How Timberland uses 'the four pillars' to sow sustainability

Betsy Blaisdell has spent her Timberland career working in sustainability issues, helping to usher the company to a powerhouse role in corporate social responsibility circles. She speaks to Nina Kruschwitz at MIT Sloan Management Review how Timberland integrates sustainability reporting and activities into all levels of the organization.

Q: In your time with Timberland, the concept of sustainability has really become part of the persona of the company. It seems like it’s integrated so deeply in so many parts of the business.

Betsy Blaisdell: When we talk about sustainability, it’s not just from the environmental sense but also from the social and financial aspects as well. We think about it as the triple bottom line. And we’re focused on social and environmental responsibility in what we call the four pillars.

The first is focused on our corporate footprint and specifically mitigating our climate impact. The second is focused around our product footprint and, within that, developing cradle-to-cradle products. The third area is focused around community service and greening the communities where we live and work -- specifically with tree planting. And then our fourth area is focused around our factories, building sustainable living environments at our factories.

Our CSR activities are organized into those four areas and we have leads on our corporate social responsibility team for each of those four pillars.

We are in a distinct business unit within Timberland that reports directly to the president of Timberland. But we’ve worked over almost the last decade to really integrate CSR metrics into our business unit dashboards and to seed projects and people that own those CSR-related projects in different business units. So my colleagues and I have had staff over the years, but now all the staff I’ve hired actually reports into other business units.

So when you ask about level of integration, I’d say we measure that by where our initiatives show up on business unit dashboards and how those initiatives are essentially owned by individuals within those business units. I have no plans to hire a staff person to be on my team. A person would come on board if I had a project that a business unit was really interested in trying and testing before owning.

Image of Timberland boots provided by Dough4872 via Wikimedia Commons

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