Timberland Sets a New Bar With CSR Portal

Did you ever go to a company’s website, trying to learn a thing or two about their environmental performance or CSR progress? In most cases you’ll need the skills of an experienced NYPD detective to find what you’re looking for. Unlike these other companies, Timberland has done an excellent job making CSR accessible and obvious. Just one click away from the homepage, you will find the company’s new CSR portal with accessible, user-friendly, transparent, and updated information on the company’s main environmental and social impacts.

Some might see this new portal just as a minor improvement in Timberland’s already progressive CSR reporting practices. Others, myself included, believe this is nothing less than a new chapter in the short history of CSR reporting.

It’s not surprising at all that this CSR portal was introduced by Timberland. The company has had a history of taking significant steps to improve its CSR reporting. In 2008 the company began reporting its environmental and social performance on a quarterly basis. Jeff Swartz, Timberland’s CEO, explained that the company made this change to give its CSR performance the same importance as their financial performance. “As a company that’s committed to creating social and environmental value in addition to financial value, we felt it was an important “signal” to our stakeholders for us to treat our CSR results the same way, with the same frequency,” he added.

The new portal, which will replace Timberland’s printed CSR reports and will also to be updated on quarterly basis, is another step forward in promoting the idea that CSR information should not be any less important than financial data. Besides providing relevant and timely CSR information it also means easy access to a summary of the most significant indicators. With most companies, you would need to download their latest sustainability report and search for such a summary there. If you’re lucky, it might take you 5-10 minutes. On the new portal it takes you 5-10 seconds to get to the ‘Goals and Progress’ page, for example.

On this page you can find all the main indicators of the company’s CSR pillars – climate, product, factories and service. For each indicator you have actual performance vs. target in 2010 and future targets for 2011-2015. For example, you learn that Timberland emitted 15,889 tons of CO2 in 2010, not meeting its original target of 12,800 tons. You will also find out that this target actually became now the company’s reduction target for 2015.

This sort of information brings us to the next thing I like about the new portal – transparency. Timberland is not afraid to provide its readers with the bad news with the good news. Call it radical transparency, or whatever name you want to give it, but the bottom line is that this is the only way to act if you want readers to take your CSR report seriously. As a study conducted by KPMG and SustainAbility found, readers are looking for willingness of companies to report on bad news. When bad news is reported, greater legitimacy is attached to the report, and it is perceived as more balanced.

Timberland gives you the reasons why it reduced its emissions less than expected (increase in air travel and record temperatures in several regions, which led to an increase in energy consumption). The company also explains why it has extended its 2010 target of 50% reduction to 2015 (it just makes more sense given Timberland’s planned expansion of business) and why it is still an ambitious goal for the business (The Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability challenges companies to reduce their emissions by 25% from a 2005 baseline by 2020). So you got the good, the bad and actually even the ugly.

Well, maybe “troubling” is a better word than ugly to describe the fact the carbon footprint measured by Timberland is actually only 4% of Timberland’s carbon footprint. It means that maybe the real focus shouldn’t be on why Timberland is extending its 2010 goal to 2015, but what the company intends to do about the 96% it doesn’t count. Timberland acknowledges that ”the environmental impacts of our products far outweigh the impacts of our owned and operated facilities,” and provides details on its plans to reduce the carbon emissions in its value chain. Nevertheless I find it a bit strange that the company has no quantified goals for this part of its reduction mission. As we all know, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Still, I think Timberland deserves credit for being an open about the limitations of its reporting and providing all the data in a sincere way. No matter if they’re wrong about not having goals for the larger part of their carbon emissions, the fact that they write about it in detail is an indicator of their high level of transparency, which adds a lot of creditability to the report.

The new portal is not just about providing readers with information in the best way possible, but also about creating a more effective dialogue with stakeholders. This is the reason why you will find so many social media features, from links to Jeff Swartz’s twitter account to YouTube clips and a link to the company’s informative blog.

Not only does the new portal provide a model for other companies on how to make their CSR reporting better, but it should also help Timberland in preserving its identity and commitment to the environment once the purchase of the company by VF is completed. In any case, it’s an important development, one that significantly contributes to the general effort to bring CSR reporting to the level of financial reporting.

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder and CEO of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor of Strategic Design and Management at the School of Design Strategies at Parsons The New School for Design. His research interests include the convergence of innovation, sustainability, business and design strategies, the sharing economy and sustainable business models such as B Corporations. He is the co-founder of two green startups (Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris) and a contributor writer to Triple Pundit.