Timberland Walks the Walk

January 1, 2007
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Timberland Walks the Walk
By Stacey King Gordon

The footwear company’s new, environmentally friendly packaging shifts “sustainability” from corporate buzzword to consumer way of life.
This fall, outdoors footwear manufacturer Timberland took a giant step toward moving social responsibility out of the boardroom and onto the retail shelf. The company has launched a major initiative to revamp its footwear boxes, introducing a more cohesive packaging system that embodies the heart and soul of Timberland’s socially conscious brand.
The company’s original objective was to modernize and streamline the packaging, which previously lacked consistency across Timberland’s different lines of shoes. But the update also seemed like a good time to explore how to take the corporation’s commitment to sustainable manufacturing and good citizenship all the way to the retail level.
“We wanted one consistent point of view across all of our packaging,” says Theresa Palermo, senior brand manager for Timberland. “But we also wanted to make it less impactful from an environmental point of view, giving credence to our company’s environmental efforts.”
Timberland also decided this would be a good time to extend its message of corporate responsibility, previously reserved for investors and partners, to its consumers, and the packaging initiative seemed like the right opportunity to do that. With all of these goals in mind, the teams faced one additional challenge: they had to find a way to change the packaging while remaining cost-neutral. The impact Timberland made on consumer consciousness couldn’t impede the bottom line.
Making the box part of the “journey”
The first decision involved the exploration of new materials and processes for the boxes. The company selected a range of environmentally friendly options: 100 percent recycled, post-consumer waste cardboard, soy-based inks, and water-based solvents in place of chemical glues.
To counterbalance any additional costs from these specialized materials, the internal Timberland creative and branding teams, partnering with the company’s agency Arnold Worldwide, had to go back to square one and rethink the traditional shoebox—including how to optimize space for brand messaging without using a lot of ink.
“[We decided] to turn the conventional shoebox inside out,” says Bevan Bloemadaal, senior director of global creative services for Timberland. “Where bright, heavy amounts of ink typically belong on the outside of a shoebox, ours is restrained, richly textured and boldly confident. Where other shoeboxes are blank containers on the interior, the inside of our shoebox carries our message.”
Bloemadaal’s team and Arnold Worldwide were inspired by the idea of the purchase process providing a “sense of journey.” Theorizing that the consumer’s interaction with the product inside the box is a major part of that journey, designers used muted colors, simple graphics, and minimal messaging to draw consumers inside. Once there, they pull out the shoes to encounter Timberland’s challenge to its customers.
“We used our iconic yellow boot sole in the bottom of the box, and a call to action as everyone takes on their own personal journeys,” Bloemadaal says. The bottom of the box challenges consumers: “What kind of footprint will you leave?”
Taking CSR to consumers
The Timberland brand doesn’t let the responsibility for saving the world rest solely on the shoulders of its shoppers. Displayed prominently on the outside of each of its shoeboxes is Timberland’s “Our Footprint” label, designed to look like the government-mandated Nutrition Facts label found on food packaging.
The label quantifies Timberland’s effect on the environment, listing the kilowatt-hours used to produce a single pair of shoes and the percentage of renewable energy used from sources such as sun, wind and water. It also demonstrates the company’s impact on the communities in which it has factories and offices, detailing factors such as use of child labor, number of employees volunteering in their communities and percentage of factories held to Timberland’s corporate code of conduct. Each label is customized with the name and location of the factory that manufactured the individual pair of shoes.
The “Our Footprint” label is a familiar icon to investors, partners, and anybody who receives Timberland’s annual corporate social responsibility reports. Timberland used a similarly designed “label” in 2005 to line up its record on human rights, the environment, and the community next to its financial performance—a clear message to its investors that being green, while not always easy, can pay off.
In fact, Timberland has been a leader in evolving “CSR” or “corporate social responsibility”—the buzzword that’s become something of a holy grail for corporate America in recent years—into more than just a topic of concern for the company’s community affairs department. “It’s incorrect to say that it’s a recent initiative for us,” says Palermo. “Our CEO Jeffrey Swartz has been a visionary in this area. He believes that companies have a social responsibility to their consumers and communities. We’ve always had this notion of doing well and good, while reporting back earnings.”
But touting the headway Timberland has made in this area to its consumers, especially in such a widespread and visible manner, is a new thing for the company, which has never before been so blatant about good citizenship in its brand messaging. So why is Timberland suddenly broadcasting the message to consumers, in such a visible and widespread way?
“We’ve always been very humble about our activities,” Palermo says. “But we’ve seen a shift in society where consumers are now more interested in what we’re doing as a company.”
In fact, an August 2005 study by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), a research firm in Harleysville, Pa., found that nearly 90 percent of people in the United States believe it is important for companies to be mindful of their impact on the environment and society, and that 70 percent of consumers say that mindfulness would impact their decision to purchase a company’s products and services.
And the number of U.S. adults who actively and regularly make environmentally and socially friendly decisions is steadily growing. Consumers labeled as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) now number about 36 million, about 17 percent of U.S. adults. Timberland had that rising population in mind when extending its social impact messaging to all consumers.
“It’s not just the ‘granola’ group anymore,” Palermo says. “They’re more mainstream, and therefore there’s more of an expectation for companies to be greener, with a more sustainable approach and more responsibility.”
Palermo says retailers have reacted extremely favorably to the new packaging and are especially excited about the “Our Footprint” label. The new packaging uses the same specifications as previous shoeboxes to help ease retailers’ transition to the new system. Timberland plans to support the packaging rollout and the new on-box messaging with print advertising and point-of-purchase displays.
Where to go for more information...
Brand identity and design. At Arnold Worldwide, contact Lisa Unsworth at 617.587.8000 or lunsworth@arn.com

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