Archive for November, 2008

Earthkeeper Turkey Awards

In the spirit of the holiday, we give thanks for all the things in our lives that make us feel good and are good for our environment (eating locally-grown food, riding a bike, the uniquely satisfying experience of planting a tree).  Simple pleasures like these make Earthkeeping easy.

And then there are the things that make Earthkeeping not so easy – not for lack of good intentions, but of good judgment and execution.  Timberland’s Director of Corporate Communications, Robin Giampa, shares the following Turkey Awards:

I don’t like to waste stuff:  time, paper, money, whatever.  I’m not a perfect role model for environmental responsibility, but in this time of dwindling resources (both financial and natural) you can’t help being mindful of your consumption and how you dispose of things.

And so I get irritated when inexplicable choices are happening on a large scale, and at a corporate level.  I know that the bigger the organization, the harder it is sometimes to make change, but I’m not even talking about big things.  Case in point:

  • I received an award in the mail last week, given to Timberland by a socially-conscious organization for our socially-conscious behavior.  Imagine my surprise when I opened an enormous box filled with Styrofoam peanuts (and no, not the corn kind), surrounding a crystal statue.  To make matters worse, apparently many awards in the first “batch”  mailed out were broken;  when we learned they wanted to send a replacement, we gently suggested that wasn’t necessary — we were happy enough with the verbal recognition.  Two months later, the replacement award – and its packing peanuts — arrives.  No doubt, the intent was right-on: reward and encourage ethical behavior.  And I was thrilled that the company was bestowed the honor.  But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my disappointment in the way it was bestowed.  How is as important as what.     
  • Here’s another example: we have an electronic system for submitting employee expenses.  BUT — you have to print a hard copy of the form as well.  Then, you have to put that hard copy in an envelope (new envelopes only, please – used inter-office envelopes are not accepted) and submit it.  Yes, you put your previously-submitted-online expenses in a brand new envelope and then into a central bin where they are (mercifully) collected together and mailed in one shipment.  I’m certain there are good reasons for what I perceive as bureaucracy, but I bet there are ways to simplify it, too.  
  • Unrelated to the physical waste in those two examples is what happened when I tried to get a new light bulb recently.  We use a well-known office supply company and we order online from a list of pre-determined choices.  Not being overly familiar with the ordering system (or the fact that apparently we’re not supposed to order light bulbs at all, but get them from our resource center) I asked a colleague to order me one CFL bulb for my office lamp.  We ordered the one and only option available – for $26.  I thought surely Timberland has vetted this and it must be one fantastic bulb that would last for decades, but in fact it looks exactly like the one I bought at the eco-fair in our cafeteria last week – for a dollar.  Of course, I’ve raised the silliness of this and it’s being rectified, but how long has this $26 light bulb thing been going on?  Could I seriously the first person to notice?

It’s not even a question for me that in each of these cases, we’re all just trying to do the right thing – but sometimes I think it’s easier to say “not my job” and keep going.  What if we all considered the choices we make in the course of a day and took notice of the places we can improve things?  Maybe we’d be able to tread a little more lightly.

Creating Accountability on Climate Change

Yesterday, President Elect Obama vowed to place climate change at the top of his agenda – a move I applaud.  His strongly-worded remarks were both refreshing and reassuring, a sharp contrast against the refusal of administrations, Democratic and Republican, over the last several decades to address climate change in any meaningful fashion.

Impacts of climate change can be felt across borders and across every sector of civic society.  We are living through the dreadful awareness of what happens when we try to manage inter-connected systems with conventional, unconnected governance models.  Who knew that American real estate speculators could help unravel the world’s banking system?  “Environmental crisis” is poised to replace “economic crisis” in news headlines around the world; and for this crisis, no “bail out” plan will rescue us, or future generations, from the real damage being done to our physical environment.

In addition to Washington putting climate change at the top of its agenda, another complementary, yet elementary, part – if you want a real solution to climate change – is at the cash register you visit every day. As powerful and relevant as the government is, for-profit business has a huge, even outsized impact on the question of climate change. CEOs – yes, that demonized group characterized by greed and self dealing – have the potential to foster huge, positive impact on climate change.  Businesses buy and sell along a value chain that stretches across the globe, from developed economies to developing economies. CEOs can and do have a huge impact on climate change, in the way they run their businesses, in the choices they make about materials, energy use, chemical use, transportation. And if you want to influence those choices – you, the citizen consumer – can.  Imagine if you insisted on organic content in the food you purchase.  Lo and behold – an entire industry springs into action, to deliver organic produce.  Imagine if you demanded that Timberland or Nike or the Gap use organic cotton, rather than pesticide laden factory-farmed cotton.  Just imagine.

