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Timberland falls short in quest to stomp out emissions

Outdoor apparel company manages a 38 percent absolute reduction, but misses target for 50 percent cut.
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Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

First the good news: the venerable outdoor footwear ad apparel company is reporting an impressive 38 percent reduction in absolute carbon dioxide emissions by the end of 2010. That is one heck of a great number. Now, the not-so-good news: the company HAD established a five-year reduction target of 50 percent back in 2006, which means it didn't reach its goal.

Here's the explanation, from Betsy Blaisdell, senior manager of environmental stewardship:

"2010 was not a typical year. The rebound of our business resulted in an increase in employee travel, and record temperatures, both highs and lows, contributed to increased energy use."

The company is now targeting a 50 percent absolute emissions reduction by the 2015 and "to go even further."

In my mind, Timberland's disclosure doesn't represent a failure for the company. Nor do I believe that companies should be any less aggressive in their sustainability aspirations. But if a company like Timberland, which is laser-focused on corporate sustainability and social responsibility, can have challenges meeting goals like these than it really makes me wonder about the businesses that write off this sort of strategy as a secondary consideration.

Plus, the reasons that are stated for Timberland's miss are ones that are likely to apply to many, many other businesses. In other words, my gut tells me that at least some percentage of the emissions reductions reported by most companies is probably due to slower revenue during the recession. This will lead me to look more closely at how companies manage not just their absolute numbers in the future but also their numbers per unit of revenue or (in services businesses) per employee.

The way Timberland got to its seriously good 38 percent reduction? Three main strategies to report:

  1. LED lightly retrofits and a focus on LEED design principles in its stores
  2. Renewable energy purchases; 13 percent of the company's energy now comes from renewable sources
  3. Continued focus on cutting back employee travel

And, like many other companies, Timberland has gotten a lot more serious about managing the carbon in its supply chain. Said Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz in the press release about the emissions reductions:

"This won't be easy, given the lack of direct control we have in our supply chain. But we are committed to doing whatever possible to continually reduce our climate impacts and be a catalyst within and beyond our industry for others to do the same."

Related Timberland posts on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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