Archive for July, 2009

Water is Way More Complicated Than I Thought

Two weeks ago, I announced here on Earthkeepers a new ban on bottled water at Timberland headquarters buildings globally.  I was psyched about the announcement, even more excited about the action.  You know what I’ve learned over the last 2 weeks?  It’s really exhilarating to want to run a more sustainable business … but to actually do it is really freaking hard.

Get rid of the bottled water – simple ask, right?  How hard could it be?  Little did I know.  First there’s a supply issue to contend with – our facilities team reports a 4-week supply of bottled water already in house and we don’t want to be wasteful, so can we continue to offer it until the supply runs out?  Sure, okay … makes sense.  Then the vending machine folks chime in, what about the plastic soda bottles in the vending machines?  Are we getting rid of those, too?  Wow.  Okay, sure.  No more plastic bottles in the vending machines.  But hold on, says the guy in charge of our dining services – we don’t have nearly enough glasses and cups to accommodate the increased demand from people who would otherwise be drinking bottled water.  We’re gonna have to add more dishwashers, or buy more glasses … yikes.  All I wanted to do was get rid of the bottled water, now I’m buying new dishwashers?  How come it’s never as easy as you think it will be to get something done?

That was the noise from our internal community – but we had a lot of valuable feedback from external folks, too.  Many of you rightfully pointed out that the bottled water debate is a lot more complex than I indicated in my previous post, and that it does in fact serve a good purpose – critical, even – in many areas of the world.  Chief among the arguments we heard:

  1. Tap water isn’t a completely “no cost, no effort” option – it costs money and energy to sufficiently treat public water so that it is safe to drink, and more money and energy to deliver it to people and businesses.
  2. In some instances – in crowded public places, on long trips, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere – it’s not realistic to expect clean, drinkable tap water will be readily available.

All this information made me realize that bottled water is about as hard to understand as it is to get out of our buildings … and also made me glad for the engagement with people who care enough about this issue to share their thoughts (even if their thoughts were, “Jeff you’re being stupid.”).

I have a better appreciation now for when and where bottled water is necessary, and I certainly believe that plastic has its place in the world, for all sorts of good uses.  But I hold on to the notion that in the corporate world, where tap water is clean and reuseable containers are (soon to be) plentiful, we can do better than bottled water.  And so we forge ahead with our plans to give the bottle the boot from our corporate offices, hopefully in the next few weeks.  I’m excited to see idea translate into real impact – however small – despite the few good headaches we endured in the process.

I’m also excited about the real-life Earthkeeping dialogue this project produced; we shared a big idea, you were interested enough to want to talk about it, we came away smarter and more evolved in our thinking.  That’s the power of engagement – bigger, better, smarter outcomes.  I’m appreciative of the effort from those of you who joined in.

I realize getting rid of bottled water doesn’t negate our environmental footprint as a company (if only …), nor does it solve the climate crisis.  But I’m of the mind that taking even one small step in the right direction is better than staying where you are … and that low-hanging fruit is there to be picked.

Now don’t go too far … my To Do list also includes removing all paper products from our headquarters cafeteria, save post-consumer paper napkins.  This could get ugly.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

Issues in Earthkeeping, Part II

As an update to our recent blog post about Issues in Earthkeeping, Timberland today issued the following statement regarding deforestation in the Amazon Biome:

For more than 20 years, Timberland has been committed to active environmental stewardship, including a long history of combating climate change through partnerships like the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), and taking responsibility for our product supply chain through strong code of conduct and transparency programs.  One thing we’ve learned for sure, no matter how good our efforts and intentions, no one company can “go it alone,” and so we are grateful for the work of NGOs such as Greenpeace in exposing problems deep with in the Brazilian leather supply chain.  Deforestation in the Amazon Biome, particularly deforestation since July, 2006, by farms that may ultimately provide cattle and hides to our leather supply chain is not in any way acceptable to us.

For more than 20 years, Timberland’s approach to supplier relationships has been one of active, mutual engagement – where we discover opportunities to improve the dignity of workers, to conserve precious natural resources, to create profit and sustainable social change — we have an unflinching commitment to work with our value chain to address failures.  We seek sustainable change, not short term gestures.  We seek suppliers with a real commitment to action.  When we discover failures, we work zealously to address the problem.  If we don’t find partners willing to make substantive efforts to change, we change partners.  We have lived these principles consistently through time all over the world, and have seen many positive improvements in human rights and environmental practices in our supply chain, over the years.

