Sustainability as the Golden Thread in Technology

HP Canada

4. Quality Education 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 17. Partnerships for the Goals

Overview

Frances Edmonds was the co-founder of HP’s engaging and sustainability-focused Eco Advocates program. Eco Advocates revolves around three pillars – HP’s leadership within the field of sustainability, employee engagement, and customer willingness to create a more sustainable world. Through advocacy, education, and collaboration, the Eco Advocates program works towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals of Responsible Consumption, Quality Education, and Partnerships for the Goals.

Author

Marina Mansurova

Marina Mansurova

School

York University- Schulich School of Business

York University- Schulich School of Business

Professor

Charles Cho

Charles Cho

Innovation

Frances Edmonds cofounded the Eco Advocates program in 2008 together with Lloyd Bryant in Toronto, Canada. This program started as a very small group of people, who were curating content and speakers that would fit within the overall company focus on sustainability. The Eco Advocates program essentially equips HP employees with knowledge about sustainability within the technology industry, which empowers employees and encourages them to inspire their peers and, most importantly, the end consumers. Eco Advocates incorporates lessons about environmental issues such as conflict minerals, greenwashing, and the circular economy, into the training of the frontline sales staff that directly interact with customers.

The staff are trained along four different levels that each reflect a different depth of the sustainability advocacy program. The most basic training involves four 10-minute videos that allow interested employees to be introduced to the world of making sustainable choices in the world of technology. Continuing along the four levels of training, employees are then exposed to podcasts, sales letters, and webcasts that equip customer-facing sales representatives with current news and deeper knowledge tools surrounding environmental issues relevant in today’s world. The final step of the Eco Advocates training program is one-on-one mentoring between sales representatives and customers that helps the end consumers be aware of their product usage and be proactive in reducing their carbon footprint.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals which HP’s Eco Advocate program addresses are Responsible Consumption, Quality Education, and Partnerships for the Goals. In terms of Responsible Consumption, Eco Advocates are equipping their customers with knowledge of how to purchase and use technology in a sustainable manner, with the aim to reduce the “product use” aspect of HP’s carbon footprint. HP works towards the goal of Quality Education by training and empowering their employees with a deeper understanding about the role of sustainability across all sections of their business. Beyond the scope of their business, HP also works to integrate its training initiatives across partnerships, such as with the WWF, hence working towards Partnerships for the Goals.

Sustainability as the Golden Thread in Technology

2018 Carbon Footprint - 53% Attributed to Product Use

Inspiration

The inspiration behind Eco Advocates was born from a sustainability-focused event held at the Schulich School of Business, in Toronto, Canada. Frances Edmonds was in attendance of this event, where a case study about HP was presented, which revealed surprising facts and statistics about sustainability at HP that even Frances, as the Director of Environmental Programs at HP, was not aware of. Frances was then inspired by the findings of the case study to integrate education of sustainability throughout the business to bridge the knowledge gaps in both, employees and customers. Although each function of the business has its own purpose, Frances states that “sustainability is the golden thread that ties the business silos together.” This is a perfect representation of how the Eco Advocates program plays a role across each function of the business by educating, empowering, and equipping employees with essential knowledge in the field of sustainability.

Furthermore, Frances saw the opportunity to leverage HP’s unmatched sustainability efforts in the technology industry through the Eco Advocates program. Having a clear focus on sustainability and providing employees with a sense of job purpose allowed HP to develop competitive differentiation in the technology marketplace. Initially, the sales statistics in the marketplace showed that consumers did not consider environmental impact when making purchasing decisions in technology, which discredited HP’s unique point of differentiation as a leader in sustainability. Hence, Frances was inspired by these trends to create a program that would influence and radically change consumer behaviour in the industry of information technology.

Overall impact

The overall impact of the Eco Advocates program continues to be significant – as 12 years later, the innovation is still shaping not only HP, but also the partnerships that it has helped to create. The impact within the initial phases of the program were tracked through data metrics online, as many training sessions were held using webcasts and podcasts which recorded the number of viewers and listeners. Eco Advocates would also attend conferences and events, where their attendance was recorded as well. Within the first five years of the program, the online educational webcasts and podcasts had gathered over 2000 attendees, with 350 employees enrolled as Eco Advocates.

The long-term impact of the Eco Advocates innovation was even greater. The goal of the innovation beyond HP was to reach a larger business audience – provide expertise, knowledge, and inspiration to more business leaders. In 2010, HP pitched a collaborative proposal to WWF, which incorporated the Eco Advocates program into their Living Planet @ Work initiative. In 2013, only six years after its initial launch, the program expanded from a Canadian to a global program. HP’s annual reports showed year-over-year increases in the sales of more sustainable products, which were directly attributed to the work of the sales team – with a number being Eco Advocates. Although it may be hard to assign metrics for this aspect, the content from the lessons taught online and through guest lecturing helped change how people do business daily. The Eco Advocates program built a platform to help to spread the word and inspire new takeaways for each listener.

Business benefit

The benefits to the business brought by Eco Advocates are reflected within sales increases and within employee engagement. The initial goal of the innovation was to educate HP employees and provide them with cutting-edge tools that would help them tap into HP’s pool of sustainability resources. Moreover, the innovation allowed HP’s employees to find a sense of purpose when executing their job. The Eco Advocates program is a motivational tool for employees as it gives rise to leadership opportunities within the corporation and helps understand how to win over consumers from the competitors. Frances states, “Interestingly enough, our sustainability efforts actually place us at a disadvantage with competitors, as customers do not factor in sustainability in their purchasing decisions. Our goal with the Eco Advocates program is to change that by educating consumers about their role in the sustainability process.” Employees are also motivated intrinsically based on causes they truly believe in, which they also wish to spread to their colleagues and customers. The innovation was able to create an environment where employees were striving to serve common societal goals while also reaching their personal full potential.

In 2018, $700 million in new business demonstrated that sustainable impact was a key differentiator in purchasing decisions and there was 38% increase in year-over-year sales bids with sustainability requirements. Evidently, initiatives such as the Eco Advocates program had steered consumers into making more sustainable product use decisions.

Social and environmental benefit

The innovation’s main goal was to reduce HP’s carbon footprint, where 60% was attributed to product use by customers in 2012 with total emissions being 78,609,000 tonnes of CO2e. Over the next few years, HP’s carbon footprint has been reduced to 53% being attributed to product use with emissions totalling 44,699,600 tonnes of CO2e. Considering the increasing number of purchases of IT products such as PCs and printers, HP has managed to decrease their emissions and reduce the amount of their carbon footprint attributed to product use, while also being the only IT company globally to disclose a fully audited scope 3 carbon and water footprint with science based reduction goals in all three areas of HP’s business.

Considering the innovation’s main focus of reducing HP’s carbon footprint, and with year-over-year results showcasing the achievement of such goals, it is evident that an innovation such as the Eco Advocates program has helped influence consumers’ product purchasing and usage behaviour. Customers are becoming more aware of their potential influence within the circular economy and are starting to understand how to reduce plastic use in the IT industry.

Interview

Frances Edmonds, Head of Sustainability

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HP Canada

HP Canada

Toronto, Ontario, CA

Business Website: https://www8.hp.com/ca/en/home.html

Year Founded: 1939

Number of Employees: 10000+

HP Canada is an information technology company, providing technology solutions to consumers and businesses globally. The company specializes in technology solutions that include imaging, printing, home computing, network resources, and IT services for businesses globally.