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Being Eco-Conscious Makes Every Day Earth Day

by Martin Lieberman, Staples®

For Staples, being eco-conscious is good, smart business: “Not only is it doing the right thing for our business and our associates, it’s doing the right thing for the communities we operate in,” says Mark Buckley, Staples’s vice president of environmental affairs.

Businesses of all sizes and types can operate with the environment in mind and save money in the process. From using recycled or eco-conscious products to installing energy-saving devices, you can make any day Earth Day — and Staples can help. “We’re trying to be that one-stop shop for businesses that want to transform themselves with an eye toward being more efficient and doing the right thing for the planet,” Mark explains.

Here, Mark shares Staples’ commitment to the environment and offers tips for how small businesses can make more sustainable business practices happen.

Why is being eco-conscious so important to Staples?

This is something that’s been part of our DNA since the early days, when we opened our first store in Brighton, MA. Back in those days, we were selling recycled products. I think the idea has sort of evolved to the point where this is just the way that businesses should operate. Not only should they be responsible, but they should act with an eye toward reducing costs, improving efficiency and reducing waste. It’s pretty simple. Unfortunately, sometimes the conversation gets a little bit politicized, so people think somehow you’ve got to be a granola-eating, Birkenstock-wearing hippie in order to be green. In my mind, there are various stages of being green. If you can improve a little on what you do already, there’s real benefit to it.

How is Staples meeting its goals of being a more sustainable, earth-friendly business?

You never get to a point where you reach a plateau and say, “Alright, we’re sustainable now.” It is a process of continuous improvement. The idea is, you continue to challenge yourself and set higher and higher goals as you progress, but I would say that overall, we’re doing quite well in a lot of areas.

Our energy team and our facilities folks have reduced the amount of energy we use per square foot by about 20% over the last 7 years, which is pretty significant. We’ve made investments in things like energy-efficient lighting. We have, I think, 585 buildings now that are Energy Star–certified, which means they’re in the top 25% of buildings in their class from an energy efficiency perspective. And they keep raising the bar. Whether it’s in distribution centers and making our conveyors more efficient, or lighting and HVAC systems in our stores, they continue to improve our performance.

The folks on the transportation side have done a great job of incorporating electric trucks into our delivery fleet. We also have 10 trucks in our delivery fleet in California that run on compressed natural gas, and we’re looking to expand. But just doing things like putting regulators on all our trucks so they don’t exceed 60 miles per hour has dramatically reduced the amount of diesel we consume and the corresponding emissions.

In our warehouses and distribution centers, we’ve made a huge investment to reduce the amount of packaging waste. We’ve invested in new technology called Pack Size, or Right Size Packaging. What that does is customize a box to the size of a customer’s order. At the end of the day, we reduce the amount of material we send out by about 30%. We reduce the amount of material that needs to go into the air void spaces — called dunnage — by 60%, and we’ve improved the cube efficiency on the truck by 20%–25%. This means you can put more stuff on the truck to deliver to the customer, and it results in fewer emissions and saves us and our customers money.

We’re making investments to expand the line of environmentally preferable products we offer, so it’s easy for customers to do the right thing, and it actually saves them money. A good example is our Sustainable Earth by Staples™ line of products, like our remanufactured ink and toner cartridges. Last year, we crossed the 350 millionth ink and toner cartridge barrier in terms of the number of cartridges we recycled. Some of those get remanufactured into new cartridges that we sell to customers for 10% to 15% below what a brand-new cartridge would cost. When those components get broken down, we actually make a whole other line of products, like staplers and calculators, and so forth. So our ability to control the materials stream really benefits us and, ultimately, our customers too.

That’s great.

It is! And another thing is that we have a sustainability innovation lab at RIT as part of a partnership with the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability. That research is really dedicated to looking at how we improve sustainability in business in general, and has very specific, publicly available research that is going to be coming out of this lab. We’re really excited about partnering with this institution and doing some world-class research on behalf of our customers.

How does Staples help small businesses take it easy on the planet?

In addition to our green products, we have a number of programs for small businesses. For example, we have everyday recycling for old technology in all of our retail locations. Customers can bring up to six pieces of technology to recycle for free every day. We also have a trade-in program in our stores and online, so for some technology that has a residual value we actually will pay the customer that value. We do the same thing with ink and toner cartridges; we pay $2 in Staples Rewards® for ink and toner cartridges that are brought back to the store or sent in via our online method. And we have programs for things like three-ring binders, for example, where businesses can bring in an old binder and get a coupon to buy a new product. We also have a program that’s launching in May for our B2B customers around technology recycling directly from their site. So there’s a lot going on in the recycling space. We’re making every effort to make it easy for our customers to do the right thing.

And then, of course, there are all the day-to-day things a small business can do on their own.

Small businesses really can take a look at every part of their operation and see where there are opportunities to build a more sustainable alternative — everything from looking at how they use paper products in restrooms and going with coreless towels and bath tissue to using more green cleaning products to improve air quality for themselves and their associates.

And there are other simple things, like using duplex printing, printing on both sides of the paper, and making sure the printers and copiers you use have that ability. They can start to make purchasing preferences differently. Much like how you look at Energy Star ratings for things like refrigerators and washers and dryers, there are Energy Star ratings for technology equipment, too. Small businesses, as they’re making purchasing decisions, should take those things into account.

Where does your personal interest in all of this come from?

I’ve been with Staples for 24 years, and in this role for the last 12. My background is in biology and environmental science. So for me, this is a dream job. It gives me the opportunity to take what I’m personally passionate about and apply it to things that I believe will help Staples and our customers.

The sustainability movement has really changed over the years. Would you say things are going in the right direction?

It’s interesting, because Staples is a global company, and there are parts of the world where this has been more commonplace than it has been in the United States — particularly in Europe. But from a generational perspective, I think businesses are understanding that there are finite resources in the world, there are pressures on those resources and we need to do business differently. If you don’t figure out how to do business differently, then, quite candidly, you’re probably not going to be in business much longer. It’s important for businesses to understand that this isn’t just a “nice to do,” it’s really something that’s imperative for businesses to grow, expand and prosper.

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