Our principles apply in the Amazon, and so we are working closely with our suppliers in Brazil, including Bertin, to ensure they have an action plan in place that addresses their commitment to an immediate moratorium on deforestation in the Amazon Biome, and of course refraining from sourcing products from indigenous or protected lands or entities that engage in slave labor.  In order to maintain a relationship with Timberland, all current Brazilian leather suppliers must publicly commit to supporting an immediate moratorium on any further cattle expansion into the Amazon by August 15, 2009. Additionally this commitment will include implementation of a traceability policy and monitoring to ensure adherence to these principles and a timeline to phase out of sourcing from farms which have deforested land since July 2006. We will similarly work with all other Brazilian companies that provide leather for Timberland products, including products made by third parties under license from Timberland.

We will also continue our active involvement as a member of the Leather Working Group to address this issue on an industry-wide level as we believe this is the most effective way to bring about meaningful change and policies.

Save the Date: Timberland Talks Citizen Engagement

Since 2008, Timberland has hosted quarterly calls with a diverse set of stakeholders to support our long-term corporate CSR strategy. This level of transparency and accountability helps Timberland elevate a dialogue on material issues for our industry while providing us critical feedback as we chart our path to become a more sustainable organization.

DATE: Tuesday, August 4, 2009
TIME: 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM EST

SUBJECT: How we’re building an Earthkeeper movement to empower our own employees and citizens worldwide to incorporate sustainability into their everyday lives.

SPEAKERS: Jeff Swartz of Timberland & Deron Triff of Changents

Please register for the event by following these simple steps:

1. Click this link (or copy & paste into your web browser: http://bit.ly/gyDM1)

2. Click “Physically Attending” to register for the event.

3. Click “Submit.”

You’ll receive an email from Justmeans within 24 hours that confirms successful registration. You may also register for the event by emailing csrinfo@timberland.com.

Be sure to sign up by July 30 to receive additional information about the call and call-in details.

The results of this and other calls are posted on our reporting web page on Justmeans.com. This online stakeholder platform enables a continuation of the discussion through stakeholder comments and discussion. You can learn more about past Timberland stakeholder calls by visiting the CSR section of our website.

Issues in Earthkeeping

Even with the best of Earthkeeping intentions, you’re bound to hit a few roadblocks.  We know this from first-hand experience, as a large company whose business takes us into many corners of the world.  Our value chain runs long and deep: a blessing when it comes time to design and produce quality product at a reasonable price in an acceptable timeframe … less of a blessing when it comes to influencing meaningful environmental change.

For more than 20 years, we’ve been committed to active environmental stewardship, including a long history of combating climate change through partnerships like the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), and taking responsibility for our product supply chain through strong code of conduct and transparency programs.  One thing we’ve learned for sure, no matter how good our efforts and intentions, no one company can “go it alone,” and so we’re grateful for the work of NGOs such as Greenpeace who recently surfaced an environmental problem deep within the Brazilian leather supply chain.  The issue is deforestation in the Amazon Biome – of particular concern to Timberland, as the deforesting is by farms that may ultimately provide cattle and hides to our leather supply chain.  This is not in any way acceptable to us.

For more than 20 years, our approach to supplier relationships has been one of active, mutual engagement – where we discover opportunities to improve the dignity of workers, to conserve precious natural resources, to create profit and sustainable social change.  We have an unflinching commitment to work with our value chain to address failures and we seek sustainable change, not short terms gestures, from suppliers with a real commitment to action.  When we discover failures – and we do — we work zealously to address the problem.  If we don’t find partners willing to make substantive efforts to change, we change partners.  We’ve lived these principles consistently through time all over the world, and as a result have seen many positive improvements in human rights and environmental practices in our supply chain.

Our principles apply in the Amazon as they do everywhere else in the world.  We’re working closely with our supplier in Brazil to ensure they have an action plan in place that addresses their commitment to an immediate moratorium on deforestation in the Amazon Biome, and of course refraining from sourcing products from indigenous or protected lands or entities that engage in slave labor.  This will include implementation of a traceability policy and monitoring to ensure adherence to these principles. We’ll work similarly with all other Brazilian companies that provide leather for our products, including those made by third parties under license from Timberland.

