Q&A with Atlanta McIlwraith, senior manager of community engagement at Timberland

Atlanta McIlwraith, senior manager, community engagement at Timberland spoke with me about Sustainable Development Goals, the role of business in COP21, traceability and, challenges of measuring business impacts. Atlanta also shared the work with Omni United and the symbiotic relationships between these two industries…

Elina Yumasheva: Tell us, in two sentences, what is it that you do?

Atlanta McIlwraith: I’m responsible for managing Timberland’s strategic community investments as well as our award-winning Path of ServiceTM program, which provides employees worldwide with up to 40 paid hours each year to volunteer in their communities. Another key element of my role is working with the marketing team to ensure our values-related messages are communicated externally.

Elina Yumasheva: Timberland’s partnership with Omni Unitedwas highly commended in the best B2B partnership category at the Ethical Corp Responsible Business Awards; it’s a pretty impressive project – congratulations! Can you tell me more about it, with a particular focus on how this idea emerged and got signed off?

Atlanta McIlwraith: Thank you! We were honoured to be recognized for our collaboration with Omni United. At first blush a partnership between Timberland and a tire manufacturer may seem unlikely, but the connection is quite clear upon closer look. For some time now, Timberland has been seeking a consistent source of recycled tire rubber that meets our stringent quality and environmental standards. On their end, Omni is always seeking innovative ways to extend the life of tires beyond their road life. They also envisioned partnering with a lifestyle brand to bring new energy into the tire industry. This all led to the idea of a tire that is designed and manufactured, from the outset, to be recycled into Timberland shoes at the end of its life on the road. We tested the idea with our target consumers, who overwhelmingly told us, “Yes, great idea, I’m interested.” This collaboration is incredibly powerful, in that it’s creating both business and environmental value in the form of a more sustainable lifecycle for rubber.

Elina Yumasheva: Also, who is driving these sorts of innovative activities?

Atlanta McIlwraith: In terms of who drives these types of initiatives, it really varies. In this instance, our partnership with Timberland Tires is driven by our strategic partnerships and licensing teams. At its core, it’s an innovative licensing partnership that’s also creating environmental value. Other times, they’re led by our CSR team. That’s one thing that’s great about Timberland; employees are encouraged to be engaged and curious, so great ideas can come from anywhere.

Elina Yumasheva: Are there any other projects Timberland is proud of?

Atlanta McIlwraith: We’re constantly looking for new ways to bring Timberland’s core values to life, through our products, our business, and our culture. Two recent projects that we’re particularly excited about revolve around tree planting, a key element of our global commitment to protecting and enhancing the outdoors on a global scale. In the first example, this September we reached a milestone of planting our two millionth tree in the Horqin Desert in China. The second example is a documentary film we just launched called “KOMBIT: The Cooperative,” which chronicles a five-year initiative where we planted five million trees in Haiti, while simultaneously developing a self-sustaining agroforestry business model that changed the lives of thousands of Haitian farmers. People can visit KombitFilm.com to learn more and download the film. All of these initiatives are at the core of our commitment to service. While we drive these large scale global initiatives, we also focus on providing employees with direct experiences to make a difference in their own communities by offering them up to 40 paid community service hours each year. We hope that, in turn, our employees become proactive agents of service beyond their years with our organization. That’s something that we will always be proud of.

Elina Yumasheva: When (and if) the projects are launched, what kind of metrics and KPIs are used to measure the outcome? Or otherwise, what’s Timberland’s approach to measuring the impacts?

Atlanta McIlwraith: Our tactics for measurement vary on a case by case basis, depending on the project and circumstance. In the case of our project in Haiti, we were focused on being able to measure the impact that we were having, from increases in crop yields and household income to increases in access to education and healthcare. In addition, a primary KPI was the scalability of our projects there. If we could easily replicate the program in other geographic areas and build relevant markets for the participating farmers, then we knew we would more easily be able to explore scaling the program with smallholder cotton and rubber farmers. This presumably would allow us to lock in good pricing because we would buy the materials directly from the farmers – cutting out the middleman so the farmers make a better margin and we pay a more beneficial price.

