Archive for 2009

Update From the Amazon

So when 65,000 new friends introduce themselves to your e-mailbox in a week, endlessly resending a form letter written by Greenpeace accusing your company of being part of the deforestation of the precious ecosystem called the Amazon rainforest, what would you do?

To understand Greenpeace’s assertion that our business practice directly leads to deforestation in the Amazon, you’ve first got to know that it is cattle ranching that is causing the deforestation — ranchers cutting down the forest in order to allow livestock to graze. That livestock is raised primarily for tailgate hotdogs or your mom’s meatloaf recipe — not for leather.  Leather is a co-product of beef which accounts for less than 10% of what a farmer gets paid for his cow.  The hides that result from raising cattle for food become the raw materials which Timberland’s suppliers turn into leather for our footwear.  Further facts — we source about 7% of the leather for our products from Brazil — obviously, a small percentage of our overall need.  And finally, in our industry, best practice for diligent brands that focus on the social/civic aspects of their value chain audit and manage processes and materials back to the tannery — but not all the way back to the cattle production process.  To accurately assess our role in the issue requires working backward up the supply chain, through the tannery who is our supplier, to another company, the beef processor in Brazil, in order to know where the cows grazed.

Given that we don’t have “trace-ability” in the value chain back to the cow grazing in the field, it would have been infinitely easier, when Greenpeace first brought the issue to our mailbox, to simply stop doing business with our Brazilian supplier.  No more leather from Brazil, no more issues with tracing hides which may have come from cows grazing in deforested areas of the Amazon rainforest.  We’re only talking about 7% of our production — so cut and run, right?

Tempting, but not the right thing to do. Disengaging would have solved OUR problem — no more headaches or emails from angry activists — but would do nothing to solve the problem of deforestation.  Even as we fumed at the way Greenpeace had approached this issue we asked ourselves, what is the responsible thing to do?  Do we walk away and let the beef processors sort this out with Greenpeace, or do we risk further ire, by staying in the conversation and engaging the leather tanner and the beef processor to solve the real environmental challenge?  What would you choose to do?

We decided to stay engaged.  We pressed our Brazilian leather supplier, Bertin, for a plan that would answer the challenge posed — demonstrate that the cattle grazing in the field were not contributing to deforestation.  Find a way to ensure trace-ability back into the value chain — now.  For a brand with only the leverage of our small percentage of overall Brazilian leather purchases, we tried.  And to Bertin’s credit — they have engaged with us to the same end.

Three months later, real progress to report. Bertin has made great strides in its commitment to supporting the deforestation moratorium, including meeting face-to-face with both Timberland and Greenpeace to better understand the problem and discuss proposed improvements.  Last month Bertin publicly announced their official Amazon cattle moratorium (meaning they will no longer source cattle from protected areas of the Amazon) and is working aggressively to meet traceability targets to ensure the origin of all the cattle they source is acceptable and not contributing to Amazon deforestation.

Prodded by Greenpeace, and encouraged by Bertin’s willingness to make real change, we have bent our efforts to address the issue of Amazon deforestation on an industry level, working with other members of the Leather Working Group (LWG) – a multi-stakeholder group which seeks to promote sustainable environmental business practices within the footwear leather industry.  The LWG recently proposed creating an HWG (Hide Working Group) [I’m not making these acronyms up!]  to create an assessment process specific to hide traceability – similar to the process the LWG uses to work with tanneries on environmental issues within the tanneries themselves.  Bertin has indicated that they will engage in the HWG, as will other tanneries and many brands, including some of our arch competitors like Nike and Adidas.

It’s easy to provide a neat summary of progress against a complex issue in a few short paragraphs; the work behind the words has been much more challenging, demanding tons of time, effort and resources — from the CEO and a whole group of activists within the company. For its part, Greenpeace has done an outstanding job gathering data, creating a complete and compelling case for the issue, and mobilizing its tens of thousands of supporters to call for action from brands like ours on an issue they care about.  Their effort has driven change into the system.  We applaud their activism, even as we wish next time—and there will be a next time, in the complex global value chain — they would seek to engage brands like ours before they pull the “let’s confront ‘em” lever.

As for our supplier, Bertin – now one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of animal products – to implement concrete changes in its own policies and processes in such short order is nothing less than impressive.  We’re proud to partner with an organization that views environmental responsibility as critically and urgently as we do.

Business can be a force for positive environmental change … collaboration yields more powerful outcomes than the effort of one … learnings reinforced by our experience to date on the Amazon deforestation issue.  We’re not closing the book on this topic yet – we’ll continue to monitor progress through regular reports from Bertin and through our work with the LWG and HWG, and we’ll continue to share milestones and challenges with you here on Earthkeepers.

