Hewlett Packard: Sustainability as a competitive advantage (February 10, 2011)

Featuring Frances Edmonds
Director of Environmental Programs, HP Canada 

For decades HP has worked to manage its environmental impact by adopting environmentally responsible practices in product development, operations and supply chain.  Frances Edmonds was engaging and insightful as she shared with the audience how HP’s environmental commitment has led to greater profitability.


A company doesn’t magically become sustainable – a variety of strategies must be employed but the essential ingredients are always the same: a vision to reduce waste coupled with encouragement for employees to find innovative solutions for the uncertain journey that lies ahead.

Frances Edmonds of HP speaking at the TSSS

Frances Edmonds framed her talk by first establishing HP’s longstanding environmental focus.  According to Edmonds, “at HP sustainability is not an end state but a state of doing”.  This is reflected in HP’s vision which stresses a deep respect for the environment by reducing impacts today and using its influence to build a sustainable global economy for tomorrow.  At HP sustainability is integral to the way that business is conducted.

The ICT sector (information and communication technology) accounts for 2% of the world’s carbon footprint. Edmonds suggested that the information technology sector can not only reduce its own footprint, but can also offer solutions to the world’s carbon problem.  As the largest technology company in the world, HP is firmly focused on playing a key role in finding and implementing these solutions.

Edmonds highlighted how HP uses technology that automatically restricts an employee’s ability to book travel to other offices when advanced teleconferencing technology is available in both locations.   This is a win-win as both carbon emissions and financial costs are simultaneously reduced.

Frances Edmonds engaging with the audience

HP has shown leadership in responsible recycling of old technology and print supplies through its Planet Partners program in over 50 countries.  An example of the Planet Partners initiative that Edmonds discussed is its inkjet recycling program, introduced in 2005.  Edmonds explained that while tremendous engineering innovation was required to design this process, the greater challenge in effectively recycling these cartridges and ‘closing the loop’ on their production and use proved to be convincing consumers to actively participate in the program.  She went on to explain how this challenge was overcome by partnering with Staples so that consumers would be able to return the cartridges with minimal effort.  In this example, resource reduction through recycling saves HP money and builds a stronger relationship with a valuable supply chain partner – another sustainability initiative with a win-win outcome.

Attendees networking over drinks

As HP’s printer cartridge recycling program became more established, a question arose that could not be ignored: How do we know for sure that recycling is better than using virgin plastic?  The time had come to conduct a life cycle analysis (LCA) of the recycled inkjet cartridges, including the often ‘hidden’ recycling factors of collection, transport and processing.  When the LCA was complete, the findings eliminated any remaining doubt about the benefits of recycling.  Edmonds shared the findings with the group: between 2005 and 2010 recycling reduced the carbon footprint of the inkjet cartridges from by 22%, cut fossil fuel use in half and reduced water use by a staggering 69%.  Despite these impressive results, HP recognized that there is always room for further improvement and in the past year the process has been further improved such that the carbon footprint reduction since 2005 is now 33%, fossil fuel use has been cut by 62% and the water savings have increased to 89%.

To conclude the event, Edmonds reflected upon HP’s success and listed many of the factors that paved the road of its sustainability journey..  Here are a few:

  • Long history of ‘doing the right thing’: since 1957, HP has had defined CSR values
  • Management structure that encourages innovation and supports ‘doing the right thing’
  • Integrated principles of Extended Producer Responsibilty (HP accepts external responsibility for their products)
  • Employees are supported as they try new approaches, even when they fail
  • Employee engagement program to help them better understand the issues

    Brad Zarnett and Frances Edmonds

As promised at the event, Edmonds has provided HP’s white paper on procurement criteria for information technology (IT) products and services.  Click here to read the report.

 Editor: Brad Zarnett
Founder and Director, Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series
Senior Sustainability Consultant, Watters Environmental

Contributing Writers: Julia Barnes and Adina Kaufman