Posts Tagged ‘recycling’

Technology Finds Second Life in South Africa

Six months ago, we shared with you the good work our European team is doing to give new life to old computers by donating them through Computers 4 Africa, a UK-based nonprofit which (as the name implies) refurbishes and ships used computers to schools in Africa and South Africa.

Through Computers 4 Africa, we recently received this update about where and how our donated PCs are now having an impact:

Computers donated by Timberland have made their way to KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

Half the population of KwaZulu–Natal is below the poverty line. The students are mainly Zulu with about 25% Indian intake. The principal of Lower Tugela Primary School, Hans Tulsee, recognised the importance of ICT education and as a result launched a computer room last year through local fundraising efforts. The room was to be officially opened on 30th Jan 2010.

Thinking of upgrading your own PC?  Consider donating your old one (or, donating your time to help a good cause) through Computers 4 Africa’s website.

One Man’s Trash …

Not to be outdone by their mountain-scaling colleagues, Timberland’s information technology team in the UK has their own Earthkeeping accomplishment to share:

Looking after IT for Timberland’s European region can be very taxing on the mind, body and soul!  Although hearing “I’ve forgotten my password,” or, “Whoops!  There goes my Starbucks into the keyboard again,” does amuse us, it doesn’t always stimulate the job satisfaction we all crave.

We recently donated 30+ older computers (too old for the high-tech Timberland world but certainly still usable to most) to a charity called Computers 4 Africa. I’ve worked with the organization in the past and appreciate that they seem like a low-key company doing what they say on the label with no frills or whistles. What really made my day was when they came to collect the computers — they were so elated by such a large donation – they even suggested the classroom that gets our hand-me-down technology would be named after us! (The “Timberland Room” has a nice ring to it, yes?)

This is not the first time our team has done something like this – we’ve generated money for local charities through old PC sales and previously provided IT skills to local charitable organizations that needed the help – but this is the first time I realised how important this is to others, and what a difference it can make.  I’m pushing my folks to do the same across Europe for this year and for every year moving on.


- Danny Chinery
Regional IT Manager, Timberland Europe



Creative Compassion: Impact Designers

The “Impact Designers” are a dynamic duo of Earthkeeper heroes using their design skills to battle social and environmental problems.  Sami Nerenberg and Nate Bastien first met at the Rhode Island School of Design where Nate was Sami’s star student, and now both are committed to sharing their professional passion and expertise to create positive impact.

While Sami has been managing a 6-week eco-design boot camp, Nate has been busy with his own project — designing environmentally-responsible products for marginalized communities and the organizations that serve them.  First up, a low-cost, durable backpack designed for people experiencing homelessness.  The need behind the design, in Nate’s own words:

“Because the shelters are only open at night, you are forced out on the streets between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm every day.  And don’t expect the shelter to provide any storage for your belongings, the conditions can be so poor and degrading that some individuals actually prefer to sleep on the streets or in a tent.  In both cases, homeless individuals, and all of their belongings, are exposed to the weather every day.  Through these conversations I recognized a design opportunity – displaced individuals need a means to carry their belongings that is affordable, durable, and waterproof.  And why tap into virgin materials when there are heaps of quality materials heading to the landfill right now.”

The result is a waterproof, durable, adjustable Street Pack, made from discarded materials and featuring a multi-functional emergency shelter / solar blanket.  Nate field-tested the pack himself during his 3-day Boston street retreat, and now he’s looking for other volunteers.  If you (or a friend) are currently living on the streets and are interested in testing one of the first production Street Packs, please let Nate know.  Testers will receive a free prototype of the Street Pack, along with a disposable camera … in return, they’ll be asked to use it and provide feedback (via photos and testimonials) on the pack’s functionality and durability. 

Stay tuned as Nate and Sami share their observations and experiences in designing for positive impact both here on Earthkeepers and on their pages at

Water Chronicles, Chapter 3

As we continue to plug away in our effort to remove bottled water from our headquarters buildings, the team at Timberland’s distribution center in Ontario, CA kindly and quietly shared the following experience they had in executing a similar effort … two years ago.  A note from center maintenance supervisor Willie Williams to operations manager Dwayne Davis reads:

 I received a flyer advertising water coolers that didn’t require water bottles.  From a maintenance standpoint I was intrigued because the coolers with bottles require periodic cleaning of the inside of the cooler and this one did not, because of an internal activated oxygen system.  Better yet, the company offered to match or beat the price per gallon we were paying for the bottled water.  At that point I made a list of Pros and Cons:

  1. No more pallets of water bottles by the coolers in the distribution center, which would give us more floor space and look much tidier.
  2. We wouldn’t lose production time from workers of each department transporting bottles.
  3. No more cleaning the coolers to prevent any algae buildup. (My favorite!)
  4. We wouldn’t worry about running out of water if our consumption increased during a hot spell.
  5. I always hated the idea of a truck that gets about 4 MPG delivering all those 5 gallon bottles of filtered water when the technology was here to just filter it ourselves.

