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5 Ways Staples is Getting Greener

There's a challenge faced by major corporations striving to be more environmentally friendly in how they operate -- after you take some basic steps and see big gains, it's hard to keep showing improvement year after year. Staples (SPLS) has tackled this challenge with an approach that focuses on finding new innovations that can help save greenhouse gases almost automatically.

The company's recently released environmental impact report spotlights five energy-saving measures that helped Staples keep its overall energy use nearly flat and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions last year compared with 2008, despite adding 25 more big office-supply stores.

  1. Use less cardboard. Staples worked with suppliers to develop a box for its paper shipping that weighed less and used less cardboard. Without impacting damage rates, the company saved $8 million and reduced shipping weight by 880,000 pounds.
  2. Shrink the box. Staples purchased a Jivaro boxing system, which essentially creates a custom-size box for each item to be shipped. This minimized empty space in boxes, causing Staples to ship 20 percent less empty space, so trucks could take more products and make fewer trips. Using boxes designed by the machine also saved 5,000 kilograms of plastic packing filler that wasn't needed due to the boxes' tighter fit with products.
  3. Set the speed. The company installed electronic devices that limited trucks' top speed to 60 miles an hour, preventing fuel waste that occurs at higher speeds. Fuel economy improved 20 percent as a result.
  4. Kill the engine. Staples also installed automatic shutoff devices that turned off the engine on shipping vans if it was idling longer than three minutes. The change saved 1 million gallons of diesel fuel. The company saw $3 million in savings in the U.S. alone.
  5. Consolidate IT. In Australia and New Zealand, Staples consolidated its servers to a single location, eliminating the need for 38 server units and cutting carbon emissions by more than 47 tons annually.
One step Staples took that few companies are doing was to introduce an education program in Canada for teachers and students, Staples and Students Together for a Smaller Footprint. More than 2,000 students participated in the program in its first six months.

Spreading the word about ways to help the environment doesn't do anything to improve Staples' own environmental footprint, but shows a commitment to the issue that goes beyond simply burnishing the company's own image or self-interested cost-savings. Let's hope it brings that program to the U.S. as well.

Photo via Flickr user Neubie

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