Timberland Falls Short of 2010 Emissions Goal

In 2006, Timberland announced an aggressive five-year goal of reducing absolute emissions related to their facilities and employee air travel by 50 percent by the end of 2010. Timberland fell short of its goal, only reaching 38 percent by the end of 2010, but the company is refreshingly frank about their efforts, what held them back, and what they are doing to meet that goal by 2015, as well as how it plans to tackle an even bigger emissions issue.

In addition to setting the bar for emissions reduction at a lofty 50 percent, Timberland consulted with organizations like Ceres and the Carbon Disclosure Project in order to measure their baseline 2006 emissions, and create a reduction strategy. Although Timberland did not achieve their ultimate goal of a 50 percent reduction, their 38 percent reduction is over the 25 percent bar Ceres set in their Roadmap for Sustainability for 2020, and their Climate Counts score rose from 82 to 86 in 2009.

Energy Saving Efforts
Timberland’s initial emissions reduction goal was focused on cutting employee travel and energy use in their facilities in half. Toward that end, the company made many major changes to their real estate holdings to reduce energy use.

  • LEED. New store designs meet LEED standards and use 30 percent less energy than older stores.
  • Lighting. The lighting in Timberland headquarters, retail stores, and distribution centers have all been retrofitted, cutting energy use by over 30 percent. More efficient lighting generates less heat which saves on air conditioning use.
  • IT. The company retired older computer equipment and replaced it with newer, more efficient models and converted server power usage to use less energy.
  • Distribution Centers. A Holland distribution center was the first to use renewable energy and another in Ontario built a large solar array in 2006 that supplies half of its energy. A distribution center in Kentucky ran on inexpensive coal power until Timberland began supporting a hydro power project nearby in 2009. Purchasing clean energy credits has saved the company over 3,000 carbon emissions to date.
  • Manufacturing. Timberland invested in a small wind energy project near a large manufacturing plant in Dominican Republic to pilot the idea of converting from fossil fuel use to wind energy.

Energy Saving Stumbling Blocks
Several factors worked against Timberland’s emissions reduction efforts. Many of their energy-saving projects were implemented in the latter part of the five-year timeframe, so their energy conservation benefits have only started to be realized in the last few years. In addition, 2010 saw extreme high and low temperatures in many regions causing increased use of heat and air conditioning. This counteracted the energy-saving measures and lowered the expected energy and cost savings.

From 2006 to 2009, the tough economic climate caused Timberland to restrict air travel. In 2010, as business picked back up, Timberland cut back on the long distance business solutions it had been using and resumed a heavy air travel schedule to service their global sales and oversee materials sourced from 38 countries. Fast Company’s Ariel Schwartz places the blame for missing Timberland’s 50 percent reduction target on this excessive air travel.

In her interview, Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz conceded that the company needed to streamline its business processes in order to to reduce travel, but it’s puzzling that Timberland was using alternative business methods to travel from 2006 to 2009, but then went back to heavy traveling in 2010. Swartz never really explains why. Schwartz also wrote that Timberland considered using Cisco Telepresence but ultimately rejected widespread company implementation due to cost.

The final blow to meeting reduction targets was the delay of additional planned energy-saving projects. Several projects that were slated for 2010 and their savings calculated toward the emissions goal were pushed off until 2011.

Timberland has now realigned its 50 percent emissions reduction goal for 2015. If the energy-saving projects that have been implemented continue to show positive results, the new projects starting in 2011 are effective, and Timberland can find a way to reduce travel, they appear to be on track to make it this time.

The Bigger Picture
Although much ado has been made about Timberland missing its emissions target, the Timberland Climate Strategy 2011 Update shows that their emissions from air travel and facilities only account for 4 percent of their total emissions. 96 percent of their emissions come from inbound transportation, finished product factories, and the materials used in production. By far, the biggest culprits are the source materials in Timberland’s products (71%).

Looking toward the future, Timberland not only has a plan to meet its previous goal, but to address this much larger supply chain issue. Timberland plans to increase the recycled content of its materials to lower the carbon footprint of its products and design new products to use lower emissions materials, as well as lobby for policy changes and continue to implement sustainable projects and practices.

CEO Swartz admitted to Fast Company’s Schwartz that perhaps the original 50 percent emission reduction goal was unrealistic, but if companies don’t set a high target, they don’t work as hard to try to meet it. Timberland’s 38 percent is still a solid accomplishment, and the company unflinchingly reported its mistakes as well as its achievements. We demand that companies be transparent, yet we are quick to criticize their failures. If we focus solely on mistakes, instead of supporting a company’s efforts, it will deter other companies from setting high goals for themselves. If companies only set easy targets, how much progress will be made?

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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