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The Timberland Challenge: Beyond Customer-Facing Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

US-based shoe manufacturing company Timberland has challenged governments participating in the December 7 – 18 Copenhagen climate talks with their new campaign “Don’t Tell Us It Can’t Be Done.”

The campaign includes a petition calling for “government leaders attending the United Nation’s Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen to come to an agreement on fair and binding climate legislation that clearly defines a limit for greenhouse gas emissions.” It then continues the call for both large and small businesses “to lead the way in identifying solutions to achieve those limits.”

It’s not just an empty public relations campaign. According to a Business Wire release, Timberland has “reduced its direct carbon emissions by 27% since 2006 – all while achieving cost savings.”

According to Jeffrey Swartz, Timberland’s President and CEO, “If world leaders set the standards, businesses will find a way to innovate and make environmentally conscious products and profits at the same time. It can be done.”

In addition to the Copenhagen campaign, last week the company upped the ante – and announced plans to replace incandescent spotlights with LED lighting in 70% of its North American stores by the end of 2009, minimizing its greenhouse gas output by 505 metric tons. The plan will shrink the “carbon footprint of its US stores by an additional 11%.”

One Step Further : Beyond Consumer-Facing Strategies

Timberland’s corporate social responsibility efforts extend beyond consumer-focused initiatives. Additionally, according to the company’s just released 2007-2008 CSR report, green initiatives extend beyond commercial stores and into its factories. “Our commitment to improve environmental conditions in tanneries is also on track, whereby we seek to have all tanneries achieve a Silver rating according to the standards of the Leather Working Group by 2010; we’ve already seen this program have significant impacts, reducing tanneries’ overall environmental footprints.”

According to the report, the company is also committed to improving the lives of its factory workers around the globe. Timberland is committed to “ensuring that the workers who produce our products, no matter how big the order or where they are made, are provided with fair, safe, and non-discriminatory workplaces. We respect and promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions that establish international human and labor rights.”

Timberland’s work to improve conditions for workers goes back to 2005, and is still evolving. Timberland acknowledges the need for continual improvement. The report states that the company has ‘nearly eliminated “high risk” issues from our footwear sourcing channels, and we’ve seen our continued business partners achieve higher scores on our Code of Conduct assessments, demonstrating that improved working conditions is a long-term journey that requires both time and resources to see measurable results.’

The report continues, “During the remediation process, assessors assist factory management in analyzing root causes, identifying system gaps, and developing action plans that don’t simply address the findings but also aim to prevent the recurrence of the same or similar issues.” The company is dedicated to continued improvement of its workers’ lives and empowering them to take control of their workplaces.

Timberland’s CSR report provides details and specific, replicable steps toward building its worker engagement program, and can be found here.

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