Archive for February, 2010

Modeling Corporate Climate Action

It’s easy to get the impression that there is no hope for climate action. Perhaps you’ve heard that the recent DC snowstorms buried any chance to pass a comprehensive energy and climate bill. Or that hacked emails have set the climate movement back a decade. We have a completely ineffectual Senate, a gun-shy EPA, and a dysfunctional global climate community. Our political leadership seems to be paralyzed by fear to take on the climate crisis.

That’s not the impression you’d get reading the business news, though. There, you would have seen a year of climate momentum. In October, several major companies left the US Chamber of Commerce over its position on corporate climate action. Bill Gates has called for making climate change our #1 priority. Every week, another company seems to be launching a new effort to reduce its climate impact. The steady ticker of corporate action toward energy efficiency, renewable energy investment, carbon neutrality, and extraordinary technological innovation tells a remarkably different story than our stuck-in-the-mud politics and lightweight public discourse on climate.

We’ve launched a new project, Climate Counts Industry Innovators (or i2) that will help this momentum build. We heard from so many companies–even after our first year of company scoring in 2007–that simply got it. They understood that an external review of their climate actions made simple for consumers could have real long-term brand benefit in an increasingly competitive world. We found a forward-thinking group of companies that voluntarily wanted to go through our scoring process; they wanted to face Climate Counts’ scrutiny of their carbon management efforts to bolster an already strong spirit of environmental innovation with an outside point of view. Six of those companies now comprise our charter group of i2 companies: Amtrak , Ben & Jerry’s , Clif Bar , REI , Shaklee , and Timberland . They represent different sectors, different geographies, different sizes, and different corporate structures. But what they share is a commitment to making it clear to consumers that climate action is business leadership. They’re helping build markets for renewables, they’re testing new technologies, they’re helping employees and consumer make the link between their lives and climate change, and they’re doing the common-sense work of running their companies more efficiently.

This is yet more proof that businesses that are committed to their own long-term viability understand the realities of climate change, aren’t being misled by the climate deniers, and respect the steady evolution of consumers on issues as complex as climate change. They’re positioning themselves to out-compete the companies still dithering on climate.

Companies that are setting a high bar on corporate climate responsibility are increasingly faced with a critical issue: how to gain the consumer’s attention for that leadership. Since launching our Climate Counts Company Scorecard three years ago, we’ve always maintained that companies wanting to see real ROI from credible sustainability programs and investments need to make it abundantly clear to consumers what they’ve done and why.

When it comes to innovation of all kinds (technological, environmental, or otherwise), consumers want to be wowed. They are drawn to CEOs who have put the time and resources into developing meaningful solutions to problems. Consumers may not always know what to ask of companies about their climate and sustainability programs, but they want to be impressed by the innovation they represent. More importantly, though, they have to believe it. But it’s not just about who’s the loudest or more effusive or uses the best shade of green in a logo or ad campaign. In a world where recycling and light bulbs still define the consumer environmental conversation, companies have a unique opportunity, even responsibility, to lead consumers on the issues that really matter.

What’s the best news about the innovative actions of these companies? While they’re confidently preparing to put distance between themselves and climate laggards, they’re also helping us all imagine a world that’s both better for good business and better for the people and resources upon which they depend.

Wood Turner is the executive director of Climate Counts. To learn more about the Climate Counts Industry Innovators program, visit http://i2.climatecounts.org or e-mail i2@climatecounts.org

The Power of the Printed Word

Dear Twitterverse, I can’t keep watching this on the news or trending on Twitter without doing something. I woke up this morning with the idea that together we could make a book and donate profits to help relief efforts in Haiti.

So began the 100 Stories for Haiti Project – the brainchild of author Greg McQueen who dreamed of a way to share his strength – and that of his fellow writers – to benefit Haiti’s survivors.

His dream: to publish a collection of short stories — “stories with a lot of HEART, a dash of COMPASSION, and unmeasurable amounts of HOPE … stories that leave you feeling as though life really is worth living” – to be sold as an ebook and in paperback, with proceeds going to the Red Cross for earthquake relief.

McQueen issued his call for submissions via the internet and was rewarded with more than 400 submissions in the span of one week.  A team of editors promptly reviewed and narrowed the mass of submissions to select 100 for the book, which will debut on March 4th — a mere six weeks after the project’s inception, and seven weeks after the earthquake struck Haiti.

