Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Incorrect emissions and energy data wrong foots Timberland

August 2014

Timberland, of Stratham, New Hampshire, creator of the famed yellow leather work boot, is in the midst of rectifying a self-inflicted CSR public relations problem.

In mid-July the $1.6bn maker of outdoor wear, which has earned a solid reputation for its environmental and community service programmes and transparency, had heralded in a press release that it surpassed greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy goals two years ahead of schedule.

But turns out – it wasn’t so. Somehow the number crunchers miscalculated. Now its communications team is doing some backtracking of published media reports to make them right. It is also updating the original July 9 press release and the Timberland web site. Misinformation had been provided by one of its distribution centers, which corrupted the overall results.
So what should a firm do when sharing good news goes wrong? The Timberland issue shines a spotlight on the delicacy involved in self-reporting your own good works.

Simon Mainwaring, bestselling author and founder of We First, a California-based social branding consultancy, said that being profit driven and purpose driven is sometimes a double-edged sword. “By doing good you get a positive reputation, but you hold yourself up to scrutiny.”

Certainly there have been many examples of companies coming under fire for mishandling social programs. But in the era of glowing annual CRS reports, even Mainwaring noted that “misreporting of goals is not that typical.”

But when something goes wrong, you have to be accountable immediately, advised Mainwaring. “Clarify the mistake, provide an explanation of why it happened, and tell what you are going to do so it doesn’t happen again.”

CRS pioneers, such as Timberland, will have “a lot of credit in the bank and can transcend an error, without too much damage to your reputation. That is, if it is handled correctly,” said Mainwaring.

Meanwhile, for everyone, the metrics used to measure sustainability impacts is an “evolving art,” said Mainwaring. “It is still a challenge for companies to do this effectively. There are so many variables.”

And while perhaps safer, keeping a company’s good news in-house is not the solution either.
“People want to see the metrics behind your good intentions, so you do need to put it out there,” said Mainwaring.

“But it needs to have accountability and no chest beating. You need to shift from being the celebrant to celebrating the positives in others’ lives. There is no let up on tone management.”

A 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research found that 91% of global consumers want to hear about companies’ CSR efforts and progress. “However, for that communication to resonate, messages must be honest and clear,” according to the researchers.

They also found there is room for improvement in message clarity and openness. For 70% of respondents said they are confused by CSR messages and 88% believe companies share positive information, but withhold negative information. 

North America | Reporting


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