In an effort to address forest and biodiversity conservation issues within the paper products supply chain, Office Depot, one of the worlds largest resellers of paper, created to Forest and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance with Conservation International, NatureServe, and The Nature Conservancy to harness conservation science and business ingenuity to ensure that meeting consumer demands for paper can be compatible with conserving the worlds forests.
With a $2.2 million investment from Office Depot, the Alliance is implementing a five-year strategy to develop information, standards, and tools needed to reduce the environmental footprint of Office Depots forest and paper products suppliers while contributing to biodiversity conservation in the worlds forests.
The Alliance is just one aspect of Office Depots environmental efforts. We recently sat down with Yalmaz Siddiqui, Office Depots Environmental Strategy Advisor to discuss the companys sustainability strategy, the 2006 Green Book of environmentally friendly products, and his own new hybrid vehicle.
CELB eNewsletter: Why is Office Depot making social responsibility a priority?
Sustainability is a concept that touches each of our five corporate values: integrity, innovation, inclusion, customer focus and accountability. Lets take a look at customer focus which, in many ways, can be considered first in importance. Over the last number of years we have recognized that our innovative environmental programs have won us the loyalty of customers that are like-minded in their interest in sustainability. We recognize that the environment is a strategic priority for a growing group of organizations – many of which are our customers. Since office supplies and paper are truly ubiquitous products, by selling green we are able to help all of our customers move closer to their environmental goals.
We believe a focus on sustainability helps Office Depot deliver sustainable value to our customers, shareholders, and our wider range of stakeholders.
CELB eNewsletter: Why have you spent so much time integrating sustainability into your paper procurement policies?
In order for us to sell green, it is important that we buy green. By implementing our environmental paper procurement policy, we have significantly increased the number of recycled paper products in our assortment. Office Depot now has our industrys widest mix of recycled products; and we continue to add to that number every year.
But in order to truly buy green, its also very important that we understand more about where we source our forest-derived products from. As one of the worlds largest resellers of paper, forestry is our most material environmental issue. We have been working with Conservation International and Nature Serve to develop a deeper understanding of our forest sources; weve made the greatest progress for our marketing papers inserts, catalogs and direct mail. The next phase of effort focuses on the sources of our cut-sheet paper and then broader paper products.
Bringing environmentally preferable products into our mix and striving for sustainable forest sources takes time and effort. Weve been willing to spend that time because we believe sustainability to be both a critical global issue, and a core competitive differentiator for Office Depot. We cant comprehensively say that we have green procurement today, but we are working hard to move further in that direction.
We think the leading companies of tomorrow will be the ones that find business value in sustainability.
CELB eNewsletter: This September, your third edition of the Green Book TM catalog of Environmentally Preferable Products was published; why did you create this Book?
We wanted to make it simpler for customers to buy green. We already had the widest selection of green products in our industry, but by separating out our green assortment from our standard big book catalog, we made it clearer for customers to go green. The Green Book also provides a wide range of tips to help individuals learn about the environmental aspects of office supply purchasing decisions.
Shortly after our first Green Book was published, a study was done where Fortune 100 executives were asked what they would most value in order to improve their environmental performance. The top requests were education on the environment, and greener alternatives. The Green Book delivers against both those priorities.
CELB eNewsletter: How many green products did you initially start with and now have available?
: Initially we had about 1,200 products in the Green Book and now have over 2,300. But 2,300 is still not our total green assortment. The Green Book just contains a subset of the four thousand plus products we stock with environmentally preferable attributes such as recycled content, energy efficiency and lower toxicity.
CELB eNewsletter: Is it hard to find environmentally preferable or green office products?
: Not at all. We have green office products in nearly every category – from the obvious, like paper and envelopes, to the less obvious, like desk accessories and pens. The Green Book also has energy efficient printers, rechargeable batteries and non toxic markers.
The marketplace as a whole is designing and selling more green products at a lower cost. In our private brand offerings, we are also integrating more green products this is a priority for us and we use our scale to find greener products to bring into our private brand mix.
CELB eNewsletter: Through the Green Book, making such products available, do you feel it has given your business a competitive edge? If so, how and why?
Yes, clearly it is a differentiator. Office Depots competitors dont have a catalog anywhere near as comprehensive as ours in terms of environmentally preferable products. Customers are increasingly asking about green products, and the book is a very tangible and a user friendly tool.
CELB eNewsletter: In all of Office Depots in-store copy centers, you use EnviroCopy, your elemental chlorine-free, 35 percent recycled paper. Why and what caused you to make such a decision?
We believe if we are selling green to our customers, we should also be buying green ourselves. It doesnt make sense for us to manufacture a Green Book and not buy products from it ourselves. You have to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk.
CELB eNewsletter: Are your customers aware of this and what comments have you received from them?
They like the fact that we are drinking our own kool-aid. By using 35% post consumer recycled paper in our own operations we have proved that corporations that use large amounts of paper can switch to recycled without loss of paper quality. Most of our customers who try EnviroCopy quickly learn that is it is a high quality paper.
However, among certain customers, there is still a perception that recycled paper is of inferior qualitythat it is dark, full of specks and jams printers. We know this perception is wrong a hangover from the early days of recycled papers when some of these concerns may have been true. We are committed to educating the marketplace about the quality of recycled content products.
CELB eNewsletter: You have spoken about your environmental initiatives internally. So how do your employees feel about this movement
We just put out our latest sustainability report, and have had fantastic feed back from Office Depot associates. One associate even stated that she
cried when reading about all that we do.
