Guest Post: Timberland Shares Lessons Learned in Sustainability in 2016
By: Colleen Vien, Sustainability Director, Timberland
At the start of each year, we take time to reflect upon the prior year to ensure we don’t lose sight of the lessons we learned. From launching innovative product partnerships that benefit society and celebrating milestone environmental achievements, to helping those in need by rallying our employees and sharing our commitment to do more for green spaces, we celebrated progress and overcame challenges in 2016. As we look to 2017, here are three lessons we learned in the past year that we’ll carry with us in our mission to be Earthkeepers in all that we do.
1. Flexibility is Key.
We have set bold goals when it comes to creating responsible products with sustainable materials. When working to incorporate sustainable materials into our footwear and apparel – particularly new innovations – an open mind and the willingness for deep collaboration is needed for a meaningful relationship between supplier and buyer. That was our experience with the creation of Timberland Tires and, most recently, in our collaboration with Thread International, a new supplier of recycled PET fabric made from discarded plastic bottles collected in Haiti’s poorest communities.
Thread creates jobs and income opportunities while protecting the environment, supporting communities and striving for a transparent supply chain along the way. We are constantly looking for sustainable materials suppliers with bigger impacts and when we were introduced to Thread, we knew immediately they fit the profile. While our values align, there are
challenges to overcome when a global brand partners with an entrepreneurial company – such as merging operational timelines and processes. Keeping an open dialogue is necessary for the partnership to work. Ultimately, this is what forms a strong relationship and is the driving force behind the collection of footwear and bags we are excited to launch this year. This results in a collection -- one that features responsible products with positive impacts that are felt in communities around the world -- that both partners can be proud of.
2. Think Globally, Act Locally.
Through our consumer insights research we learned that while consumers appreciate our large-scale global tree planting initiatives (in Inner Mongolia’s Horqin Desert and Haiti, for example), they also want to feel our impact closer to home. This led us to consider how we might help green communities in the cities where our consumers live, work and explore. As a result, in 2016 we launched our five-year urban greening initiative to double our footprint in five cities – just not in the way you might expect.
Each year, we plan to double our retail footprint in one city and create or restore an equivalent or greater amount of green space in that same city. We launched the campaign in 2016 in the Mott Haven community of the Bronx where we helped convert a 32,000 square foot vacant lot into a community garden. Likewise in Europe, urban greening came to life most specifically in Milan, where our employees engaged local youth in improving an education space in one of Milan’s larges parks. In Asia we’re finding that there are similar opportunities to protect, create, or restore green spaces in locally relevant ways.
3. One Size Does Not Fit All.
Timberland consists of many different workplace settings, and with each setting come different challenges and opportunities for engaging our employees in community service. We’ve come to embrace the fact that you can’t have the same expectations for all workplace settings. A retail store, distribution center and manufacturing plant in the Dominican Republic all face very different challenges in terms of employee schedules and business needs; while office locations and corporate headquarters around the world may face a different set of challenges.
Our team of Global Stewards helps us translate our global sustainability priorities to each Timberland location. The Stewards are passionate and dedicated employees who volunteer, above and beyond their regular job responsibilities, to serve a two-year term as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) ambassadors in their locations. The Stewards help us drive our service and CSR education agenda in locally relevant ways, which increase the reach and impact of our efforts. This has been crucial to our success.
About the author: As Timberland’s Sustainability Director, Colleen Vien manages the global outdoor lifestyle brand’s efforts to create responsible products, protect the outdoors and serve the communities where its employees and customers live, work and explore.