Yalmaz Siddiqui: How business customers move green markets

This week’s Nature of Business conversation is with Yalmaz Siddiqui, Senior Director of Sustainability at Office Depot, and we packed a lot in during our short 30-minute conversation. Among several items of discussion, we talked about the company’s customer-centric environmental philosophy of “Buy Greener, Be Greener and Sell Greener”; the significance of transparency in data reporting; its strategic partnerships, and more.

Siddiqui has at Office Depot for more than six. His passion lies in customer purchasing behavior and he is firm in his belief in the importance of educating the customer to nudge the marketplace resulting in a major trickle-down effect in the supply chain.

And as we discussed, the reality is that customers are increasingly asking what companies like Office Depot can do for them — a major step from simple requests of operational information from companies. Office Depot wisely wants continue to be at the ready.

It’s not going unnoticed. In 2010 and 2011, Newsweek named Office Depot as America’s greenest retailer. Certainly its emphasis on being as transparent a company as possible is one reason. As Siddiqui points out, their transparent tracking and reporting of data brings clarity to Office Depot’s environmental strategy by providing concrete metrics (that have been consistent since 2006) from which to adhere.

But the company takes it a step further by tying this data to specific functions in the company. In other words, specific people “own” specific data so there is grand impetus to improve upon these metrics as much as possible. And there are huge economic connections for Office Depot that is integral to decisions to go green.

One green initiative we discussed was the company’s GreenerOffice Delivery Service, which has increased the percentage of institutional deliveries via paper bags rather than corrugated cardboard. There are several benefits of doing so. It is less expensive for the company, reduces cardboard by 3.5 million pounds annually, and saves 20,000 trees a year. Pure innovation.

It is also worth mentioning the Sustainable Purchasing Council, which we will be hearing more about in the coming months. Office Depot is one of the founding members. An evolution of the Green Purchasing Council, it was set up as a multi-stakeholder effort to wrestle with the question of what constitutes a green product. To date, there is no universal definition. And there is much work to be done at the corporate level to influence purchasers to make the right choice.

Helping solve the problem of how and what to buy sustainably? I like that.