I am not saying government doesn’t have an important role in solving climate change – clearly it does.  But if we expect President Elect Obama or Congress to solve the issues facing the environment alone, we’re fooling ourselves.  It will take more effort to reverse the damage being done to our environment worldwide. Citizen consumers have the power to force change, by holding brands and businesses to a higher standard – and in turn many businesses must change they way they currently operate.  With everyday “votes” on what goods and services you buy, you can create a different kind of accountability on climate change.  Consumers can use their purchasing power to hold corporate America responsible for doing more than “working on” climate change.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

Transforming the Land

Our thanks to Timberland‘s marketing manager for Singapore, Cheryl Kow, for detailing her tree-planting experience in the Horqin Desert for us.  Here is the final installment in Cheryl’s Horqin Chronicles:

We move out early again for a full day of tree planting, which I’m really looking forward to. Our destination: Gabo Desert, just half an hour from the hotel.

Horqin dunes in the early stages of greening

The bus stops at the beginning of a dirt trail and we clamber 3 apiece into small Jeeps which will take us to the main tree planting areas. The back of the Jeeps are too small to sit, so we stand in a row holding the helm. The wind works up the cold in our faces and we watch the barren landscape give way to expansive fields of green grass and gold sunflowers and a sinuous sky of blue ice, against a faraway backdrop of layers and layers of swelling hills that seem to continue forever. We pass maize fields, rice fields. We see sheep, cows and tractors. It’s the pastoral life at its flourishing best and it’s stunning.

In about 10 minutes, we’re back in the desert. We disembark and Mr. Kitaura rounds us up to explain what we’re here to do: build a grid of squares using hay, called Si Fang Ge (literal translation: 4 sided box); the grids help to block the wind and hold the sand in place. Poplars are then planted within each square and the grids ensure protection against the elements and an increased chance of survival.

He speaks briefly of the severity of desertification.  The past saw the threat of invasion of proud warriors on armored horseback. While this may no longer pose a threat in modern times, the mainland and Japan are now seeing a second invasion, this time in the form of sand. The desert is dramatically expanding at 10,000 square km per year and affecting the quality of life of the two said countries, evidenced by the apocalyptic sandstorms from the north that assault both Japan and China, especially during the summer months.

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Introducing Green Net

Day Two of Cheryl Kow’s Horqin Chronicles, detailing her recent tree-planting experience in the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia:

After a breakfast buffet of Chinese staples (fried and steamed pancakes, rice and millet congee, eggs and pickled vegetables), we set off for Agura Desert, where the bulk of the “Timberland Forest” stands. 

The road to Agura is lined with tall poplars designed to “catch” strong winds from blowing into the desert.  Beyond that, we see wide open sand spaces. There is some beauty in its desolateness.  

Tree planting volunteers in the “Timberland Forest” in the Horqin Desert.

Upon our arrival we are welcomed by Mr. Otaki and Mr. Kitaura, two guides from Green Net.  Established in January 2000, Green Net is a Japanese non-profit organization that has undertaken the uphill task of reforestation and education in an effort to reverse the desertification process.  Timberland has partnered with Green Net for the last 8 years.

Read the rest of this entry »

Horqin Chronicles

Desertification is a growing environmental problem, particularly in Asia where rapid population growth and land overuse are taking their toll in agriculturally-dependent communities. To help combat desertification, Timberland sends a group of volunteers each year to plant trees in the Horqin Desert in Inner Mongolia – an ever-expanding barren region that generates massive migrating dust clouds which negatively impact air quality in China, Japan and other Asian countries.  To date, Timberland has planted approximately 700,000 trees in the Horqin Desert – major progress toward our commitment to plant one million trees by 2010.

Timberland’s marketing manager for Singapore, Cheryl Kow, was among the Horqin volunteers during the annual tree-planting trip in September and agreed to share her thoughts and experiences with us here on Earthkeepers.  Below is the first entry in Cheryl’s Horqin Chronicles:

Two colleagues and I touch down at the Shenyang Airport at around 11am via Beijing and meet the other Horqin volunteers from Taiwan.  Together we pile into a small van which will take us through Shenyang into Tong Liao province in Inner Mongolia, where the tree planting activities will take place.

It’s a 4-hour ride into the sprawling metropolis of Shenyang in Northwestern China.  I am surprised by its modernity.  Extensive, multi-storied shopping complexes peer out at us as the van navigates new and sophisticated highways.  The familiar red and blue Carrefour insignia whizzes past us.

The urban skyline falls behind the horizon, giving way to a deserted and rustic city as our van pulls up a dusty road to the hotel where we will set base for the next three days. After a quick check-in, we’re on our own until dinner, when the Japan team will arrive.