CEO thanks Greenpeace for full frontal email assault?  Next thing you know, world leaders will actually come up with a meaningful global agreement at Copenhagen…

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

Big Think

We’re happy to share the following recent interview with Timberland’s President & CEO Jeff Swartz — a frequent Earthkeeper guest blogger and the guy responsible for giving passion and permission to many of our efforts to create environmental and social impact.  The interview covers everything from Jeff’s thoughts on building the brand to banning bottled water, the power of partnerships and what keeps him up at night:

Our thanks to the team at Big Think for sharing with us.

Reporting on Responsibility

Today we released our 2007-2008 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report — chock full of information about Timberland’s performance, successes, challenges, and forward-looking goals for each of our four CSR focus areas (energy, product, workplaces and service).

This bi-annual report is a more comprehensive compliment to our quarterly reporting efforts , and is designed to create a two-way dialogue for collecting feedback about our CSR initiatives.   Readers are invited to share their feedback and ideas for improvement through the "Voices of Challenge " — a dynamic online forum created to engage thought leaders, practitioners, NGOs, investors, students and consumers on specific CSR challenges facing the business community.  To jumpstart the online dialogue, we’ve invited thought leaders like Bill McKibben , Joel Makower , Li Qiang and New York City Mayor Bloomberg to weigh in.

We’re excited to share our new CSR report with all of our Earthkeeper readers, and invite you to give it a read and also join the Voices of Challenge conversation .  Feedback, questions and challenges are also welcome here on the Earthkeeper blog.

Happy Campers

One of the 150+ community service projects that took place across the globe last week as part of Timberland’s 12th annual Serv-a-palooza was at a YMCA camp not far from our NH headquarters.  Each summer the camp is home to over 100 kids, many of them inner-city residents who otherwise might not have an opportunity to camp, canoe or experience the great outdoors firsthand … and learn valuable life skills in the process.

100 Timberland employees descended on the camp last week to help with fall clean-up and winter preparation, as well as some new construction projects which will benefit next summer’s campers.

Ready to Serve

Although our team in Egypt got a jump on the rest of us, for most of the Timberland community tomorrow is Serv-a-palooza – our worldwide, annual day of community service.  For the 12th year in a row, Timberland employees across the globe will be working alongside business partners and citizens to create positive, sustainable impact in local communities.

“Impact” can be vague.  Here’s what it means for us, in Serv-a-palooza terms:

  • 3,800 volunteers at 154 projects in more than 24 countries – committing more than 30,0000 hours of community service.
  • Planting trees, building bridges, constructing recreational parks, cleaning trails and gardens, building compost bins, fences and relationships that matter … 
  • Making life a little better and a little brighter for the camps, parks, social service organizations, environmental agencies and other community partners who will benefit from our sweat and labor, time and tools.

We haven’t maintained our 12-year-and-counting commitment to Serv-a-palooza because we love the publicity, or the community gratitude, or a day off from our regular jobs (although those are all nice perks).  We do it because we can, because one day can make a difference, because being part of something good just plain feels good. 

Stay tuned for post-Palooza reports and photos … and to join us for similar service adventures, register for project updates and invitations on

Warrior Wyclef

Our thanks to the Earthkeepers who came out to help us celebrate our partnership with Wyclef Jean in New York last week — we’re still recovering.  Those of you who missed it, never fear – we captured a few key moments on film:

For more information on the Timberland / Wyclef collaboration (and to register to be notified when the Yele Haiti boots hit stores), visit .

Our Newest Earthkeeper Hero: Wyclef Jean

If a tree grows in the forest but no one is there to see it … do you still get credit for planting it?

Not according to Timberland’s board of directors, who for a long time have provided the not-so-gentle feedback that everything we do to make the world a better place matters very little if our consumers don’t know we’re doing it.  They’re not advising that we stop acting as a responsible corporate citizen, mind you – just that we need to work harder to connect our civic values with our business goals.  Fair enough feedback, which encouraged us to seek meaningful partnerships with credible voices to help tell our corporate responsibility story in a way that resonates with consumers.

Fast-forward to today, when we’re thrilled to announce a creative collaboration between Timberland and Wyclef Jean – a social entrepreneur, a humanitarian and an Earthkeeper Hero of the highest degree who has invested incredible time and effort in rebuilding and reforesting his native Haiti.  Wyclef also happens to be a Grammy Award-winning musician with fans and followers all over the world – the kind of “voice” that adds considerable volume to our story — but our collaboration runs deeper and richer than some rent-a-celebrity endorsement deal.  We’ve spent a good deal of time over the past year getting to know Wyclef and learning more about his passion for social and environmental justice — and sharing our beliefs and values with him — and we’ve come to the mutual realization that we’ve got the ingredients here for something that could be pretty powerful, and pretty good.

Central to this partnership is our shared interest in reforestation; Timberland is involved in tree-planting programs all over the world, and working with Wyclef’s Yele Haiti Foundation, we’re going to build a tree nursery in Gonaives, a city in northern Haiti devastated by Hurricane Hannah in 2008.  Once up and running, the nursery will be managed by local farmers and trees will be sold (generating revenue with which to buy more trees) or used to reforest the hillsides surrounding the city.