So yes, they are being made aware of our programs. We want them to know about our efforts and to get involved so they can feel proud of being part of Office Depot.
CELB eNewsletter: When it comes to working with CI and CELB, what has worked with this partnership?
CIs main role is to help us develop, pilot and roll out our environmental procurement process. This is a complex process with many desired outcomes such as: mapping our forest footprint, understanding our supply chain risks, delivering accurate data for our sustainability reportsand helping Office Depot make decisions about which suppliers to select. We have been working on this tool for some time and are close to a final iteration.
What is significant about CI is that they recognize sustainability as the complex journey it is. They know that it is not as simple as saying buy exclusively from this certification scheme or that supplier; nor is it effective to just boycott suppliers or regions that do not meet the expectations of all environmental groups.
In a phrase, CI is solutions focused. They engage constructively and proactively with companies to find solutions that work for both business and the environment.
CELB eNewsletter: Could you speak about some of the positive impacts that you are now seeing from your partnership with CI?
CI sits in the broader context of the Forest and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, which has just launched a Web site www.forestryalliance.com. We also value our membership in CIs Business and Biodiversity Council. This council works by leveraging the power of business (rather than fighting against it) to achieve global biodiversity goals.
CELB eNewsletter: Why did Office Depot decide to set up the Forest and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance?
: We wanted to choose science and solution-oriented partners to help us resolve some of the complexities that exist when we source forest-derived products. Ultimately, we want confidence in our sourcing, and therefore need to work with partners who are willing to help our suppliers improve practices on the ground. The members of the Alliance are trusted partners who we know will help our suppliers improve and not just criticize them. Thats important because the environmental community has many groups that shout loudly but arent always ready to offer viable and implementable solutions.
We also wanted to make a contribution to conservation science. Both inside and outside our forest footprint there are a lot of data gaps that limit the ability for suppliers to make good forest management decisions. That lack of data makes it hard to establish the facts when discussing environmental performance of a supplier.
By using science as the foundation for improving forest management, and using leverage as one of worlds largest buyers of paper, we are creating a very strong matrix for sustainable forestry.
CELB eNewsletter: Why do you think it is important that other companies, which sell, or use, large quantities of paper products, address forest and biodiversity conservation issues within the paper products supply chain?
Just about every company buys paper. Therefore, we are all in the forest business. Given the range of threats to biodiversity around the world, it is important that all companies pay attention to these issues. Companies need to ask their suppliers where their paper comes from and how they ensure it is from well-managed sources. Companies also need to be open to buying more recycled products to reduce the pressure on forests around the world.
CELB eNewsletter: Besides paper, are there any other areas within the sustainability or corporate responsibility arena that Office Depot is addressing?
At www.officedepot.com/environment, anyone can download Office Depot's Sustainable Value
report, which shows the enormous range of programs we have in diversity, community, ethics and the environment.
Within environment, we have three aspirations: buy green, be green and sell green! The Forest & Biodiversity Conservation Alliance helps us buy green paper products; and we have also sourced the industrys widest assortment of green office supplies.
We continue to be green by reducing waste and green house gases. In 2006, we purchased 76,000 megawatts of renewable energy credits, making us one of the largest purchasers of renewable energy credits (RECs) in the US.
We sell green by publishing the Green Book and educating customers on how to reduce environmental impacts. We also have a range of recycling programs that help customers reduce waste. This includes one of the largest ink and toner cartridge recycling programs in the world – through which we have recycled over 15 million cartilages in North America alone!
We will continue to deliver innovative programs in each area of our environmental vision. And we are proud to work with partners like Conservation International who share our view that business can be a powerful partner in the search for a sustainable world.
CELB eNewsletter: You recently had your first child, how has that impacted how you think about leading Office Depot's environmental efforts?
Well, since university I have had a passion for the environment, and for leveraging the power of business in the search for sustainability. The arrival of a child makes you think much harder about the legacy we are leaving for our children, that we want our children to have the same opportunities we have, to see tigers in their own habitat, to hike in luscious rainforests, to live with fewer extreme weather events due to hurricanes.
CELB eNewsletter: You drive a Toyota Prius. What made you decide on a Hybrid and have you been happy with the performance compared to previous vehicles?
My previous vehicle was a bike since I lived in downtown Toronto and before that New York City. Because of urban planning and public transport realities in Florida, I had to buy a car when taking my new job. As such, my carbon footprint has expanded significantly since becoming an environmental director! To keep my offset costs low, I really had no option but to buy a hybrid. The enormous amount of money I am saving on gas helps me fuel my terrible offset habit. A side benefit of the decision to go for the Toyota Prius is that I love my car – it is a fabulous vehicle.
CELB eNewsletter: You're originally from the U.K. How would you compare the general outlook of environmental concern between the U.S. and the U.K.?
In UK "green" has truly arrived as a competitive differentiator. Retailers in the UK are falling over each other to show which one of them is the "greenest". This is driven by the palpable mainstreaming of a trend where consumers actively make decisions based on which companies are authentically green.
In the US, there are regional pockets of customer interest, and larger corporate and government buyers are definitely stepping up their interest in green issues - but I think the US is about 3 years behind where the UK is – particularly in the retail or business to consumer space.
We are fortunate in that Office Depot UK already has the reputation as the environmental leader. Our plan is to ride global trends and cement our environmental leadership position – globally.