A colleague and I take a walk around the dusty town, wandering past dilapidated buildings and a couple of new construction sites.  A recently-built amusement park helps bring some tourists, which explains the surge of newer hotel establishments, but we still wonder about the lack of people walking the streets.

Our entire group meets for dinner at the hotel, chatting among ourselves about the next two days.  We are all anxious and excited to get to work in the Horqin Desert.

And On the Last Day, We Created:

A community.

Saturday, November 8

The last day together has come.  Eight days ago it seemed as though the week would last an eternity.  Today being our final day together, we sit and wish it could be longer.

Tonight I felt completed in our efforts from the week.  The families from Hollygrove cooked up a buffet of local cuisine and soul food. We sat in the NOFFN building, surrounded by smiling, proud and loving people from the neighborhood.  Alongside the sounds of laughter, local musicians playing trombones and singing, there we were.

It was so nice to come together for good food, good music and good people.  We spent a final evening with the familiar faces from the week and faces we had never seen but still had a familiar feel.

We ended the evening with the musician announcing that he would sing one final song … one he felt he might never feel honored and inspired enough to sing again, but after all that has happened of late, he felt proud enough to sing the words.  He began singing the Star Spangled Banner and the entire room got on its feet and began singing along.  There was such passion and love in that room.

This week brought me personal challenges and pushed me outside my comfort zone in many ways, but the final product from all that I saw and experienced FAR out weighed any possible downsides. 

This week we helped to create a community in New Orleans; most importantly we created a community within ourselves.  This “In Good Company” group will leave as partners in the business sense and friends in the personal sense.

I feel honored to have had this experience.  As I sign off from New Orleans, my wish to this resilient city is hope and strength to continue fighting the battle.  I hope you have enjoyed the ride with me and feel inspired to continue the ripple forward.

We thank Brianne Wood for sharing her experience in New Orleans with all of us here at Earthkeepers.  To learn more about the In Good Company initiative, please visit their blog.

Community Greening, As It Is Meant To Be

Below, Timberland’s Brianne Wood continues to share her experiences with us from a week of community building and restoration in New Orleans as part of the In Good Company initiative:

Friday, November 7

Today I worked with the New Orleans Food and Farm Network (NOFFN).  This organization represents every element of community greening possible.

The area of Hollygrove has a 40% poverty rating.  Almost half of the residents are considered below low income and are officially in the poverty bracket.  It has been a longstanding and widely-known fact that healthy, fresh food is largely unavailable to the people in this neighborhood.

When Katrina hit, decimating most of this area, the neighborhood stood up and said they wanted to rebuild, but not just rebuild: rebuild green, rebuild healthy and rebuild strong.  They wanted to implement tools and resources to help their community be a better place. 

What started as the desire to help residents build backyard gardens turned into a grand vision of having a local food market and education center.  They are incorporating wonderful things such a rain-catch system to water their plants, green roof tops, an outdoor classroom and much more.

It was redeeming to see a community pulling together to make a stand and make a motion for positive change.

The Great Bayou Debate

The latest blog entry from Brianne Wood during her weeklong community rebuilding experience in New Orleans:

Wednesday, November 5

Today we partnered with Bayou Rebirth to plant and restore natural grasses and marsh plants.  We sat through a great presentation from Fish and Wildlife to discuss the impact and erosion occurring in the Delta and waterways of New Orleans. There are many issues surrounding why New Orleans got hit as hard as it did by Hurricane Katrina, followed by Hurricane Gustav.

Without going into the entire presentation, the gist was that there are a multitude of problems and very few solutions.  We need to find a solution to help the Mississippi River divert its water flow and silt deposits.  This will restore natural “speed bumps” to slow down hurricanes off the coast, contribute to the health and well being of the bayou, and most importantly eliminate unnatural land mass build up in the canals, which makes it impossible for the oil and trade industries to import and export easily.  New Orleans constantly has to dredge the bottom of the canals in order to keep it deep enough for transport, creating a sunken basin effect and putting New Orleans further below sea level. 

The question was raised as to why the city doesn’t allow the Mississippi River to run as it intends and wants to, or create overflow pathways which would eliminate the over distribution of silt and materials.  The answer was “people are in way.”  The best solution for the environment causes the most challenging solution for the people in and around the city.

Hmmm … I sat feeling torn.  Which side is right, which side do I support?

On one hand I spent the past two days helping a family rebuild the house and home they lost.   I felt pride and honor in knowing the ripple we were creating for the neighborhood.

Then I learn that unless affirmative actions are taken to restore the coast and create a natural shelf off the coast of New Orleans, hurricanes will have nothing stopping or slowing their path; the levees will more than likely be broken again and these same people will once again be in need.

