When it comes to making commitments to manufacturing products that are sustainable and friendly to the planet, some companies talk a big game but deliver less-than-stellar results. Others have applaudable aspirations but have neither the resources nor the corporate culture to make the necessary investments to achieve meaningful results in the sustainability area. Then there are companies like HP.
Last week, HP officially announced that the electronics and printing titan had committed to using 75% less single-use plastic packaging by 2025. This goal was followed by HP’s announcement that its sustainable products and services had already achieved $1.6 billion in sales last year. For a company the size of HP (they reported overall sales of $58.8 billion in its Fiscal Year 2019), these are not trivial accomplishments given the vast scale of their large businesses in the printer and PC space. The $1.6 billion figure represented nearly a 70% improvement over comparable sustainable products and services in 2018.
During an analyst briefing before the official public announcement of their 2019 Sustainable Impact Report, HP laid out its plan to achieve its new plastic-free commitment. The company will eliminate the familiar plastic-based foam cushions from packaging usually found to secure its printers and PCs and replace them with pulp-based, 100% recycled and recyclable substitutes. It is essential to point out that plastic foam is generally classed as difficult to recycle and presents challenges for sanitation centers to dispose of.
HP also signaled that further changes might be coming to packaging designs over the coming months (and even years). For example, HP is examining the possibility of utilizing glassine paper to replace the traditional protection bag used to protect printers. In the recycled plastics category, HP described the progress that the company had made in this area with sourcing more than 25,000 tons of post-consumer plastics for its packaging in 2019, nearly 10% of total annual plastic use of packaging.
HP’s leadership in the sustainability category is not new and has caught the attention of others. Corporate Knights’ 2019 list of the 100 most 100 sustainable corporations ranked HP ahead of highly recognizable organizations like Eli Lilly, Autodesk, Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Nokia, and MetLife. Interestingly, when the sheer of HP’s size is considered (the company generated more than $58 billion in revenue last year), the company only comprises a minute percentage of the entire industry’s plastic use (or even global ocean-bound plastic), making the entity’s commitment in this space “to do even better” more impressive. According to HP, the company’s 2018 participation in NextWave, a collection of influential technology and consumer brands focused on how to decrease the amount of plastic that pollutes the ocean significantly, allows the company to share its supply chain and scale wisdom with other members in the group.
Complimenting their sustainability goals is HP’s announcement that it would be further expand its “Forest Positive Future” enterprise and support science-based targets that aggressively promote forest conservation. Additionally, HP announced it was welcoming the Arbor Day Foundation, Chenming and New Leaf Paper to the company’s Sustainable Forests Collaborative, which should add more gravitas to the initiative. Lastly, HP also announced it is increasing its organization-wide focus on diversity hires (particularly towards women and African-Americans) and pledging $500,000 towards social organizations fighting to end systemic racism.
A few closing thoughts
HP is clearly “all in” when it comes to promoting sustainability within its organization and the world at large. It’s hard to deny how thoroughly firmly embedded these principles are in the DNA of the company. Ellen Jackowski, HP’s Chief Sustainability & Social Impact Officer, participated in a spirited podcast with me last week, where she spoke effusively about the company’s long-term strategy and commitment in the sustainability area. It was difficult not to be impressed. When pressed about whether HP’s sustainability activities might compromise the overall “out of the box” user experience, Jackowski proudly pointed to what HP’s success with printers and laptops. Not only did HP reduce non-recyclable materials in packaging, but it also facilitated faster and more natural product setup—the instructions come printed on the box itself, reducing waste. Jackowski also pointed out that many of its corporate and small business accounts are becoming more environmentally conscious and including sustainable product requirements in their RFQs. So, in a sense, HP is also responding to real customer needs through these efforts.
During these troubled Covid-19 times, and in general, it’s easy for organizations to focus attention on other matters that are not central to generating revenue. That’s the easy way out. When it comes to sustainability, HP deserves a pat on the back for showing the world that companies can both walk and chew gum at the same time.