Shaping a green procurement strategy: Q&A with Yalmaz Siddiqui

[Editor's note: Office Depot's Yalmaz Siddiqui will offer insight on sustainable purchasing best practices during a workshop today at the GreenBiz Forum in New York.]

At least 45 countries have embraced national policies requiring public agencies to buy greener products and services. Businesses are using similar commitments to drive more efficient and environmentally sensitive supply chains.

While the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED system has become a commonly used guidepost for green building, there is no equivalent today for sustainable procurement. The Sustainable Purchasing Council aims to make the process simpler, with input from the nonprofit community and big companies like Office Depot that are creating strategies of their own.

Yalmaz Siddiqui, co-chair of the SPC steering committee and senior director of environmental strategy for Office Depot, offers advice for how to "buy better."

Heather Clancy: When it comes to what Office Depot uses for its own operations, what are your specific sustainable purchasing goals?

Yalmaz Siddiqui: We have an overall strategy to buy greener, be green and sell greener. ... The way you framed the question was specific sustainable purchasing goals. That, to me, implies a target, a specific goal you are trying to achieve, that is qualified. I would say our goal is to buy greener, as a concept, as an idea, and then measure performance against that qualitative objective ...

From a procurement standpoint for our own operations, what we have been really thinking about are economic and environmental hot spots. We know that from both a spend standpoint and impact standpoint, we spend a lot on energy. We manage 35 million square feet of building. So, the decisions we make from a procurement standpoint around lighting, around energy management, actually drive a very significant lifecycle environmental footprint. It's not just energy and carbon. Embedded in the use of energy are a whole series of impacts around water use, toxicity and pollution, etc. So the first focus has been on greener procurement of energy using technologies, particularly lighting and software that can control energy usage.

HC: Why did you pick that first?

YS: Two reasons. One, we know there is a tremendous focus on carbon emissions and carbon footprint reduction in society and the corporate world. We also know that is where the biggest bang for the buck is from a lifecycle environmental impact and long-term cost reduction, as well. So, we tried to find the sweet spot from the two dimensions of sustainability: meaning that environmental and economic [improvements] were both achieved through that focus on lighting. …

The other major category that we focused on was office supplies for ourselves. Office supplies and paper are very material products. We are associated with paper, so for our own internal use, we have gone from 30 percent of our paper from marketing being FSC-certified in 2008 to 70.4 percent in 2011. [In addition], 87 percent of the copy paper we use internally is 30 percent or more post-consumer recycled content. And the majority of the cleaning products for our operations are greener.

Really, the categories are energy-using devices, paper and cleaning products.

Next page: Making the business case

Photo courtesy of Office Depot