Staples' journey to sustainability

Nature of Business Radio

Staples' journey to sustainability

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

Mark Buckley, VP of Environmental Affairs at Staples, has a lot to share about the company's sustainable business strategy, its supply chain, their introduction of alternative fiber-based products to their customers and how Staples approaches increasing customer engagement. Buckley also speaks about Staples' partnership with HP and how the two companies are taking on the e-waste issue. He also speaks about his projects focusing on energy independence.

As a 22-year veteran of Staples, Buckley has certainly seen his company progress from its humble beginnings with its first store Brighton, Mass. to a multinational powerhouse in 26 countries and 88,000 associates. And who knew their e-commerce business was gigantic second to only Amazon.com?

Here’s another little factoid you probably don’t know. Staple’s suppliers are responsible for 93 percent of the company's carbon impact through products, packaging, and transportation. The other 7 percent originates within the four walls of the company's operations.

Staples' retail business actually represents the smallest part of its portfolio. Roughly 60 percent is made up of their B2B contract work.

Photo of pencil and tree provided by Regien Paassen via Shutterstock

Five pillars to sustainability

Buckley has the rather gargantuan task of implementing the company's five metric-based pillars that make up its sustainability business strategy as they move forward across all of their global markets and business units. To do this, he takes a holistic approach when evaluating what truly makes a product or process sustainable. The factors he examines includes:

  • Green products and services
  • Life cycle impacts of products
  • Addressing the issue of efficiency
  • Reducing carbon impacts associated with energy and energy use
  • Community engagement

“We are thinking differently about what makes a sustainable product," Buckley said. "If we are talking 30 percent recycled content copy paper and it is FSC certified, it certainly speaks to the fiber source and where it came from. But if that fiber is going to the worst polluting mill in North America, for example, is that in fact a sustainable product? We would argue that it is not."

The company's introduction of alternative fiber products to its inventory has been well-received, Buckley said.

"I think there is an evolution of thought in terms of us thinking more holistically about the sustainable attributes of products and really thinking about them in the context of the lifecycle as opposed to just one or two attributes,” Buckley said.

One of the last topics we discussed was with regard to e-waste. Staples has partnered up with Hewlett Packard since April. Customers can bring up to 6 items (computers, monitors, laps tops, printers) to any Staples store free of charge seven days a week. As Buckley points out,  his program is particularly attractive to small businesses.

To wrap up the conversation, Mark shared one of the recent projects he was most excited about working on -- work centered around energy and energy independence.