In the spirit of not going it alone, we will also continue our active involvement as a member of the Leather Working Group to address this issue on an industry-wide level – constructive collaboration that we believe is the most effective way to bring about meaningful change and policies.

Roadblocks aren’t all bad, if they cause you to reaffirm your principles and more tightly focus your efforts.  More than ever, we believe in this thing we call Earthkeeping … and we’ll keep looking for opportunities and innovations that help us to do it better.

Board Dinner Meets Taco Night; Hungry Kids Benefit

Part of the regular governance of a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange is … board meetings.

Part of the regular cycle of board meetings is … board dinners, usually the night before.

Last night, Timberland’s board met for dinner at Andy Husbands’ restaurant — Tremont 647 in Boston.

$2 tacos are a Tuesday night phenomenon in the South End at Andy’s place — but because of the Hell’s Kitchen show, Tuesday tacos moved to Wednesday night.  Even though I can’t eat it (the kosher kid brings his own delicacies…), I figured the Board would enjoy some local cool cuisine.  So, they started with tacos.

Quickly enough, we ended up with the regular menu.  The Board is cool, but the cuisine was … hot … and so, back to the menu.

Andy came in to say hello.  As a TV star part of Gordon Ramsay‘s Hell’s Kitchen, Andy is a pretty hip celeb these days.

But not for the cuisine, not for the celebrity shoulder rubbing — not for those reasons did I take the Board to Tremont 647.

No, when Timberland’s shareholders pay for the Board’s dinner, they insist that we not just feed our desire for a good mea l– they insist that we use their funds to high purpose, the purpose of commerce and justice. So, when we schedule a business dinner, we host them in a restaurant affiliated with Share Our Strength (SOS) – a national nonprofit organization focused on ending childhood hunger in America.

Share Our Strength restaurants support the effort by donating a portion of their profits to SOS, or participating in one of the organization’s fund-and awareness-raising events … Andy and his team at Tremont 647 do both.  Andy has been actively engaged with SOS for years, and his restaurant has hosted SOS’s Boston Operation Frontline program for more than a decade — providing space and support for more than 5,000 people to receive nutrition education, food budgeting strategies and cooking skills.  In the real world, that kind of teaching is infinitely more valuable than anything Gordon Ramsay could dish out.  Hell’s Kitchen is a clever TV concept, but a high-brow restaurant delighting its clientele and serving to end childhood hunger — this is, Heaven trumps Hell.  Period.

The intersection of commerce and justice lives at Tremont 647.  With equal attention and passion, Andy serves Tibetan Momo Dumplings and serves the needs of children at risk for hunger … and from the comfort of our table, we fill our heads with business talk while helping to fill the bellies of kids who don’t have enough food.  The work of changing the world doesn’t always feel like work; in the right company, in the right atmosphere, it can be downright delicious.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

London’s Ethical Oasis: Neal’s Yard

Earthkeeper Hero Cate Trotter turned us on to this green gem in the heart of London:

A colorful, cozy corner of Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard was started in the late 70s by “alternative activist” Nicholas Saunders.  After successfully launching a wholefoods shop, café and dairy in the space, Saunders invited other ethical businesses to join him in the Yard.

Today, Neal’s Yard retailers offer everything from vegan ice cream and Fairtrade skin products to homeopathic medicines … a beautiful, bountiful shopping haven for Earthkeepers (living or visiting) in London.

To learn more about Cate’s favorite green spots, shops and experiences, visit her page on Changents.com.

Green Stuff We Love: Low-Impact Leather

Of all the things that make up the environmental footprint of a footwear company, the biggest contributor is not transport of product or the manufacturing process, but the materials we use.  And, when your iconic product is a durable, built-to-last leather boot you’re hard pressed to make substitutions.  Until now.

Imagine our delight in learning that one of our tannery partners, ISA Tan Tec, has been awarded the title of “High Tech Enterprise” (recognition previously only attained by technology producers).  Tan Tec uses a concept called Low Impact to the Environment (or LITE) to save considerable amounts of energy, water and chemicals at its tannery in Guangzhou province in China.  And, not only are they cutting their resource consumption, this high tech designation comes with at 40% tax break (ka-ching!).