When it comes to Timberland Tires, rubber from the tires, in Timberland products and, hopefully, in other products as well. Our long-term goal is for every Timberland boot or shoe with a black outsole to incorporate recycled rubber from Timberland Tires in their outsoles. By specifically designing these tires to be recycled at the end of their useful life on the road, we’re creating a more sustainable life cycle for rubber, meaning fewer tires in landfills, and less virgin rubber being used. Specific KPI’s for Timberland tires also include:

  • A supply of recycled rubber that costs less than virgin rubber, that meets or exceeds our materials standards, and that contributes to our goals to use as much recycled materials in our products as possible.

  • An Increase in sales of products with recycled tire rubber in the outsoles driven by an increase in consumer awareness of the products/materials.

  • Share of voice – Positive editorial coverage of the story; social media posts; etc.

  • Royalties

For Service, we measure our impact in a number of ways. Our KPIs are hours served, percent of all available service hours that are actually used, and percent of employees who report serving at least once in a given year. In terms of impact on the local community, we currently track that more anecdotally from the comments we receive from our non–profit partners and the communities we serve.

Elina Yumasheva: Where do you see the role of Timberland in the upcoming climate talks?

Atlanta McIlwraith: Our parent company, VF, will be actively involved in the climate talks, on behalf of Timberland and all VF brands. VF recognizes the real risks associated with climate change, and is collaborating with industry groups, governments and NGOs to lead dialogue on the topic, while at the same time pursuing multiple methods to mitigate their own carbon impacts. This includes participation in an event at COP21 in Paris being organized by BICEP (Business for Innovate Climate and Energy Policy), of which VF is a member.

While the climate talks play a critical role in effecting change on a global scale, here at Timberland, we are focused on action. Through various initiatives over the past several years – from increasing the use of renewable energy in our facilities to building our stores to the highest environmental standards – we achieved a 46% absolute reduction in carbon emissions from 2006 through 2014. (Not to mention planting some 7.3 million trees since 2001). That’s something we’re really proud of, and we will continue to drive for further reductions as we set our targets for 2020 and beyond.

Elina Yumasheva: What are the big issues to watch for in 2015/2016?

Atlanta McIlwraith: Outside of climate change, which you’ve already mentioned, there are a couple of big issues we’ll be looking at in 2015/2016, though these are not new issues as much as continued priorities.

The first is traceability. A key area of focus for Timberland as a brand is making products responsibly, and that refers to what goes into our products as well as how they are made. Critical to this commitment is traceability – being able to point to where our materials come from, and ensuring they’re being produced in line with our standards and values.

Another issue on our mind is the creation of green spaces – and that could mean creating green spaces in urban centers, or planting trees in deforested areas like Haiti. Trees have value that extends well beyond their beauty – providing important economic, social, and environmental benefits around the globe. We just recently launched a documentary called Kombit: The Cooperative, which follows Timberland’s five-year quest to plant five million trees in five years in Haiti. The program ultimately became so much more, resulting in a self-sustaining agroforestry model that is literally changing the landscape of Haiti, and the lives of its people. You should check it out, at kombitfilm.com!

Elina Yumasheva: At the Supply Chain Summit this November, you are going to be speaking about creating shared value (CSV) and generating change beyond your own supply chain. CSV is another buzz word, which is increasingly being plugged in everywhere. In Timberland terms, what does CSV actually mean?

Atlanta McIlwraith: Creating Shared Value to us means leaving a lasting, positive impact for our employees, partners, stakeholders, and customers. We live CSV through our values, always ensuring that what’s good for our business is also good for the world and those around us.

Elina Yumasheva: And finally, what are you most looking forward to at this year’s Sustainable Supply Chain Summit?

Atlanta McIlwraith: I’m most looking forward to sparking thought and conversation about minimizing the use of virgin resources and the generation of waste in our supply chains. I have to confess that this is my first time attending a Supply Chain summit. As such, I’m very much looking forward to learning more about the challenges and opportunities in the field and taking some best practices back to my colleagues.


Further insights on the topic will be presented by Atlanta McIlwraith at the Sustainable Supply Chain Summit (10-11 November), London. Atlanta McIlwraith will speak about creating shared value and generating change beyond your own supply chain. Atlanta will be joined by Colin Braidwood, Head of Sustainability at Interserve, Shaun McArthy, OBE Chair at Supply Chain Sustainability School, and John Edelman, MD, Global Engagement and Corporate Responsibility at Edelman.

Tmberland  supply chain  SDGs  rubber  clothes 

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