timberland has devised an ambitious plan to maintain their environmental leadership. Their goal: "all Timberland owned and operated facilities and employee travel is carbon neutral by 2010." Audacious and unrealistic? I don't think so! As seen from the examples above, they are well on their way.