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The Next Economy
HP Sets Ambitious Plastic Goals, Doubles Down on Diversity Commitments

Along with the release of its 2019 Sustainable Impact Report, the tech giant has set bold goals around reduction of single-use plastics and increasing recycled materials; and committed to doubling its number of Black executives by 2025.

HP Inc, a longtime leader in the tech industry, has announced several bold commitments in its just-released 2019 Sustainable Impact Report — while also acknowledging that a lot more needs to be done collaboratively to address the environmental and social challenges facing the US and the world.

Especially noteworthy are two commitments related to single-use plastics — a growing concern globally, as evidence of the scale of plastic in our oceans, natural environment, and perhaps even our bodies, grows. HP aims to eliminate 75 percent of single-use plastic in its supply chain by 2025, as compared to 2018; while also increasing its use of recycled plastic from 9 percent now to 30 percent — a goal that will necessitate the company investing in plastic-recovery efforts.

“We need more recycling infrastructure in place,” Ellen Jackowski, HP’s Chief Sustainability & Social Impact Officer, told Sustainable Brands™. “Enabling recycling infrastructure across the globe is something we all need to do, as companies continue to provide incentives and processes for consumers to take action with us.”

Innovation will be key to meeting these goals. Currently, the packaging materials that accompany HP printers and other office technology still contain a significant amount of single-use plastic. The company is looking at replacing this plastic with recycled, recyclable paper pulp molds; while also looking for other sustainable materials for when paper-based molds won’t be sufficient to protect products.

“The goal is bold; it’s going to be hard work,” Jackowski said “There’s a lot of innovation needed.”

HP has long been a sustainability leader in the IT industry. The company was ranked #39 on Corporate Knights’ 2019 list of the 100 most sustainable corporations, ahead of competitors Alphabet (Google), Tesla, Samsung and Panasonic. Even with its global scale and size — $58.3 billion in revenue last year – HP only accounts for a tiny fraction of industry plastic use or global ocean-bound plastic, and recognizes that industry- or society-wide change is necessary for real impact.

“There’s a tremendous amount of work the world needs to do to stop plastic from flowing into the ocean,” Jackowski said. In 2018, HP joined NextWave — a group of technology and consumer brands collaborating on how to decrease the volume of plastic litter entering the ocean. “By joining NextWave, we were able to share how we built a supply chain around ocean-bound plastics, and how were we able to scale it.”

The report also highlights an important area where HP has lagged — the company acknowledges that the number of Black employees at all levels of HP is below where it needs to be. With protests taking place around the world against police violence and systemic racism, the role of large corporations in ensuring that their workforce — and, in particular, their management and leadership — reflects the surrounding society has become especially important.

“It’s clear with what is going on in the US and around the world, we haven’t made enough progress on African-American hiring,” Jackowski admitted. “We need to take action to improve.”

Jackowski noted that HP’s board of directors is the most diverse of any US technology company, with 58 percent of current members being minorities. She also hopes that their partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) — which created the HP HBCU Business Challenge, now in its fourth year — and with organizations including Black Girls Code can help more students gain the STEM skills for a career in the IT sector. Furthermore, HP CEO Enrique Lores has committed to doubling the number of Black people in executive positions by 2025. When the current wave of Black Lives Matter protests began dominating the public consciousness once again, the company also pledged $500,000 towards social justice organizations fighting to end systemic racism.

“This is an increasing focus,” Jackowski said. “We’re going to be measuring how we are doing, and we need to hold ourselves accountable.”

As asserted by new Porter Novelli research released this week, it is likely that companies will no longer be judged on commitments to diversity and sustainability, which have been around for years, but substantive action to back up those commitments. HP has set ambitious goals to reduce plastic and increase minority representation in the company. Now, it’s up to them to follow through on their promises, and give peers a model for achieving sustainable, equitable and measurable social and environmental impacts.