We recently sat down with Atlanta McIlwraith (@timberland_ATL), Senior Manager of Community Engagement at Timberland, to learn about the exciting work Timberland is doing to re-introduce organic crops and support communities with urban greening projects.
In addition to supporting sustainable agroforestry models around the world, read on to learn about Atlanta’s personal work with organic agriculture, including her Christmas tree lot and nonprofit farm.
What project are you most excited about right now?
AM: I’m most excited about our work with the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) to continue Timberland’s reforestation efforts in Haiti and re-introduce organic cotton as a crop after a 30-year hiatus. We’ve been involved with the SFA since 2010 when we made a commitment to plant five million trees in five years to help reforest one of the world’s most deforested countries. We challenged the SFA to create an agroforestry model which, after five years, would be financially self-sustaining. It was a great success not only in terms of planting trees but also in improving the socio-economic wellbeing of the farmers involved.
For Phase Two, Timberland now aims to shift from being an investor in the SFA to being a customer by expanding the network of tree nurseries and encouraging local farmers to grow organic cotton. This is a multi-year project and investment that will create a new sustainable supply chain of organic cotton while continuing to reforest Haiti. We’re currently inviting other brands and funders to invest in this effort that will ultimately engage up to 34,000 farmers. If you’re looking for a new source of organic cotton with an amazing environmental and social impact story, you know who to call.
I’m also excited to identify Timberland’s next urban greening project. We just completed year two of our five-year commitment to double our footprint in five cities – just not in the way you might expect. In each city, we seek to create or restore an area of green space that matches or exceeds our retail footprint in that location. We just helped to green Philadelphia’s new Rail Park (due to open in Spring 2018), and I can’t wait to see where we will go next.
What inspires and drives you to work on sustainability?
AM: I am inspired to make the world a better place for my daughter and her generation. I am driven by my belief that businesses have a responsibility to be part of the solution to many of the world’s most pressing challenges: poverty, hunger, climate change, etc. The state of the world demands that businesses step up to do their part, and I want to help make that happen. I am grateful to work for a brand that shares this passion and is committed to help make things better.
Can you share something about yourself that would surprise us? Any hidden talents?
AM: I’m a certified Hand Analyst (a.k.a. palm reader). I won’t tell you that you’ll meet a tall stranger someday, but you would be surprised by how much your hands tell the story of who you are.
If you had unlimited time and resources, what type of work would you want to collaborate with fellow SB Members on?
AM: I would welcome the opportunity to explore and build new cross-sector partnerships to drive change. Systemic challenges require innovative and systemic solutions. Every member of the SB network has unique strengths they bring to the table. How can we leverage those strengths across sectors (for profit, nonprofit, government, etc.), do what each of us does best, and collaborate to address some of the world’s biggest challenges?
What do you work on in your free time?
AM: My husband and I own an organic cut-your-own Christmas Tree Farm and recently launched a nonprofit farm that serves as an incubator and launch pad for beginning organic farmers. I’m deeply involved with both and am currently working on fundraising and developing a long-term sustainability plan for the nonprofit. I am also a coach for Girls on the Run and enjoy going on bike adventures in downtown Portsmouth, NH with our eight-year old daughter.
Why is your participation in the SB Member Network important?
AM: SB is a vibrant community of innovative organizations and individuals who want to drive meaningful change in the world. If you want new ideas and inspiration, go to an SB event and talk with the other people there. They’re all up to something new and different. SB is a great place to launch a new campaign, share good news and/or challenges, and to expand your network.
Anything else you'd like to share with fellow SB Members?
AM: If you’re a member of SB, you likely already know that you’re part of a great community. A fellow member once said you see more hugs at SB than handshakes. That says a lot about the openness of the people who make up the SB network. I encourage members to get involved in the organization and to attend the member meetings in addition to the large events. The member meetings offer powerful content and more time to connect with your peers.
And lastly, for members who are perhaps early in their careers, find a company or brand that shares your passion for sustainability. We all spend a LOT of waking hours at our jobs – sometimes more than we’d like to admit. So, it’s important to make those hours count. I am fortunate to have landed at Timberland, which has enabled me to work on engaging issues for the past 12 years. I encourage everyone to do the same and find a role where they can put their passions to work.