I got my answer when we revisited Miss Linda Ebarb.  When I told her I worked for Timberland she told me her husband always wanted a pair of our boots but they were expensive and they couldn’t justify spending the money.  I told her to give me their shoe sizes and I would see what I could do, but couldn’t make any promises.  She broke down into tears and hugged me.  She said we had already given her so much, she couldn’t ask for anything else.  I knew in my heart then that supporting the Ebarbs and people like them is really what needs to happen, at least for the short term.  We need to give people back not just their houses but their homes and maybe we make things a little bit better, a little bit greener and give people a little more hope for the future.

What needs to happen is for pressure to be put on oil companies and other shipping companies to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem. That could have the potential to be our happy medium.  It wouldn’t be best solution for either party, but it sure would be a good place to start.

The great bayou debate will continue but for today, I did my part … I planted much-needed marsh grasses, got stuck in the mud and had a lot of laughs in the process.  This is my new favorite team building exercise; there’s something to be said for helping to pull your coworkers (sporting waist-high waders) out of a pile of stinky sloppy mud!

You can read more about the experience and impact Brianne and her teammates are having this week on the In Good Company blog.

Footprints

An update from Brianne Wood, Timberland’s community engagement coordinator, during her week of community rebuilding in New Orleans:

Tuesday, November 4

One of the community service projects this week is working in partnership with Rebuilding Together.  As first responders back to New Orleans and residents of one of the areas hardest hit (Hollygrove) Loran and Linda Ebarb qualified for a new home rebuild.  They are such unique people and you can’t help but just love them instantly.  They are charismatic, kind and giving; the kind of people that have so little but would give it all away if they thought someone else needed it more.

I spent two days laying down bamboo flooring in their living room.  After our group had finished laying down tar paper in prep for the flooring, it was an employee from Eileen Fisher that turned around to me and said “Hey look Brianne, we literally and figuratively left our footprints here in the Ebarbs’ house.”

I love that he rippled the messaging I expressed in opening night introductions, of needing to leave a positive footprint wherever we go. Although the picture itself is not glamorous and would not mean much to a passer by, to me it holds many meanings.  We left our footprints in the Ebarbs’ house, the Ebarbs left a footprint in my heart that I hope I never forget.

I also note the date it was taken 11/4/08 – the same day we elected a new President of the United States.  This pictures is symbolic in the way that it proves we can be the change …”Yes, we can.”  I believe that, I live that and I will continue to fight for that.

You can read more about the experience and impact Brianne and her teammates are having this week on the In Good Company blog.

Notes from New Orleans

As promised, we’ll be providing updates throughout the week from Timberland’s own Brianne Wood as she builds relationships and revitalizes communities as part of In Good Company.  Here are Brianne’s initial thoughts on the experience:

Saturday, November 1

I sit in the airport with many thoughts and “what-ifs” of the week to come:
I wonder if my work will be beneficial to the communities I will be serving. 

I wonder how I will adjust to 24/7 of working, eating, sleeping, cooking, cleaning, and serving with 26 complete strangers.

I wonder if I will feel emerged and embraced in a community that has struggled with many heartaches.  Heartaches and challenges of which I have been sheltered from.

I wonder if I am the right candidate for this opportunity, or if others will find the experience life-altering and for me it will be only sub-par.

I wonder if I will be able find words appropriate to answer the haunting question of, “that’s nice … but so what?”

I wonder if the others will accept me, both personally and professionally.

Things I know:

I know in a short time, I will be in flight and there is no turning back.

I know that fearing the unknown, yet confronting it, will make me stronger, wiser and more confident. 

I guess that’s all I can go on for now.  The remaining answers will come with time.

With that, it’s time to board my flight.  Stay tuned for more.

 * * *

Monday, November 3

Yesterday I took part in touring the 9th Ward.

I have to say I was most intrigued and yet concerned about going to the 9th Ward.  You hear many stories and see photos of the devastation that occurred.  I just didn’t really know what to expect three years later.

What sticks most in my mind is seeing row after row of vacant spaces with nothing remaining but staircases leading to nowhere.  Stairs that once led to families, homes and memories.

The few that were able to rebuild are left with no neighbors or neighborhoods.  It was quiet in the Lower 9th.  An eerie sort of feeling

We met with a small handful of people and organizations from the area and it helped me feel there was a silver lining along this long black cloud.

We started today with our efforts and the organization Rebuilding Together.  One house, one neighborhood and one street block at a time.

I stood after a long today feeling humbled and thankful for all that has been afforded to me.  I am eager and excited for the remaining week ahead.