Most consumers who recognize the distinctive multi-branched tree-in-a-circle logo of the Timberland brand know it from the company's exceptional-quality boots. In 1918, Nathan Swartz began sewing boots by hand at a small Boston shoe company. In 1955, Swartz bought out the Abington Shoe Company and brought his sons into the business. The Swartz family still operates Timberland.
In the 1960s, the family created what is regarded as one of the first truly waterproof boots. "Timberland" was the name given to the company's original waterproof leather boot in 1973. Because of the boot's popularity, the company later changed its name to the Timberland Company. In the late 1970s, Timberland added casual and boat shoes to its product line. In the 1980s, Timberland made its foray into the global marketplace, beginning in Italy. During that decade the company also introduced its clothing line and women's footwear. Now Timberland products are sold in the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
It was in 1989, though, when Timberland embarked on a mission it would later define as part of the underlying belief system known as CSR—corporate social responsibility. That was the year Timberland became a founding sponsor of City Year, the Boston-based "urban Peace Corps" that brings together young people from diverse backgrounds for a year of full-time community service. Timberland's involvement with City Year continues to this day.
City Year is only one example of the company's commitment to social service. Timberland's CSR program spans four core values: global human rights, environmental stewardship, community involvement, and employees. The company's 2005 CSR Report shows Timberland's "key performance indicators" for all four of these areas. It is a frank, unvarnished assessment of what Timberland is doing well, and what it could be doing better, to meet its ambitious CSR goals.
In the area of environmental stewardship, for example, Timberland measures its impact on climate change, resources, and renewable energy. In the area of community involvement, Timberland has become a corporate innovator with its "Path of Service" program, which began in the 1990s. Path of Service gives Timberland employees 40 hours of paid time off to serve in their communities. The company says its employees have invested more than 278,000 hours in community service. Just as significant is Timberland's relationship with its employees. The 2005 CSR Report indicates that 77 percent of employees are satisfied with their position at Timberland.
While other companies may preach social responsibility, Timberland lives it day in and day out. Timberland supported a dedicated team of employees in taking action on the crisis in Darfur, Sudan; the employees designed a special "Stomp Out Genocide" boot and developed a t-shirt and hang tag to generate awareness and raise funds for Darfur. Timberland recently pioneered a "nutrition label," which it puts on every shoebox, to show the consumer exactly what goes into making a Timberland product. The label lists the environmental impact, the community impact (including a child labor percentage, which is always zero percent), and where the product was manufactured.
In order to advocate its belief in corporate social responsibility, Timberland launched a public website, Timberlandserve.com. The site offers a searchable database of 30,000 volunteer opportunities and the company's Community Grant Program, which gives cash or Timberland products to community organizations. Timberland also provides free downloads of its "service toolkit," which assists individuals in planning and executing a community event with 25 to more than 1,000 volunteers.
The natural question that arises is whether all this do-gooding helps the Timberland brand. The good news is that Timberland's social responsibility seems to enhance its ability to be a competitive, successful corporation. For its most recent fiscal year, Timberland reported record revenue of nearly US$ 1.6 billion, along with record earnings, strong cash generation, and improved returns for its shareholders. Timberland has been recognized by Fortune as one of the "Top 100 Companies to Work For" for nine consecutive years, one of only 20 companies to have gained a spot every year since the list was launched in 1998. Timberland has been on Forbes' "Best Big Companies in America" list for eight consecutive years.
Timberland has its share of direct competitors in the boot market, such as L.L. Bean and Wolverine World Wide in the US and R. Griggs Limited in the UK. Given its entry into other footwear and clothing, Timberland's competitors have expanded exponentially. But few competitors can match Timberland's aggressive stance on social responsibility.
Results of a survey released in March 2007 confirm the fact that Timberland's commitment to social responsibility is likely to enhance the company's brand image as well. The survey of 2,000 adults over 18, conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute, indicated that 60 percent agree that "knowing a company is mindful of its impact on the environment and society makes me more likely to buy their products and services."
Everything Timberland does, in one way or the other, comes back to its CSR philosophy. In 2004, the company launched a global marketing campaign themed "Make it better." This tag line is not only intended to suggest that Timberland strives to make its products better, but it highlights its goal to make society and the world better as well. On its website, Timberland asks the consumer, "What kind of footprint will you leave?" From the way Timberland conducts business, it is very clear that the footprint the company leaves will be a lasting one.