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?