How Staples Is Building a Sustainable Brand | SalesAndMarketing.com
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How Staples Is Building a Sustainable Brand

Staples recently received LEED Gold certification for its store in Rosindale, Mass., near Boston. The store has everything from carpets made of sustainable materials to water-saving toilets. These are only the latest green initiatives for a company that h

Is the Rosindale location Staples’ first LEED-certified building?

Mark Buckley: This is the second retail building that has been certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. The first is in Miami, Fla., certified last year. Staples has actually been incorporating energy-efficient designs into most of its base buildings for a number of years. Every year we actually have what we call a “prototypical plan review” where we take a look at our standard building prototype and look at it from the building aspect to the heating, ventilating, circulation systems to the energy management systems and lighting systems to make sure we are getting as efficient as we can and building it to serve our base building design. We’ve been doing that since the early ‘90s so this really isn’t anything new.

It’s been part of our cultural DNA since we opened our first store in 1986, but we’ve really tried to formally address sustainability as a company since 2002. We are focused on four key pillars as they relate to the environment: environmentally preferable products, energy and climate, using our position in the market to educate our customers and our associates and waste reduction and recycling.

How does this affect your product offerings?

MB: If you walk into our stores one day and want to buy file folders or Staples-brand sticky notes or paper pads or notebooks, they’re at 30 percent post-consumer recycled content or higher and we don’t offer a virgin alternative on the shelf. It’s not necessarily a green product. It’s just how we make our paper. When you do that, you fundamentally start to shift the dynamics of the market so that the price becomes much more comparable to what a virgin alternative might have cost in the past. Customers are shopping with us because they want a high-quality product first and foremost. They want it to be competitively priced and if it just happens to be good for the planet, then that’s one more positive attribute that helps build brand equity over a long period of time.

How do you draw the customer in to these green efforts?

MB: We put our consumer programs under the umbrella program of EcoEasy, as in ‘we want to make it easy for you to make a difference.’ We do the due diligence on behalf of the consumer to make sure that whatever claim is being made in terms of the product, that it’s fully vetted and that you feel good about your purchase.

Do you think that knowing that products are green contributes to customers’ purchase decisions?

MB: We hope so. We think there will be new business opportunities that we hadn’t thought of before that will present themselves, but more importantly what we’re trying to do is build it into the context of Staples being a globally responsible brand. You don’t do that just by pounding your chest and saying “we’re greener than somebody else.” You try to do it as part of the way you do business every day, so that it becomes a core attribute with your brand, something that becomes synonymous with who Staples is.

We’ve done a lot, but I think we’ve got a long way to go. If we do it effectively and credibly over time, we hope that our customers will give us credit for those kinds of positions and investments that we’re making in the business now.

Has that gotten easier or harder in the current economy?

MB: In a down economy, cutting costs and going green have become very much complimentary. Sustainability in many circles is being seen in a new light because companies are focusing on things like waste and energy and it’s such a high profile, controllable cost. This is great, but there’s also the corresponding environmental benefit to this

Our aim is to create a common vernacular and common language around sustainability where it moves from the periphery as a “nice to do” into being a “must do” and something that needs to be incorporated into the way that we do businesses everyday. You’re seeing more and more businesses doing it today, which is exciting, but there are still many businesses that see it as two diametrically opposed concepts.