In its 2014 Living Progress Report last week, HP outlined the human, economic and environmental impacts it has made in its pursuit of Living Progress — the company’s framework for integrating sustainability into its business strategy. I spoke with Chris Librie, Senior Director of HP’s Living Progress, about how the company’s holistic approach has informed the impacts made to date.
Of the three areas of progress that you report — environmental, social and economic — which area would you say has been the most challenging, in terms of creating lasting impacts?
CL: We’ve tried to create impact in all three areas in everything that we do, because the process is integrated. But I suppose it’s always challenging to link economic development as strongly to sustainability. It’s a natural for human progress — whether it’s a health issue or an access issue or privacy issue — those naturally play into the human progress area and sometimes the environmental progress area. On the economic front, what we focused on is improving education access for entrepreneurs through a program called “HP LIFE,” which free training modules via the web. We’ve got a great program that we collaborated on with BSR called “HER.” It started out as a health program and it was all about improving the health of women in our supply chain; providing them with access to training and information about health issues. Now it has expanded to include financial education as well; that’s an economic progress initiative that works well in our supply chain. And of course at the corporate level, we’re driving economic progress for our customers all the time. We’re working all the time to make a difference in all three impact areas of Living Progress.
Have any of your efforts to date yielded surprising results?
CL: Absolutely. I’d probably put HP Earth Insights in that category. We started this about three yrs ago with Conservation International. They have 16 sites around the world in rainforests where they’re getting camera-trap images, climate data and vegetation measurements, and they were generating more than three terabytes worth of data that they really couldn’t manage. I remember when that project started, some team members said, what’s the relevance of big data [in relation to] the rainforest? But actually it’s incredibly important because we’ve been able to shrink the time that CI needs to analyze their data from months to hours, and we’ve been able to generate insights that help identify whether animals are declining in number and why. That’s probably been the most positive and exciting surprise for us — the relevance of big data and our analytical tools to help CI and their local partners with environmental issues like that.
Drilling down into the report a little bit: It says HP is invested in helping customers meet new sustainable procurement requirements — which has a $24B financial return in existing and potential business revenue. Where does that figure come from — can you dig a little bit into that?
The report also mentions that over 150,000 tons of hardware and supplies — both HP and non-HP products — were recovered and recycled in the past year. How were they recovered? Do customers return those to HP? Are there partnerships involved?
CL: We have different approaches to recycling around the world. In certain countries — certainly in the U.S. — we have some really great partnerships with retailers like Staples, where we take back used electronic equipment, from any manufacturer, in fact. And we partner with Staples on ensuring that those get recycled in a manner that’s R3 compliant compliant — the highest standard. One of the reasons we love the program with Staples is those recyclers are located very close to Staples’ distribution centers, so we cut down on the carbon footprint of recycling as well. We have other retail partners in the U.S. as well, including Office Depot, and there’s some recycling also done via Walmart and other retailers.
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In other countries it’s a more formal network, where we’re either recovering through third parties or ourselves, trying to repurpose those recycled products, and only recycling them responsibly when we can’t repurpose them. A key part of HP — our financial services team — actually executes a take-back program for customers who do a major refresh of their technology. However, I think one of the areas where we’ve really pioneered some important innovation is in the supplies area for our printers — that’s been a huge success for many years where we have almost a closed-loop system. The cartridges come back and then they get scrapped and turned back into new cartridges. There’s a tremendous amount going on in the area of product recovery and recycling because it’s absolutely essential that we continue driving those recovery rates.
This report is a result of HP’s effort to go beyond simply sending out a sustainability report. What have you learned from this new approach to reporting?
CL: We have an advanced program of stakeholder feedback. I mean, one of the things we’ve improved upon in the past year is something called the Living Progress Exchange, which is both an online and an in-person forum — in fact, the first of those in-person LPX forums took place at Sustainable Brands last year. So, we’re always looking at what’s going on in terms of standards like G4, looking at what other companies are doing and how they’re reporting, and then we’ve got this wonderful network of outside stakeholders that are telling us whether what we’re doing is meeting their needs or not. I think we have a pretty amazing report in terms of its comprehensiveness and transparency. We’re one of the few companies that reports not only our scope 1, 2 and 3 impacts in carbon, but also we look at our water impact in the same way, and we have all the data assured for us by Ernst & Young, who are our corporate auditors. This is our 14th report, so we’ve been at this for a while, but I think one of the things that comes with doing as complete, comprehensive and long-standing an effort that HP has done is that I think we’ve really learned some of the best techniques.
Speaking of the Living Progress Exchange — next week at SB ’15 San Diego, you’re hosting a session on what’s happened since it launched last year. Can you give us a teaser about that?
CL: Sure! As I was saying, the LPX has really blossomed from being something that was kind of an experiment. For years, HP had an advisory council and we valued those councils highly, but we also thought that we could broaden our impact and really engage communities around the world, and the LPX been outstanding in that sense. You know through the online forum, we’ve had hundreds of people join, we’ve been able to schedule it at times that work for Europe and Asia, as well as for North America, so we’ve reached a global audience. And we’ve taken the in-person Living Progress Exchange on the road to some amazing places — in London with you guys and also the Sundance Film Festival, where there was a special LPX about collaboration between filmmakers and brand owners, and it was a great discussion. And we’ve learned a great deal and the LPX has created a number of great contacts and connections for HP.
What I’d love to be able to impart to people next week is that this kind of dialog is not only a great way to share with the world what you’re doing as a company, but even more importantly, to learn from others because no one company has all the answers.
I think Living Progress Exchange is a great step forward for what HP is doing in sustainability. I would just say that when the company splits at the end of this year, the two companies will carry on the tradition and the heritage of sustainability, maybe manifested a little differently given the product portfolios of the two companies, but it will be continue to be an essential part of their DNA.
It’ll be interesting to see how each manifests it in its own way.
CL: Exactly. And I think in the same way that separation is the right thing to do for the company at a high level, when it comes to sustainability as well it will enable us to really focus on the areas that are most material to the two new companies. I’m confident HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise will unlock even greater sustainability progress going forward.