And they say writers procrastinate.

100 Stories for Haiti is available for pre-order now .  To learn more about the project and its contributing writers, please visit their website .

We’re Blushing Right Down to Our Green-Rubber Soles

Fast Company has unveiled their list of most innovative companies for 2010 … notables in every industry who are turning the formula of innovative ideas + creative execution into powerful initiatives.  Timberland is honored to be included on the list, with our partnership with Green Rubber noted as one of the ways we’re working to make a profit while making a positive impact.

Here are a few of our favorite innovators from this year’s list:

  • Eco-conscious architecture firm Kieran Timberlake has designed pre-fab homes that can be assembled on-site on one day.  The homes are LEED-certified and feature solar panels, recycled wood-and-bamboo siding and automatic ventilation systems.
  • Envion recently unveiled a plastic-to-oil technology that can, using a proprietary infrared process, convert 10,000 tons of plastic trash per year into up to 50,000 barrels of synthetic oil for less than $10 per barrel.
  • Frito-Lay moved one-third of its 32 plants to "zero landfill" last year, and the rest will achieve that goal by the end of 2011.
  • Zipcar !  Need we say more?

Our thanks to Fast Company for the honor … and our congratulations to the amazing array of companies with us on this year’s list.  To view the entire list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies for 2010, click here.

A Time for Regrowing

A full month has passed since the major earthquake that rocked Haiti and devastated its people.  In its wake, much of the world has shifted its focus to the need for aid and relief for Haiti’s survivors.  The need for basic necessities – food, water, secure shelter – remains critical.

Equally critical is a vision for Haiti’s future … and as part of that vision, a sharp focus on the country’s environmental state.  Haiti suffers one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, thanks in large part to the need for energy (Haitians cut and burn trees in “raw” form or turn the wood into charcoal).  Wood accounts for more than 70 percent of all fuel consumed in the island nation … but with fewer than 100,000 acres of forest remaining, Haiti’s deforestation problem is poised to become yet another crisis for the country.

Satellite image depicting the border between Haiti (left)
and the Dominican Republic (right), 2002.

Deforestation is a serious problem anywhere – but particularly alarming when you consider the effects in a region that has in recent years suffered several natural disasters.  Without trees creating any sort of a natural barrier or holding soil in place, flooding, mudslides and landslides become severe threats, impacting everything from infrastructure to agriculture.

While we’re currently supporting relief efforts underway in Haiti , we haven’t lost sight or passion for the reforestation project we’re undertaking with our partner Yele Haiti.  In fact, the current state of affairs reaffirms our commitment to helping rebuild the country, one tree at a time.

Stay tuned for more details of our reforestation projects, in Haiti as well as other regions of the world

Bearing Witness to Haiti

The following is an email sent by Timberland President and CEO Jeff Swartz to Timberland employees worldwide, chronicling his recent trip to Haiti.  We’re sharing it here on Earthkeepers because we believe it stands up to its name — “bearing witness” — as a powerful account of destruction and survival in Haiti … and provides perspective for the important work that lies ahead as the nation rebuilds.

Team Timberland,

So, what’s so hard about this note, which I have intended to write for a week?  Last week, I visited Haiti, in the company of Bill Shore , the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, and a Timberland Board member, and chair of the Board’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, and in the company of Wyclef Jean , a 12 time Grammy award winner, a Haitian musician and activist, Timberland’s partner in an effort to plant trees and reforest Haiti, as part of our global Earthkeeper efforts.  The visit was in response to the earthquake that struck Haiti 3 weeks ago; our visit was an attempt to focus Timberland’s Earthkeeper resources temporarily on disaster relief.  The trip was emotional and powerful; I left Saturday night and was back in the office Tuesday.

So, what’s so hard about a brief note that describes the heroism of the many doctors we saw, the heartbreak of the destruction we saw, the inspiration I felt with Bill and Wyclef, and the indignation I felt at the world’s well intended but inept efforts to cope with this disaster?