As for telling the story in a powerful way to consumers, we’re going to start with what we know best: building boots.  Beginning next month, consumers will be able to purchase products from Timberland’s Yele Haiti footwear collection – made from recycled and organic materials and featuring design elements we collaborated on with Wyclef himself.  For every pair sold, $2 will be donated to Wyclef’s Yele Haiti Foundation to support the reforestation efforts.  I’m psyched about the collection; it’s a perfect proof point to a conversation we’ve been having for some time with consumers about the fact that you don’t have to compromise – you can buy a pair of good-looking shoes with a good fit at the right price and also help save the world.  The Yele Haiti footwear will allow consumers to do just that.

There are lots of other good ideas wrapped into our partnership with Wyclef – t-shirts designed by Haitian art students that we’ll sell (with a portion of the proceeds going to Yele Haiti); exclusive Wyclef music downloads on our website; other tree-planting events in the US and Europe.  Our hope is that cumulatively, all of these activities will raise our voice on the importance of community building and environmental stewardship, in Haiti as well as the rest of the world … and that by incorporating all these diverse elements – a boot, a shirt, a new music single, a tree-planting event – everyone who comes into contact with the Timberland / Wyclef Jean collaboration will find something to love, something that resonates, something that inspires them to take action with us.

Timberland makes boots, Wyclef makes music – and that wouldn’t change with or without this partnership.  But together we can make money, both for our businesses and for people and communities in need.  And we can make a difference.  This — the intersection of commerce and justice, collaborating for sustainable impact – this is Earthkeeping at its best.  We’re happy to share it with you.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland

Earthkeeping in Egypt

Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, in which Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from sun-up until sundown … a time to ask for guidance and forgiveness, and to practice self-restraint and good deeds.

Timberland’s team in Egypt took the “good deeds” piece to heart this year, hosting their annual Serv-a-palooza community service day in the middle of Ramadan for the benefit of a local school in need.  35 volunteers spent the day installing a water tank and pump (the school previously had no water access), cleaning, painting and landscaping the school grounds, and distributing packets of school supplies and flu prevention information to more than 600 students.

If our volunteers were experiencing any lack of energy due to the fast, it wasn’t evident in the effort and enthusiasm they brought to their service day:

Timberland Egypt reminds us that critical needs exist every day of the year, all around the globe; our thanks to them for inspiring the rest of us to take on more good deeds.

Who Wants to Be a Green Guru?

Now through October 16th, we’re holding a gaming tournament on our Earthkeepers Hero: Mission Possible Facebook trivia game to determine who is the Ultimate Green Trivia Guru.

The person that earns the most points and is able to unseat our reigning Earthkeeper Hero Champion, Greena Garbo, will be awarded:

  • A CASH PRIZE! of $1000 for themselves 
  • $500 for the environmental non-profit of their choice
  • Bragging rights as the Ultimate Green Trivia Guru (Priceless or tasteless?  You decide.)

Enter and start playing today to be the top player in our Hall of Fame, win a fabulous prize, and earn the opportunity to help a great cause.

More details about the contest, including important instructions on how to download and start playing the game, can be found at

May the best Earthkeeper win!

More Trees in China

As part of yesterday’s announcement about China’s commitment to decreasing its carbon emissions, Chinese president Hu Jintao pledged that his country would plant forests across an area the size of Norway .  Whether you’re among the critics who don’t believe China’s commitment was specific enough, or among supporters who consider it a positive first step, you’ve got to admit – that’s a lot of trees.

As a company with a penchant for tree-planting (although we have yet to take on any projects of Norway proportions), we’re encouraged to see reforestation at the top of China’s environmental task list.  Rapid population growth and over-use of land has contributed to the issue of desertification all over the world — including in China, where traveling dust storms create widespread air quality problems and natural resources have grown scarce for local residents.

Over the last 6 years, Timberland employees in Asia have partnered with GreenNet, a Japan-based NGO, to plant trees in Inner Mongolia’s Horqin Desert – an area that originated as grassland and has over the course of time become a desert the size of Switzerland .  Our partnership with GreenNet is expected to yield 980,000 trees planted by the end of 2009 … well on track to meet our goal of planting one million trees in the Horqin by 2010 .  (You can read more about our tree planting efforts in Earthkeepers’ “Horqin Chronicles” blog series.)

Do we think planting a million trees in Inner Mongolia is going to solve Asia’s environmental issues?  No more than planting 500 in Barcelona … or 10 in the Dominican Republic … or one in your own backyard.  But we believe any action is better than inaction … and that cumulative effort, whether on the scale of a city block or a forest the size of Norway, contributes in a meaningful way to creating climate solutions.