This office supply leader is paving the way to a holistic approach to environmental sustainability. From selling green products to building LEED-certified stores, being environmentally conscious is more than just a convenient marketing tool for office supply giant Office Depot. “We developed our environmental strategy back in 2002, and we hired our first environmental director in 2003,” said Yalmaz Siddiqui, director of environmental strategy for the company. “We started with an environmental strategy a little bit earlier than most Fortune 500 companies.”
The impetus for moving toward a comprehensive environmental strategy was pushed in large part by the company’s customers, Siddiqui said. “We had great penetration into some greener states like California and Washington, and that strong customer demand really precipitated our broad green strategy that included everything from paper products to technology,” he said. “Between 2004 and 2010, we ramped up our focus on a very holistic strategy under the banner of increasingly being green, buying green, and selling green.”
By being green in all aspects of its business, from purchasing to operations to sales, Office Depot builds a high level of good faith with its customers. “You get an authenticity when your company is recognized as addressing all the key aspects in this area,” Siddiqui said. “There might be other companies that sell and showcase green products but don’t really address their own personal environmental impact. We need to be aligned with the philosophy that as we continue to help our customers grow greener, we also have to look at our own footprint.”
On both the customer and operations side, there are a number of benefits to adopting a more environmentally conscious strategy, from being socially engaged to saving money. “Ultimately, the argument that resonates the most with the private sector is the economic argument,” Siddiqui said. “Our focus is to find those environmental programs with the greatest economic benefit possible.”
There are multiple ways to save money through more environmentally sustainable processes and policies, whether it is being more efficient to reduce fuel/energy costs or lowering landfill fees by increasing recycling.
“We try to find a way to engage our customer base in greener products and tap into the needs they have,” Siddiqui said. “Companies are clearly looking at green as a way to drive sales and profitability both on the cost reduction and margin improvement sides.”
Although many companies are receptive to environmentally friendly policies and products, Siddiqui said there are still some companies more hesitant to make a change. “There is a shade of green continuum within companies as well as within the marketplace,” he said. “Like anything in business, there is a range of champions along with people who still want to wait a little.”
On the corporate side, the biggest example of Office Depot’s commitment to going green is in its plan to have all new stores in North America be LEED for Commercial Interiors (CI) certified by the US Green Building Council. “The main benefit of the certification is that our stores will continue to be greener and more energy efficient,” said Ed Costa, vice president of construction. “We’re not necessarily trying to change the look of the stores, but we do want to make them more sustainable and energy efficient.”
The energy efficiency upgrades run the gamut from installing more efficient air conditioning units to putting in skylights to increase natural light. “We’ve invested in a variety of initiatives to make our stores more energy efficient,” said Costa. “And each of them can bring a positive return, either initially by reducing energy costs or over the longer term by reducing the total cost of ownership.”
Even seemingly small measures can create a big cost savings when it comes to energy efficiency. “One innovation that came out of Europe is a micro-mat reflector that we have begun putting into our stores,” said Costa. “The reflector has allowed us to remove two lamps on a six-light fixture without reducing our light levels much. It’s an inexpensive item but an innovative strategy that has helped us reduce the energy consumption from our lighting by 30%.”
This year, Office Depot will open 14 LEED CI-certified stores. Since Office Depot commonly leases space when opening new stores, Costa said the company is looking for cooperation from landlords when it comes to building green stores.
“Most retailers are relying on the landlords to build a center, and those centers can come in different forms,” he said. “Either landlords can give you a cold, dark shell, which is basically four walls with a roof and some utilities, or they can do anything up to a build-to-suit.”
Costa said Office Depot typically prefers to go with the shell option because it gives the company greater leeway to build out to the LEED certification guidelines. “That allows us to do the things we need to do, from putting in the air conditioning units and lighting systems to completing the rest rooms and finishes,” he said.
However, Costa said he hopes the company can start to sit down with landlords during negotiations and have them play a bigger role in making the buildings increasingly environmentally sustainable. “We want the landlords to get on board early with upgrades that can help us get certified faster, such as installing skylights themselves or recycling concrete and other items as they build,” he said. “We hope that they will take some ownership for the building and that they can help make them more sustainable.”
As Office Depot moves forward, Costa said it will continue to look for new environmental innovations both in its operations and in the products and services it offers to its customers.