Maybe it is the scale of the disaster, in the context of a country already ravaged by history.   Maybe it is the raw, emotional experience of being amidst death and destruction, and in the presence of the dying.  Maybe it is the feeling  of futility, the ultimate experience of the City Year “Starfish” story , that  waited for me at each stop we made in Haiti—yes, we made a difference here,  but wow, we did not even scratch the surface of the pain and agony here…

For all these reasons and more, I have not done my job by you; I have not been able to bear witness to you from Haiti. So, below, I have tried to right that wrong.  Call this note, “bearing witness”–but “bear with me” also works–it is a very long note. Long for the reasons I cite above, and long because it is hard even now for me to say simply why a bootmaker flew to Hell and how the experience of that Hell affirmed my belief in the mission of commerce and justice. So, here goes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Imagining a New Way Forward

Last week , Billy Shore provided a poignant account of his trip to Haiti with Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz and Earthkeeper Wyclef Jean , among others.  Below, Jeff Swartz shares his own thoughts on the devastation in Haiti, how it redefined Timberland’s partnership with our partner Yéle Haiti … and how innovation is built from crisis.

Please note this is excerpted from a piece which appears on Fast Company today.  Please click here to read the entire entry, and our thanks to the Fast Company team for sharing.

After the earthquake

We reached out, and Wyclef moved from celebrity entertainer to Haitian leader—from rapping out lyrics, to rapping out directions.  He told us from the ground, aid is pouring in, and stalling at the airport. Not a question of good instincts, good intentions, pure hearts—but the issue is not about intention, it’s about execution.  Get the food, get the water, get the medical supplies to the people—period.  And Wyclef was hard but clear: we are a for-profit company, with superb logistic competences, and with a factory for over 20 years in Santiago, in the Dominican Republic— just 100 miles from Port au Prince. He told us to urgently mobilize the trucks, open the warehouse, and get material flowing. Yéle will get the food packed—Timberland has to get it delivered.  And then Yéle will do its magic—mobilizing young Haitians, in neighborhoods like Bel Air and Cité Soleil, to distribute food to the hungry, hope to the powerful souls living in the open after the quake.  Do what you do well—do what a great bootmaker does—work your logistics network, and partner with the right entrepreneurial partner, and together—we can deliver good.

And so we did—we mobilized our logistics team in the DR, and went to work.  And while we are not Federal Express or UPS—we grunted and we got shipments moving over land.

And then Wyclef said—get on the plane and come here, and see the model for building a new Haiti.  A model that is one part the private sector, one part the authentic and effective NGO, and nine parts the spirit of free Haiti.  See Timberland plus Yéle plus the young of Haiti work in a specific, focused way to be part of creating a new Haiti.

So I went. They say journeys are more about who you travel with, and less about the itinerary. On this voyage, I had the company and counsel of heroes —like Bill Shore (the founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, Timberland board member and teacher of mine), and a team from Partners in Health who needed a ride to this island in desperate need of medical miracles. We made our way to Port au Prince. And in the searing humidity, we served 8,000 hot meals that Yéle had found a way to cook.  We served from the back of a truck, in Cité Soleil. We sweated, and cried, and we saw the outlines of a way forward.  One part private sector competence and passion, one part on-the-ground entrepreneurial NGO brilliance, and 9 parts Haitian strength and dignity and grace and energy.  And when we wheeled out of Cité Soleil, while my heart will never be the same, neither will my head.

Spending two days in post-earthquake Haiti does not make me akin to its survivors — but it was time enough for me to develop a new understanding of crisis and devastation and reaffirmed for me, a third-generation entrepreneur, that out of crisis flows innovation.  Before the earthquake, I was the CEO of a for-profit company with strength to share and a passion for commerce and justice.  Planting trees in Haiti felt like, looked like, the right thing to do.  It still is.  Only now, post-quake, I’m a CEO with strength and passion who has witnessed both frustration and amazingly, hope in both a ravaged land and its survivors.  Tomorrow we’ll plant trees … today we’re growing a logistical network from Santiago to Cité Soleil.  Tomorrow we’ll revisit our marketing plans — today we’re leveraging our strategy skills to figure out how to get more food into the hands of the hungry.  Trees, yes, community building, yes — a solid vision for the future is as critical to Haiti’s survival as anything right now.  But before the re-growth, a nation needs to heal, and before it can heal, it needs help.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland