Archive for January, 2011

Teach Your Children Well

Blog readers will be familiar with Billy Shore — a Timberland board member, author and the founder and executive director of Share our Strength, the nation’s leading organization working to end childhood hunger in America.  He’s also a father — and in a newly-released book, “If I Were Your Daddy, This Is What You’d Learn,” Billy is one of thirty-five dads who share the most important gifts they gave their children.

The book focuses on the inspirational and educational lessons today’s fathers are passing on to the next generation – contributing to the notion of “sustainable living” by developing children with the minds and hearts to value nature, to value other people, and to turn those values into actions.

Here’s an excerpt from what Billy Shore had to say about the values he feels are indispensable in teaching his three children:

People are so diverse. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and we all approach things so differently. That’s why tolerance is so important in life. When you criticize, you attack differences like a prizefighter in a corner of the ring. When you’re tolerant, you suspend judgment ….

Novelist Walker Percy once said that passing life’s lessons on to our children is like two prisoners pushing notes between cell blocks. You never know if you’re getting through, but you keep doing it anyway. Years [after one especially important lesson], I heard [my son] Zach counseling a friend, “So-and-so did this, but he’s had a hard life. You can never know the whole story.” It felt pretty good to know that some of those messages got through after all.

That’s sustainable living.

If you’re interested in raising children who have a heart for the world, If I Were Your Daddy tells you how many powerful dads have done it. As a Timberland fan, you can preview the book by downloading Billy Shore’s entire chapter for free at www.IfIWereYourDaddy.com/billy-shore.

What’s the single most important lesson you would — or do — try to teach your children?

The Value of Quarterly Reporting

As one of the only companies out there that’s currently reporting non-financial performance on a regular basis, I’m often asked “what value does Timberland get out of quarterly reporting?” Although it’s a pretty complicated question in itself, what often follows is a myriad of questions that take more than a few minutes to answer: How did you make this decision? Who’s using the quarterly reports? Does increased disclosure help with other parts of your CSR strategy?

Since Timberland began reporting our environmental and social performance on a quarterly basis in 2008 we’ve learned a lot. Our intent in issuing reports on a more frequent basis was to analyze, disclose, and integrate CSR information within the company in the same manner that we manage our financial performance. Our quarterly statements feature a dashboard of 15 key performance indicators, including analysis of individual progress towards our long-term goals. It’s our way of tracking performance in a more detailed manner, and also sharing the details of how we’re faring against our targets in a closer-to-real time scenario (as opposed to a backward looking CSR “statement” of the previous year’s impacts – often released long after we’ve made business decisions based on such performance). Note: we do believe such accountability statements are valuable and have published bi-annual CSR reports as an opportunity to share stories that illustrate our progress, successes and challenges in more detail. Our 2007-2008 CSR report was released in October 2009 and we will be issuing a new report later this year with 2009-2010 performance information.

The benefit of evaluating our performance quarterly is that this more timely information helps us to make changes to meet our goals more efficiently and effectively than we would if we relied solely on annual data. It also provides us with data that’s critical for internal stakeholder discussions and business decision-making.   Our quarterly CSR performance metrics equip business leaders to better understand how trends (and challenges) in the “CSR world” are related to their regular activities and our company’s overall bottom line. This includes things like reducing our overall carbon footprint (for the benefit of reducing total energy costs across the company) and increasing organic cotton or other renewable materials to deliver sustainable products to consumers ((such as Timberland’s Earthkeepers product line, which is increasing rapidly and best demonstrates the inclusion of environmentally-preferred materials).  We have a lot of work to do in this area – but it’s an important part of leveraging more sophisticated data as a means to create shared ownership and accountability, rather than simply sharing information among colleagues.

What will this frequency of reporting ultimately achieve? I believe we’re working towards a system where sustainability risks and opportunities could be evaluated in the current global market. If we can share information in ways that also highlight the need for long-term valuation of such priorities, that will serve as an opportunity to educate and engage different stakeholders in the process. Is our approach perfect? No. Does it take additional time? Yes (there, I said it). But it is helping us to create an integrated strategy for analysis, implementation, and accountability. Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz calls this commerce & justice — working hand in hand for the benefit of our overall company, not in separate silos.

Sundance “Superheroes”

The word on the street is that while the Sundance Film Festival is teeming with unparalleled talent this week, much of it has arrived woefully unprepared for the  Park City weather conditions.  Thank goodness there’s an outdoor company on hand with cozy boots and jackets to keep filmmakers warm and dry:

Serving Communities in More Ways Than One

Last week I received an email from Hugh Locke, the president of Yéle Haiti, one of Timberland’s two partners in the Yéle Vert tree nursery projects we’re supporting in Haiti. The subject line of the email was, “Yéle Vert and Cholera Response.”  I was a little apprehensive about opening it. The last time Hugh sent me a note about Yéle Vert and cholera was this past November and it was to inform me that a Yéle Vert farmer, who was also one of the program’s most ardent supporters, had died of from complications caused by cholera.

The November news, while devastating to me and many others, prompted Hugh to work with Timote Georges, our Yéle Vert project leader from Trees for the Future, and with health professionals from Partners in Health to immediately put into action a cholera prevention training program for our Yéle Vert farmers.  Within a week of receiving the training all six of the Yéle Vert nurseries began to serve as community focal points for cholera prevention.

Thanks to our passionate partners, there was good to come from such a sorrowful event. And when I finally opened Hugh’s email last week, he proved that the quick and solid course of action by Timberland’s valued partners to prevent another cholera-related death in the farming communities served by Yéle Vert was in fact an act of human greatness…

Dear Margaret:

Just back from Haiti and catching up… more to follow, but wanted to share the story below as it involves our Yéle Vert team…

Yéle Haiti’s contribution to stemming the spread of cholera has saved many lives, but you don’t often get a chance to put a face to those who have been helped. That is, until now. The face in question is that of Florvil Sony, a 15-year-old boy who lives with his parents and two brothers in the small farming community of Morancy, about 45 minutes from the outskirts of Gonaives. He recently contracted cholera. As his symptoms quickly became critical, his parents were frightened that the rest of the family could be infected if they tried to care for him. Not knowing what to do or who to turn to for help, they abandoned Florvil to die.

Twenty of the Yéle Vert technicians and farmers in this same area were trained last November in cholera prevention and treatment by Partners in Health. As word spread of Florvil having contracted the disease and been abandoned to die, a Yéle Vert technician named Wilson Noel took action. He found Florvil, took him to one of the Yéle Vert nurseries and gave him the life saving combination of water, salt and sugar that he had learned about from Partners in Health.  Having stabilized Florvil, Noel then took him using the nursery’s motorcycle to a hospital in Gonaives. By last week Florvil had completely recovered and was back with his family and attending school as usual.

Sincerely,

Hugh

15-year-old Florvil Sony (middle), photographed last week with his two brothers, after recovering from cholera. His life was saved by the efforts of Yéle Vert technician Wilson Noel.

I guess it’s true what they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I am so proud of the amazing community-based leadership model that Yéle Vert represents.  Yes, we’re planting hundreds of thousands of trees annually. And we’re providing valuable agroforestry training and supplying seeds to farmers. But the success of the program lies not only in the tangible elements Timberland, Trees for the Future and Yéle Haiti have provided to the farmers and the six communities where the nurseries are located. Success lies also in the intangible ideal that, because of the success of the nurseries, the Yéle Vert farmers have naturally evolved to leaders because they are truly a trusted and valued part of their farming communities. Earthkeeping at its finest.

Desperately Seeking NH Service Projects

Twice a year, Timberland organizes large-scale service events for our employees worldwide so they can pull on their boots and make a difference.  Earth Day is one of these two annual global celebrations of service.

As our corporate headquarters are in New Hampshire, we’ve got a pretty robust employee population there that is both talented and passionate about creating a positive impact in their own backyard.  The challenge is, after more than a decade of serving in our own backyard we’re running a little short on service opportunities!

And so – we’re seeking proposals for Earth Day service projects in New Hampshire.  We’re looking specifically for projects that can accommodate a minimum of 50 volunteers and contribute to the regreening of our communities (examples of regreening projects include creating and/or improving public greenways or trail systems, community gardens, playgrounds, green roofs, edible gardens for schools, etc.).

All of our Earth Day projects will be selected and executed according to Timberland’s GREEN standard.  GREEN is an acronym for:

Grassroots – Projects which address pressing community needs.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Projects that allow us to use recycled or repurposed materials.

Engagement – Projects that engage relevant community stakeholders, to support and sustain our service efforts.

Education – Projects that foster education and awareness, both among our employees and the community.

Neutrality – Projects that allow us to be as energy- and resource-efficient as possible, in support of our corporate goal to reduce our carbon emissions.

To submit your Earth Day project proposal, please complete our Earth Day RFP form and e-mail it to Brianne Wood bwood@timberland.com by Friday, January 28, 2011.

Go Hug a Boot!

You may or may not have heard that we are the official outerwear sponsor for the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah! Cool, right? What’s even cooler is that Timberland held a contest through Facebook that awarded one winner the opportunity to attend the annual festival, on their dime! Epic, I know!

You can tell by my enthusiasm that I am a huge movie buff. I have been known to say that certain movie stores would not be in business if it weren’t for my rental account! I immediately thought, “I’m in it to win it, I want this SO bad!” and I’m always up for a little competition. So, you can imagine my disappointment when I read further in the company email announcement that employees were not eligible to win the grand prize! I was bummed, but I understood.  As I sulked in my chair I read further and found there was a light at the end of the tunnel: One employee winner would be chosen out of the submissions to win a coveted official filmmaker jacket and a free pair of boots! I guess the closest thing to attending the festival is being able to sport the official gear that is only given to filmmakers and programmers! In fact, only 320 jackets will be gifted during the 10 day festival.

I immediately went to it and started brainstorming how I was going to present my favorite boots and why I was so deserving of this jacket! Finally, I had a light bulb moment and decided the perfect pose and caption to go along with my boots! I was confident it would be the winner! I decided I would do a play on words and tie it in with tree hugging since, firstly, our company logo is a tree and secondly, my Earthkeeper Mount Holly Duck boots are not only the most durable, waterproof, comfortable and functionally stylish boots I’ve ever owned, but in purchasing and wearing them I am being environmentally conscious as well: Double win! Who would have thought that one could make a difference by simply purchasing shoes!? It’s definitely a way for those who don’t necessarily like to get dirty to contribute to a greener world…and look darn good doing it!

So, here is my official submission:

Over the next few weeks, I waited with bated breath and rallied my friends and family on Facebook to vote for my photo! I prayed that the Timberland marketing team would find my submission as clever as I thought it was. That’s all I could do, right?! AND???????

Da na na naaaaaaa!

THEY DID! I was chosen as the winner of the employee contest and am beyond excited to proudly wear my Timberland filmmaker jacket! I bet you won’t argue when I tell you, “It was the best hug my boots ever gave!”

You can follow our journey through the 2011 Sundance Film Festival by visiting us at www.timberlandsff.com

110 Young Heroes Honor MLK Legacy

While many enjoy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a day off, for City Year it’s anything but that.  City Year New Hampshire (CYNH) celebrated the day by opening the 2011 Young Heroes (YH) program, a service learning program that provides middle school students with structured, team-based opportunities to perform community service.  Through service, the program (now in its seventh year) is designed to educate middle school students on important social issues and give them the chance to impact their communities powerfully.  By fostering values of cooperation, character, and civic identity in children who are at a crucial juncture in their development, the program aims to develop the next generation of active citizens.

And it works!  Alumni of the program stay involved and help support the current Young Heroes participants through the program in a variety of ways.  Some alumni become junior team leaders and serve as role models who help with the logistics of the program and help run the service projects.  Another alumni team, called Devoted Heroes, is made up of high school students who meet once a month throughout the year to explore relevant issues ranging from living a healthy life to dealing with bullying and cliques in high school.

The degree to which Young Hero alums stay involved proves to me that the program has a resounding impact on its participants.  The YH program is run by a dedicated team of nine CYNH corps members which Timberland sponsors.  I’m really proud of this investment we have made to support the engaged citizenship of NH youth.

The 110 Young Heroes enrolled in this year’s program will serve in Manchester, Nashua and the Seacoast area of New Hampshire.  Last year’s class of 103 Young Heroes completed 15,000 hours of service during the course of the program; this year’s Young Heroes have already completed 2,000 hours of service.

I look forward to hearing of the impact of this year’s team of Young Heroes.  I also look forward to the day when a majority of us shift from thinking of MLK day as a day off and instead, like City Year New Hampshire, consider it a “day ON” that we can use to make a difference.

Boots on the Ground: Earthkeepers in Mozambique

A few months back, our CSR manager in Europe received a request from a woman named Sophie Scott, who runs a community conservation program called Mareja in Northern Mozambique.  The program and its challenges, in Sophie’s words:

The plights in this part of the world are many, in a biodiversity hotspot that is virtually unstudied and suffering from extreme poverty …but it is breath-taking with pockets of rare mammals such as wild dog, lion and elephant.

The daily struggles on the reserve are against illegal timber cutting and poaching for ivory and all bush meat.  We have a team of local rangers who do a very difficult job policing the area which is subtropical coastal forest covering 36,000 hectares.

The rangers, Sophie reported, were in dire need of “super smart, durable boots” – and could Timberland help?

Yes, we could.  Two months and many emails back and forth, we were finally able to get some much-needed boots (and t-shirts) to Sophie for her team.  Courtesy of the Mareja blog:

Our donation from Timberland has made a very great difference to the Mareja community and provided an especially happy Christmas.  Domink (a co-director for Mareja) made a speech – explaining that a company called Timberland had recognized the value of our work here, in this remote and poor corner of the earth.  He pointed out the logo which includes a tree and the earth in which it grows – both fundamental aspects we work hard here to protect.  Gathered in a large group in our room sitting on a carpet, they all found the symbol on their new T-shirt … the room was thick with a feeling that they and their work were valued and recognized – work for forest conservation.

Antonio, our cook, in new outfit

Old carpenter repairing main roof (he was very pleased to have his picture taken)

Massalino (Ranger) helping with the new roof

We’re so happy to support this incredible team of rangers and to equip them to make their difference in one corner of the earth.  To learn more about Mareja’s work, please visit their blog.

Celebrating the First Snow

Ryan and Kassidy Brown are a brother and sister team from Nashville, Tennessee and together, they are Journey of Action – a Timberland-sponsored project that is part media tour, part road trip, part inspirational expedition.

For Journey of Action, Ryan and Kassidy are driving from Alaska to Argentina – a 6-month trip that is taking them into 14 countries and over 15,000 miles.  Along the way, they’re highlighting the many amazing young people they meet – those working to make positive social and environmental impacts and change.

One of the most recent highlights from Ryan and Kassidy’s journey was a trip to Flagstaff, Arizona and the Navajo Nation, where they had the unique opportunity to “snow bathe” – a cleansing, purifying (and obviously COLD) ritual that celebrates the blessings of the first snow.

Have your own unique way of celebrating the season’s first snow?  Share with us … and stay tuned for more video updates from Ryan and Kassidy’s Journey of Action.

Haiti Needs Purpose, Not Pity

With the anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti upon us, I’ve seen a fair amount of predictable media coverage that recounts the devastating events of January 12, 2010, and an equal amount of coverage that focuses on the continuing plight of the Haitian people one year later.

I’m pretty ambivalent about the media coverage.  It’s not that I don’t think the situation in Haiti is worth remembering – I remember it all the time.  I was there 2 weeks after the earthquake struck last January and the sights and smells and sounds of the scared and the mourning, the sick and the dead, the endless, massive piles of rubble – those are things that stick in my mind.  I do remember.    My wish is that there could be a greater purpose to all the “anniversary” coverage of Haiti’s demise … that we could realize more than just remembrance and renewed sympathy, do more than shake our heads sadly and turn the page, or change the channel.

Sympathy has its place – compassion can be an incredibly powerful driving force.  But compassion in this case hasn’t proven effective.  For all the good that’s been done over the past year – longer, even, since we’re talking about a country that was plagued by economic and environmental hardships long before last year’s earthquake  — for all the support that’s come in to Haiti in the way of supplies and volunteers and money, it’s not enough.  Much of the aid, it’s been reported, isn’t even getting where it needs to be.  And even if every tent, every dollar, every box of food to date had been successfully directed and applied – relying on the good will and offerings of the rest of the world simply isn’t sustainable.

No, Haiti doesn’t need another telethon or more donations.  The best philanthropy efforts in the world haven’t and won’t solve for the more than 3,000 deaths to date due to cholera, or a more than 80% unemployment rate, or the fact that 1 million+ Haitians are living in makeshift shelters and unsafe, unsanitary tent cities.  As Nicholas Kristof aptly pointed out in his New York Times op-ed last week, Haiti’s people don’t need food and clothing, they need to be able to care for themselves and support their families.  They don’t need a handout, they need a ladder to climb.

There are pockets of progress to report on this front … Kristof cites Fonkoze, an organization which provides rural Haitians with economic support in the form of loans, education and training.  And Konbit, a program established by a team of MIT students, matches unemployed Haitians who might not otherwise have access to information about prospective job opportunities by way of an automated phone system.  Positive, meaningful programs like these do exist and are making a difference in Haiti … but a handful of organizations aren’t going to raise the country out of the mud and make it whole again.   It’s progress, but it’s still philanthropic progress.  I do truly and deeply appreciate philanthropy – but we can’t expect humanitarian giving to replace a sound and sustainable business model – which is what Haiti needs most of all.

Think about it: what if Haiti could present a compelling ROI to potential “investors” and demonstrate a meaningful return for their contribution there?  It would be a stretch — we’re talking about a country with a crippled infrastructure, corrupt government, widespread disease … and that’s just the headline.  Think about the challenges of doing business in Haiti when everything from their sanitation system to their roadways to their power supply is unreliable or in some places, nonexistent.  But changing the way we think about Haiti – regarding it not as the focus of philanthropy but as the source of potential opportunity – is the most compelling and promising way I can see to break the vicious cycle that’s got the country in dismal paralysis.  Haiti needs the resources and opportunities businesses could bring to bear in order to start solving for its widespread instability … but that instability is precisely what’s keeping many businesses from going there.

Note that I said “many businesses,” and not “all.”  There are many brands that have had manufacturing operations in Haiti for years, successfully … although like the nonprofit sector, it’s going to take more than the current roster to create any sort of discernible impact.  And starting this year, there will be one more name on the roster: we’re in the process of establishing a Timberland manufacturing facility there. The factory is being built in a trade zone located in Oanaminthe, a town that sits on the eastern border of Haiti adjacent to the Dominican Republic.  Oanaminthe is about 200 miles from Port au Prince, where the earthquake struck last January — but like Port au Prince, and most every other region of the country, it is an area of critical, persistent need.  The unemployment rate there mirrors the rest of the country, the living conditions are dismal and the local community is desperate for a ladder to climb.  With any luck, our factory will be open and operating by early summer … and while we’re starting small – 30 or 40 jobs to start – we’re hoping to grow to a point where we’ll need a workforce of 300 – 400 employees in the next few years.

Importantly, opening a factory in Haiti has some clear advantages for Timberland.  It will help us build our manufacturing capacity in a region that’s closer to our major markets; the abundant, motivated workforce is pretty attractive, too.  If the goal is to expand our manufacturing capacity in a manner and a location that makes economic and logistical sense, Haiti looks pretty good.

And as a company that’s committed to creating positive social and environmental impact at the same time we’re earning a buck, Haiti makes sense, too.  For nearly 2 years now, we’ve had a program in Haiti called Yele Vert which is all about reforestation and sustainable agriculture.  A little over a year ago we broke ground on the first Yele Vert nursery, with a vision of training local farmers to grow and cultivate trees, which would be sold (an economic boost for farmers and their community) or used to reforest the local hillsides.  While the earthquake took us (along with much of the rest of the world) temporarily off-track, it never took us off course.  A year later there are 6 Yele Vert community nurseries up and running at full capacity, with nearly 300,000 nursery-grown trees already planted by local farmers, and more than 100,000 slated to be planted in the next few months.

Since we’re already making social and environmental investments in Haiti, it makes sense – and is in our own best interest, if we want to see the Yele Vert vision become a blossoming reality – to invest our business there, too.  And with the establishment of a Timberland factory in Haiti, we’re completing the equation and living up to our own business model, which prescribes that commerce and justice should coexist and be mutually supportive.  I believe in our model of commerce and justice completely … and I’m as anxious as anyone to see it succeed in a country that is sorely lacking both.

Haiti probably doesn’t present as many compelling opportunities for other businesses as it does for Timberland, and I get that.  It’s a unique combination of right-place-right-time factors that have convinced us to make the leap and give it a try.  But the mentality that brought us to this point – regarding Haiti not as a repository for charitable giving and donations, but as a country that might in fact have something to offer us in the way of bottom-line business benefit – that’s the kind of shift in thinking I believe could be more valuable than check-writing and more profitable than a fundraiser.

Is going into business in Haiti a smart business decision?  That remains to be seen.  It certainly isn’t without substantial risks … but life, and business, is full of risks.  I for one choose not to dwell on “what if” and focus instead on what might be … more trees, more jobs, more stability for Haiti; a stronger, healthier relationship between an historically downtrodden country and the businesses and organizations that engage with it.

Crazy CEO fantasy?  Could be.  But as long as the fantasy is better than realty, I’ll be working toward it.