Case Study: Staples

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Staples has been at the forefront of the office products industry’s environmental initiatives. Indeed, the declaration of its paper procurement policy in 2002 seemed to kick-start many in the industry to issue green announcements of their own, but Staples will be pleased to tell you that it was first.
The notion of sustainability in corporate business has been gathering apace in recent years. And while Staples’ VP of environmental affairs Mark Buckley would concede there is still much work to be done, the journey is well underway.
"Sustainability as a core corporate value is good, smart business," says Buckley. "The triple bottom line as a focus is increasingly being embraced by leading companies across many industries worldwide."
The triple bottom line Buckley refers to encompasses a social component, an environmental component as well as an economic component.
Buckley adds: "We’re really embracing this whole concept of sustainable business practices which entails not only taking a look at our business from a profit and loss perspective, but taking a look at it based on our contribution and commitment to the communities that we either service directly or indirectly. It is a view being shared by many businesses, not just Staples, and we think it is a very important cultural component of who Staples is."
Buckley says the company’s sense of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is core to its thinking. "Our corporate soul is centred on a rock solid belief in social responsibility," he says, "and the desire to make a positive impact on our associates, customers and the world. We are committed to a business strategy around sustainability and environmental stewardship."
Staples’ whole environmental commitment is focused around four cornerstones – offering recycled content products; chain-wide recycling initiatives; energy conservation and renewable power programmes; and education initiatives for customers and associates.
Buckley explains: "The first cornerstone revolves around increasing the recycled content of the products we sell, but more broadly it really refers to better utilisation of resources in the products that we produce and manufacture either directly or indirectly and their associated environmental impact, everything from recycled content and sustainable forestry."
As well as using recycled product, it is important for Staples to recycle the product, too. It is a practice that is applied inside and outside the company: "We want to make it easier for our customers to recycle," says Buckley, "and we also want to make sure that we are diverting more of our waste internally and pulling out as much of that raw material that can be reused as possible to minimise the amount of waste that goes into the waste stream."
Recycling legislation is still very much in its infancy in the US, but Staples is taking a lead. "We want to make as many of those services as possible available to our customers to make it easy for them to recycle," comments Buckley. "Be it inkjet toner cartridges, or global electronics, or some of the pilot programmes that we have been involved in with electronic waste, we want to make it easy for our customers to recycle."
He continues: "The third cornerstone is around climate change and our impact either directly or indirectly. Our primary impacts are associated with purchased power and also our transportation, how we get product to store. And we’re looking to see how we can lessen the impact over time."
Indeed, Staples claims its renewable power use has increased to an industry-leading 10 per cent of its total US consumption, through the purchase of 46 million kilowatt hours per year of renewable energy certificates.
Education
Staples’ fourth cornerstone is based around education. Today the quality of recycled paper has improved beyond all recognition. Indeed, Staples’ brand of 30 per cent post-consumer waste printer paper is considered of such good quality that an own brand virgin option is no longer offered. But perhaps surprisingly, there is still a widespread misconception regarding recycled product.
"How we can start to educate people on wide environmental stewardship and sustainability is important," says Buckley. "Explaining why it is important in your business, important in your life, and we are using a number of different vehicles to accomplish this – store signage, environmental reports for customers, information on our website etc.
"Ultimately we want to be our customers’ sustainability partner. We want to show that there is certainly a better way to do business, and certainly a less harmful way to do business. And we believe that once we move down this path toward sustainability, it really means that it’s a journey not a destination. And a lot of what we’re doing you’re going to see in the product offering that we have in terms of recycled content in paper products, remanufactured ink toner cartridges and recycling services we offer our customer."
 He adds: "You’re going to see an advance at store level and also on the contract side of our business, again working closely not only with our customers, but also all of our suppliers and other stakeholders to see how we can improve over time.
"Within the context of these four cornerstones, we’ve the foundation of a much broader commitment relative to environmental stewardship."
Indeed, the four cornerstones have been the canvas for many of Staples’ green initiatives, which first really came to broad media attention with the unveiling of its paper procurement policy in 2002, which was very much seen as an industry first and received widespread endorsement from the green community.
Dialogue
Staples strongly believes in collaboration and Buckley points to the efforts of The Paper Working Group, an association formed two-and-a-half years ago and comprising a diverse collection of corporate America heavyweights such as Bank of America, Cenveo, Hewlett-Packard, FedEx Kinko’s, McDonald’s, Nike, Norm Thompson Outfitters, Staples, Starbucks, Time, Toyota Motor Sales and Metafore.
Buckley says: "The Paper Working Group is very much a solutions-oriented organisation but at the same time maintains open dialogue with a number of stakeholders including from the NGO side. There is a shared value. Discussions go beyond the rhetoric stage to something far more tangible."
Staples clearly believes it is good to talk. Buckley adds: "The collaborative approach we’ve taken with stakeholders has really been key to our progress, not just environmental groups but industry groups, customers and shareholders.
"We’ve kept quite an open dialogue with NGOs, and we’re really focusing our efforts on working with NGOs that are interested in engaging in constructive dialogue. We maintain contact with a number of the NGOs that are really solutions-oriented. We think that is the proper approach."
And Buckley is clearly proud of Staples’ record and commitment to the environment: "We like to think we are taking a leadership position on a number of issues," he says. "We’re taking an industry role, I believe, in mobile electronics recycling, un-chargeable battery recycling, and ink and toner recycling. Ink and toner recycling are everyday offerings available in all our stores and again we’re looking to see where it makes sense to expand these kind of services to our customers.
"We are on a journey," he adds, "and the challenge is always to get better. What was acceptable from an environmental stewardship perspective 30 years ago you would never get away with today."
The will is clearly there. "From a Staples perspective," he asserts, "we believe this is more than just doing the right thing."

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