Ethical Corporation recently had the chance to ask Timberland President, Stewart Whitney about his role at Timberland, the upcoming Responsible Business Summit USA 2016, and his ideas on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ethical Corporation: What’s your current role and what are your responsibilities?
As president of Timberland, my role really boils down to being a steward for the brand. That means setting and delivering on aggressive growth strategies for the brand – we’re targeting $3.1B in global revenues by 2019. It means ensuring that we connect with consumers, meeting and exceeding their expectations for great products and great brand experiences. And perhaps most relevant for this audience, it means always living up to our values as a responsible corporate citizen. That has long been in our DNA, and is non-negotiable for Timberland. It’s how we’ve built into the brand we are today, and is critical to driving continued growth in the future.
What projects are you most proud of in your current role?
What makes me most proud is that we’ve be able to maintain our focus on “doing well and doing by VF Corporation, many of us wondered, “will Timberland still be Timberland?” I’m proud to say the answer has been a resounding yes – a testament to the true passion for CSR that lies within the Timberland community, as well as VF’s own commitment to sustainability.
In terms of specific examples, there are many, but a few really stand out for me. In our efforts to protect and enhance the outdoors, one key area of focus for Timberland is tree planting. This past year we planted our two millionth tree in China’s Horqin Desert. I headed up Timberland Asia for six years prior to taking over as brand president, so I’ve been very closely involved in those efforts and was extremely proud to hit that milestone. It has really had a huge, positive impact in that region. Aside from tree planting, we’ve made major strides in our commitment to making products responsibly, steadily increasing our use of recycled, organic and renewable (ROR) materials over time.
In fact, in 2014 79 percent of Timberland footwear incorporated ROR materials. And finally, I’d point to our ethic of service. Every year, Timberland employees are given up to 40 hours of paid time to volunteer in their communities – whether it’s through company-sponsored events like our signature Serv-a-palooza, or on their own. We’ve served more than one million hours to date, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of a community where service is so central to who we are, as employees and as engaged citizens.
The broad umbrella of sustainability has changed a lot over the years, how do you see corporate sustainability evolving over the next 5 years?
Over the past few years here at Timberland, we’ve made great strides in sustainability not being an “add-on” function, but rather something that is truly embedded in our business model. Literally every department, every employee, has sustainability objectives woven into their performance plan. It’s not just the CSR department; everyone is accountable. I see more and more companies evolving toward this model, and I believe it will be critical for driving meaningful progress in the future.
Another key area I see is collaboration. There are so many opportunities for us to partner with like-minded organizations to arrive at innovative solutions to the challenges we face. Not only within our own industries, but across industries, public and private sectors, etc.
Earlier this year we partnered with a tire manufacturer named Omni United to introduce Timberland Tires. While this was surprising to many at first blush – Timberland in the tire business? – when you pull back the layers it makes perfect sense.
We’re constantly looking for recycled rubber that meets our environmental and performance standards, while Omni seeks new after-life uses for its tires. Timberland Tires are purposely designed for a second life; when their road life is complete, they’re recycled into the outsoles of Timberland shoes. In essence, two companies collaborating across industries to create a more sustainable lifecycle for rubber. I see lots more collaboration like this happening over the next five years.
And finally, there’s the consumer. Consumers are savvier than ever – they have information at their fingertips 24/7, they’re engaged in the world around them and they want to do business with brands and companies they can feel good about. Because of this, I believe consumers will play an increasingly important role in driving sustainability in the coming years.
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), how are you embedding the Goals into your strategy? How was this decided?
Timberland has had CSR strategies and goals in place for decades, and those strategies continue to serve as our beacon for progress as it relates to sustainability. That said, when the SDGs were published last year, we took a close look to ensure that our efforts are aligned with what others are focusing on. I’m pleased to report that every one of our sustainability goals maps to at least one SDG goal, so we’re all working toward the same results when it comes to creating a more sustainable world.
You are participating in the Responsible Business Summit USA next April, could you tell us why these types of gatherings are so important for the sustainability community?
There is so much exciting progress being made in the world of sustainability, but many of us also face the realities of running large-scale global businesses. Events like these provide the opportunity to take a day or two to really focus on sustainability as a key pillar of our businesses, to learn from others and make important connections with like-minded companies and leaders. As I mentioned before, I believe collaboration, across industries and the public/private sector, will be key to driving innovation in sustainability over the next several years. Events like this play a crucial role in that.
And finally, what are you most looking forward to at next year’s Responsible Business Summit USA?
I spend a lot of time meeting with customers, suppliers and other business partners. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to connect with other leaders in sustainability, to hear what others are doing, share some of what we’re doing and hopefully walk away with some new insights we can apply as we continue on our path to being the largest, most sustainable outdoor lifestyle brand on Earth.