I couldn’t think of any … so we went ahead and switched.

A couple of Earthkeeping lessons from this story:

  • There’s no shortage of good ideas and actions happening all around us, every day (even within our own company!) – all we have to do is listen and learn to make our own efforts that much better.
  • Saving the planet doesn’t have to be the sole motivation for making a positive environmental change – and often isn’t.  As Willie points out, switching to bottle-less water coolers didn’t cost more, saved both floor space and production time … and also took a few CO2-emitting trucks off the road.

Thanks to Willie, Dwayne and our Ontario crew for sharing their success story … and a few happy photos of their bottle-less water coolers:

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

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.


  • 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

Safe Haven for Dead Gadgets

When he’s not logging swim hours in the Atlantic Ocean, Earthkeeper Hero Christopher Swain takes to dry land to educate the public about pollution and the need for cleaner waterways.  In Philadelphia last week, Christopher staged an Ethical Electronics Recycling Event where more than 11,000 pounds of discarded and outdated consumer electronics (commonly known as “e-waste”) were collected for recycling and, when possible, reuse.

What’s the link between your old computer and the clean ocean Christopher Swain is advocating for?  In his own words:

If these devices get tipped into a landfill, or dumped on the ground in Asia or Africa, they vomit their toxic contents–mercury, lead, arsenic, barium, hexavalent chromium, and other nasty compounds–into the environment.  This pollutes nearby lands and waterways, and eventually, the ocean.

Dead dolphins and porpoises have been found with high levels of manmade toxics like brominated fire retardants in their blubber.  Have dolphins been fighting fires?  Maybe.  But a more likely explanation is that they have eaten fish from oceans contaminated with the same chemical powders that grace the insides of our cell phones and laptops.

That’s scary enough to make any Earthkeeper give up his or her electronic gadget habit … or at least find a safe home for those dead iPods and laptops.

You can read more about Christopher’s work to clean up our e-waste in his blog post on  And if you’re interested in organizing an electronics recycling event for your community, visit Christopher’s website.

Kiss Me, I’m an Earthkeeper

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a toast to some of the brewing companies working hard to make their beers green (as in organic-green, not leprechaun-green):

Eel River Brewing Company in Scotia, CA (the country’s 1st certified organic brewery) is located in a former lumber mill; all the power used to brew is produced using scrap lumber and other mill leftovers.

Uinta Brewing Co. in Salt Lake City, UT boasts an energy-efficient facility that runs entirely on wind power.

Green Valley Brewing Company (the certified organic brewery of Anheuser-Busch) uses 100% organic barley malt supplied by family-owned organic farms and its packaging is made from recycled materials.

Bend, OR’s Deschutes Brewery sources its hops from a certified Salmon-Safe hops farm which uses healthy practices to help keep the Pacific Northwest rivers clean for native salmon.

And remember — whether you’re drinking green today or any other day — to please drink responsibly.

Recycling is Smashing Success at Sundance

Earthkeeper-on-the-street reporter, Annabelle Gurwitch, caught up with some of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival crew at the Park City recycling center. Annabelle caught the crew in the act of recycling the beer bottles from the Festival’s opening gala, which was held the previous evening. Check it out – the recycling was a “smashing” success (sorry … we just couldn’t resist):


Giving and Getting

A few weeks ago, we posted about the need for less “stuff” in our world (and in our landfills … and in our closets) and making sure the stuff we do have is more durable than disposable.

It’s a great premise … but eventually we outgrow some of even the most durable stuff and then what?  Are you destined to have a garage full of old toys, electronics, chipped plates and dusty lamps because you don’t want to add them to the dump pile?

Not by a long shot.  The online recycling community is growing every day – and just as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, there’s an online swap site for virtually everything you need (or, need to get rid of).  Freecycle is perhaps one of the best-known and most widespread online recycling networks, with an estimated 5 ½ million members and more than 4,000 “communities” across the globe, and many other “mainstream” options exist, including:

In addition, there are specialty swap sites for everything from college textbooks ( to children’s toys and gear ( to music, DVDs and video games (  We even found one where you can swap that gift card you received for the store you never shop at for another gift card you might actually use (

Swapping puts your used stuff where it can do the most good – in the hands of someone who needs it – rather than in a landfill.  (Plus, it makes space in your house for the 3 things you find on Freecycle that you suddenly can’t live without.)

Our thanks to the Lean Green Family for inspiring this post and reminding us that it’s better to give than to throw away.