Timberland’s Earthkeepers Lace Up for Global Sustainability

Committing to a more sustainable future with Atlanta Mcilwraith
Mar 28, 2019 1:30 PM ET

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The company behind the eponymous Yellow Boot has a serious commitment to sustainability and social purpose. In this episode, Atlanta McIlwraith talks about engaging a global workforce to give back to local communities, and how those efforts are guiding the company to create a more sustainable future.

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Timberland is well known for its Yellow Boot. You know the one—chunky sole, nubuck upper, black leather collar. It’s a design that has weathered 40-plus years of footwear trends and market shifts, maintaining its position as both a functional work boot and fashion item. It doesn’t get much more sustainable, in terms of product design.

Sustainability is at the heart of Timberland. To talk about the footwear and apparel brand’s sustainability and social purpose journey, we welcomed Atlanta McIlwraith, Senior Manager of Community Engagement at Timberland, to Purpose 360.

In this episode, Atlanta shared what it means to be an “Earthkeeper,” a term that encapsulates Timberland’s three core CSR foci: creating responsible products, protecting the outdoors, and serving communities around the world. Core to these efforts are Timberland’s global workforce.

A few of our favorite insights from this episode:

  • Equip employees to “own” their employer’s mission. Timberland launched its employee volunteering program in 1992 with 16 paid hours of community service. Today, employees get 40 hours of paid time off each year. Timberland has a 45% utilization rate of those 40 hours in North America, with 72% of employees serving at least once per year. Globally, 51% of employees serve once per year. That commitment has an important trickle-down effect: an understanding of the communities Timberland serves and what the company’s mission means results in more sustainably-designed products.
  • Find global social impact champions. Employee engagement programs can be siloed at corporate offices, simply due to lack of people resources. To ensure consistency in programming and engagement across Timberland’s locations, the company has a Global Stewards program. Volunteer “stewards” in 28 locations in 19 countries manage service programs over a two-year term. This keeps Timberland’s mission alive worldwide while ensuring efforts are localized and relevant to the needs of each community.
  • Think global, act local. Timberland’s commitment to its suppliers and manufacturers involves global standards. The company also considers the needs of specific suppliers and surrounding communities on a local level—in one instance, the company found that factory workers lacked access to clean drinking water. That led to a partnership with Planet Water Foundation to install purified water towers in several worker communities. Not only did these efforts result in higher productivity and lower absenteeism rates, but it supported the vitality of the community as a whole.



Business is an unlikely hero: a force for good working to solve society's most pressing challenges, while boosting bottom line. This is social purpose at work. And it's a dynamic journey. Purpose 360 is a masterclass in unlocking the power of social purpose to ignite business and social impact. Hosts Carol Cone and Chris Noble bring decades of social impact expertise and a 360-degree view of integrating social purpose into an organization into unfiltered conversations that illuminate today's big challenges and bigger ideas.

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