Interview with Staples’ Mark Buckley

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markbuckley.JPGWithout question, Staples’ Vice President of Environmental Affairs Mark Buckley exemplifies environmental leadership. A 17-year Staples veteran, Buckley is on a global mission to make it easier for customers to make a difference for the planet.

We caught up with him last week to chat about Staples’ environmental programs, the role its employees play and ways businesses can partner together for a cleaner Earth.

Q. Tell us about your role at Staples.

MB: My role at Staples is to help develop and drive sustainable business practices for our internal operations and help develop sustainable products and services for our customers. Our sustainable initiatives are focused in four key areas or cornerstones – offering eco-friendly products; making it easy to recycle; energy efficiency and renewable power; and environmental education for customers. We are committed to continuous improvement in all of these areas because we believe that sustainability is both good for the environment and good for business.

Q. What is your #1 environmental priority?

MB: As a business, Staples is committed to making things easy for our customers. This includes making it easy for our customers – from small businesses and consumers to Fortune 500 companies – to make a difference for the environment. We do that through our product offerings and recycling services every day – what we call EcoEasy.

With that said, I’d have to say that energy depletion and climate change are the greatest environmental priorities because they are global in scope and impact communities and ecosystems. They directly and indirectly affect food, water and other valuable natural resources. They also affect many aspects of global economies and supply chains. Everything in product and service lifecycles – from raw materials to production to logistics to end-of-use – are connected in some way to energy and/or carbon intensity. Change will require global efforts, commitments and collaboration on a scale and scope never before seen.

Q. Seems like you have an opportunity to make a difference by promoting forest protection and purchasing and selling post-consumer recycled paper. How are you going about this?

MB: Yes, without a doubt forest products and paper comprise our largest direct and indirect environmental footprint. In 2002, Staples issued the industry’s first Environmental Paper Procurement Policy, which was created with the input of many stakeholders including industry, scientists, environmental NGOs and others. The policy commits Staples to reduce the demand for virgin wood fiber and pressures on natural forests by incorporating more post consumer recycled and alternative fibers into our paper, indentifying and protecting endangered forests and promoting sustainably managed certified forests.

We have made considerable progress since 2002. Last year, for example, sales by weight of all paper sold by Staples were in excess of 30 percent post consumer recycled content, which resulted in saving more than 1.6 million trees. Staples has also introduced a number of Staples brand products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and we have committed to moving the majority of our paper offerings to FSC-certified by the end of 2010 based upon availability of supply and market conditions.

Q. How does climate protection fit into your overall strategy?

MB: Climate change is something we’ve committed to taking action on. As a growing company, we recognize that we need to figure out how to conduct business in a carbon constrained economy and reduce our direct and indirect carbon impacts. To that end, we have established a 7 percent absolute carbon reduction target below 2001 levels to be achieved by 2010. We are taking an integrated approach that includes energy conservation, green building design, renewable energy procurement and on-site renewable energy projects such as solar, wind and fuel cell projects as well as implementing alternative hybrid vehicle and fuels. We believe that these actions strategically position our business to be more efficient, reduce costs and establish long-term energy independence. We believe that we have even greater opportunities for carbon reductions as we look at our global supply chain.

Q. What challenges do you face instigating change in an organization like Staples?

MB: While embracing change has been part of the Staples culture since our founding in 1986, it does require that we think more holistically about the environment and sustainable business practices. I have found that change becomes easier when people in an organization can make the connection that sustainable business practices are in fact complementary to traditional business value and strategy.

Q. What role do your employees play?

MB: Our people play a tremendous role. We are not looking for just a “culture shift” here which suggests a rapid change which may have short-term value. Instead we are looking for a “cultural evolution” where every one of Staples 74,000 associates are incorporating the environment and sustainability into work that they do every day and by extension into their personal lives. We believe that encouraging associates to think differently and unleashing untapped human potential within an organization as it relates to the environment and sustainability will drive innovation and new business opportunities in the 21st Century.

Q. In your view, how can businesses drive change together?

MB: I think that businesses have extraordinary potential to drive change rapidly from shared learnings and experiences. These collaborations and idea exchanges can fundamentally drive sustainable markets and send the right signals up and down an increasingly global supply chain. With companies working together, incorporating best practices and sharing innovative approaches, business can profoundly impact global resource pressures and help build a more sustainable production and consumption model for future generations. For example, Staples is working with many like-minded Fortune 500 companies to help make environmentally-preferable paper products widely available and affordable.

Q. What steps are you personally taking to live a sustainable lifestyle? Do you drive a hybrid?

MB: I am a recycling fiend and I must confess a bit of a “pack rat’. I have retrofitted my home with compact fluorescent light bulbs. Unfortunately, I do not drive a hybrid yet (Toyota does not make a hybrid Tacoma), but I do offset 100 percent of my personal carbon emissions associated with driving and for the power I purchase for my home with Green e-certified renewable energy certificates. I compost and also have an organic garden and orchard in my yard.

Q. Ten years from now, what will you look back and say you achieved?

MB: I hope that in some small way that I can feel like I was part of something much larger and that our collective efforts had some part in making this planet a better place for my children and their children’s children.

About the Author: Sean Donahue

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