Timberland: Pushing the Limits of CSR

The beat-up box showed up on my chair this morning. Too shapeless to be a book, too dented to be a party invite, I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened it. Inside the cardboard was a blue Timberland T-shirt, wrapped around the company's Corporate Social Responsibility Report. And the reason for the, er, weathered presentation? The company used 100% recycled materials, soy-based ink and water-based, not chemical glues. There was even a certificate attached stating that the company had purchased offsets for whatever energy was used to mail out the material.

I was surprised and impressed, first because CSR reports, while gaining popularity, are more about potential than reality, which means they're not the kind of thing that gets pitched to journalists. But as we wrote last year, Timberland is a different animal altogether, and its CEO, Jeff Swartz, is as focused on sustainability as he is on keeping his company profitable. That's clear once you open the report, which is hard to do because it got sort of mashed up in the mailing process. (Does sustainable equal less durable?)

On the cover was a list of four metrics: Financial (the usual), followed by, in equal size print, stats on Global Human Rights, Environmental Stewardship and Community Involvement. The company disclosed details on its own supply chain, the amount of renewable energy it currently uses (6%) and the percentage of employees participating involunteer work (68%). Best of all, it set up metrics that could be followed by other companies and listed targets for next year.

To me, this is the kind of thing that takes CSR from a fake image builder to a quantifiable science that companies will increasingly be measured on. Are other companies doing anything similar?

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  • Henry Paisley

    This CSR hokum is just too much to stomach. If a company walks the second mile to limit the damage it inflicts on the environment, abstains from child slavery, and treats its employees like human beings, all well and good. However, only an utter fool would rely on companies acting reasonably - which is why we need more laws, regulations, and controls, not less. The whole CSR "industry" is an unholy alliance between corporate bosses, pliable politicians, and toadying academics bent on persuading us that self-regulation of business is in the general interest. If we heed their weasel words, democracy will soon vanish and we will find ourselves in a new feudal age with the corporate barons running things to suit themselves.

  • jason

    Do you have any photos of the package? I'd love to see what it looked like - from a designer's standpoint and to see the form this project took. If so, please upload.

  • Brent Clanton

    I just hope your package was insured. If I'd received something that beat-up from ANY company, I'd be looking for where to file a damage claim. Screw the CSR crap--I want my stuff delivered safely, not looking like it rode on a truck through a war zone to get here.

  • stanton

    I can't believe that you are downgrading the efforts of others. Truth to be told, we may or may not know if Timberland is truly CSR oriented but the fact is that they are willing to share and urge the rest of us to do out part in taking CSR to an acceptable level, not just another marketing gimmick.

    Your claim of America's workers are probably the most overworked in the world says how much you actually know about this world. What other countries have you been to? What do you know about businesses in other countries in order to claim what you did above? You have no idea what you are talking about, and for someone who knows nothing, it is better to start learning and empower yourself with proper knowledge instead of demoralizing the efforts of others just so you can run your mouth and try to appear important.

  • roger fulton

    why? do they have to? So now, America's workers probably the most overworked in the world, stressed to the overlimit, have to get out and rake leaves, compost horse poop, sit in trees, ......what?
    What now, to gain favor with the next PC? Just to earn a paycheck??