LITE is based on a product’s CO2 footprint, which involves documenting the carbon dioxide emissions for each square meter of leather produced. LITE standards are based on calculations by the BLC Leather Technology Centre on behalf of the Leather Working Group (LWG) for average energy and water consumption in the industry.  LITE products are made with roughly 35% less energy and 50% less water.

Keep your eye on Tan Tec — they appear to get how “green” makes business sense … and that seems to be the key to success.

Banning the Bottle

So, a town in Australia decided to ban bottled water.  Was all over the Twitter universe, everyone merrily tweeting away to applaud the leadership.

On its face, a pretty cool snippet; a group of concerned citizens, in one small town, deciding “we can, we will, here we go.”  And as a consequence, they eliminate a huge and unnecessary element of modern “convenience,” namely “bottled water.”

On every level, the idea in the developed world of “bottled water” is absurd.  We live in countries, in Europe, Asia and North America with water processing infrastructure that ensures that our taps flow abundant and clean water to us, for no apparent cost and with no effort.  But that is not enough–no, we need 12 oz sports bottles for our lunch boxes at school, and refrigerator cases at work and at the ballpark full of 16 oz bottles.

Huge business, and the range of options is staggering–from socially aware water (see Ethos at Starbucks) to value water (at Wal-Mart).  In the middle, huge businesses at Coke and Pepsi among others, selling us…convenient water.

Never mind the convenience of the tap.

Never mind the convenience of buying, once in your life, a Nalgene bottle, and refilling it as frequently as you would like, for free, from the myriad of taps at your disposal anywhere in the developed world.

No, let’s indulge in bottled water.

Numbers:

  • In dollars, the bottled water business is reported to be anywhere from $50 to $100 billion each year.
  • In bottles, the number of PET water bottles used in the US each year is 50 billion (200 billion worldwide!) — and only 25% of those are recycled!

Come on.

So, the town in Australia says, no more insanity–no more bottled water in town.  Not sure how they will enforce the ban–sheriffs armed with water pistols loaded from the tap, ready to blaze away at the miscreant with the Dasani bottle?  But the Aussies are at least doing something.

I have an idea.  Call it barmy, mate–but as my first order of business in the office today, I’m gonna ban bottled water at Timberland headquarters buildings globally.

I don’t need a referendum, doesn’t matter if Congress doesn’t like it, the UN can spew its noxious vapors in some meaningless debate as per usual–I am the CEO, and if I can’t fix this stupidity–save our employees’ money, cut our waste stream, stop validating the insanity of “business as usual;” if I can’t do this much, then maybe the cynics and the skeptics are right.

Will report back from where the rubber meets the road.  Real change begins not with rhetoric, but action.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

No More Mowing – Veggies Growing!

Timberland Victory Garden, Stratham, NH

First Lady Michelle Obama isn’t the only one replacing green lawns with gardens … at Timberland’s New Hampshire headquarters, we’re into year two of our “Victory Garden” — raised beds growing everything from carrots and tomatoes to swiss chard and beets.  The garden was created last summer on open lawn in front of our building, and gained quick popularity among employees who purchase the freshly grown and picked goods all summer long (Victory Garden proceeds are donated to a local food bank).

Sustainable London from the Inside

Enthusiasm for all things “sexy and sustainable” led Earthkeeper hero Cate Trotter to launch Insider Trends – a consulting business that combines the London-based entrepreneur’s knowledge of what’s great and green with her marketing strategy expertise.

The philosophy is hands on – by way of walking tour, Cate’s clients (business leaders, tourists, student groups, conference delegates) get a first-hand glimpse of the best green initiatives in the city – visiting London’s first five-star green hotel, shopping for ethical fashion, admiring eco-architecture and traveling by hydrogen fuel cell bus.  The goal of this unique eco-show and tell?  To inspire tour-takers to make their own green work smarter, better and more successful.

Here’s feedback from one of Cate’s satisfied customers in her own words:

To learn more about the good work Cate is doing to inspire more sustainable living and working in London, follow her story on Changents.com.  Until we find a way to clone Cate and put one of her in every major city, you’ll have to travel to London to get the “insider experience,” but it’s worth the trip – to register for your own personal tour, visit her website.