Office Depot is one of the UW’s main office suppliers, and the company offers many products with sustainability in mind. In fact, the company offers more than 12,000 products that have above-average environmental benefits compared to other products in their category. These benefits include reduced energy use, chemical use, and waste. Office Depot’s ball point pens, binders, and 100% recycled copy paper can be found in administrative offices and classrooms throughout the University of Washington campus. Because of its industry leadership in sustainability, Office Depot was named to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index for the tenth straight year in September 2015.
To learn more about Office Depot’s sustainability efforts, I spoke to Molly Ray, the company’s national environmental solutions manager. Ray works to ensure that Office Depot’s customers are informed on the green aspects of its products.
Over the last four years, Ray has played a major role in growing the culture of sustainability at Office Depot. When Ray arrived at the company, she says many of its salespeople were not fully aware of all the products and resources available through its GreenerOffice program. This program helps Office Depot’s customers reduce the environmental impact of their office spaces. To raise awareness about the program, Ray created a certification called GreenerOffice Champions. The GreenerOffice Champions certification has three pillars: telling green, selling green, and tracking green. “Telling green” refers to informing customers of the company’s environmental efforts, while “tracking green” refers to measuring the environmental impact of selling a green product. So far, Ray has certified about 300 salespeople, and the certification has been great at tapping into the competitive nature of these employees.
Despite her achievements at Office Depot, Ray emphasizes that working on sustainability at a multinational corporation poses many challenges. Firstly, both managers and customers often think it costs more to buy green products. However, this is not always true. For example, some products with high recycled content are not more expensive to purchase. To convince top-level managers to support one’s sustainability efforts, Ray says that providing a strong financial argument is crucial.
"This can be tricky because there are sometimes intangible values associated with your work and the program," Ray noted. "You also have to reassess the financial viability of your idea periodically, [as] managers want to regularly know how each investment is working. Prove … that your sustainability idea is enhancing the company’s brand and reputation."
Another challenge Office Depot faces is standardizing sustainability goals across its global operations. The company does business in 62 countries, so different divisions focus on different sustainability certifications.
While corporate sustainability work is not easy, Ray does not discourage anyone from pursuing opportunities in this field. As an aspiring CSR professional myself, I asked Ray for her general advice to young people wishing to follow in her footsteps.
"Figure out your niche in CSR. CSR is such a wide field," Ray said. "Think about what you are good at, what you are interested in, and how that can play into sustainability. You can also bring green aspects into a role that wasn’t initially focused on CSR."
To find out more about Office Depot’s sustainability efforts, visit http://officedepotcitizenship.com/