At the ninth annual Office Products International Conference, Office Depot Chairman and CEO Bruce Nelson delivered a keynote address on corporate social responsibility to hundreds of representatives of the global office products industry.
Nelson began his remarks by noting that all companies are growing increasingly concerned with how best to balance the demands of running a profitable business with the desire to be good corporate citizens. He then outlined the challenges associated with building stakeholder trust, noting that the establishment of core values was essential to corporate success.
Nelson shared with the audience Office Depot's journey to becoming "a compelling place to work, shop and invest," while offering his roadmap for moving the company from "good to great."
Concerning the recent scandals that have undermined public trust and shaken investor confidence, Nelson noted that: "Sarbanes Oxley and other legislation designed to improve corporate governance, financial disclosure and the practice of public accounting can help -- but it can't change greed." Nelson believes that without a foundation built on trust, the establishment of core values and a focus on ethics, companies are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
As a demonstration of Office Depot's desire to set the standard for ethical practices and corporate accountability, Nelson noted that his company recently formalized a new provision to its values statement: "Our commitment to the principles of good corporate citizenship, positive social impact and environmental sustainability."
In describing his company's philanthropic activities, Nelson disclosed that last year Office Depot donated almost $27 million in products and cash to a variety of causes, especially those that impact the health, education and welfare of young people. "Our commitment to run a profitable business is matched only by our passion for enhancing the lives of the communities in which we live and work," he stated.
Nelson went on to list a number of the prominent non-profit organizations, such as America's Second Harvest, Gifts in Kind, Junior Achievement and Toys for Tots, with whom the company partnered, as well as provided highlights of the company's education programs and diversity affiliations.
Nelson then spoke at length about Office Depot's environmental stewardship, noting that the demand has never been greater on companies to serve as champions for the environment. As the world's largest reseller of recycled paper, Nelson said his company felt a great responsibility "to recognize and embrace such expectations" and that he and his management team were prepared to "listen, engage and respond" to public concerns.
He also articulated the company's mission, which is "to lead the industry on matters of environmental concern - not just in words, but also in actions."
After outlining Office Depot's recent environmental initiatives -- which included hiring a new director of environmental affairs to head up the company's "Office for the Environment" and extending the highly successful ink and toner recycling program under which more than one million used cartridges have been recycled -- Nelson addressed the demands made upon his organization by a few activist groups.
"We truly believe that we are engaged in a war of words, and not of real substance," Nelson said, in reference to the threats his company has received from two environmental groups who insist that Office Depot conform to specific language in the company's environmental policies.
Nelson reiterated the company's unwavering desire to preserve our natural resources, stating: "We do support the conservation and protection of endangered forests in that we are working diligently with our suppliers to phase out wood fiber sourced from forests that are rare and vulnerable as well as those areas where inappropriate practices endanger the sustainability of the forest ecosystem."
He also indicated that Office Depot has received significant support for its environmental policies and recycling programs from a number of "responsible, solutions-focused" groups.
"Ultimately, we don't believe that organizations that feed on conflict, rather than collaboration, should define our commitment to the environment," Nelson continued. "Our responsibility to society is larger than the interests of any one group. It is incumbent upon us, as a responsible corporate citizen, to engage with a broader set of interests -- including working closely with and supporting mainstream environmental organizations, suppliers, customers and employees -- in crafting solutions to complex environmental challenges."
Nelson noted that, in the coming months, Office Depot will implement several corporate initiatives and project partnerships that are designed to promote and advance the values described in the company's mission statement and outlined in the company's list of environmental principles.
"We are not simply developing showcase programs, but putting in place a philosophy of sustainability that will govern how we do business around the world," Nelson said. "It is something I am personally committed to and it is something I believe in passionately because it is absolutely the right thing to do."
Concerning the importance companies should place on citizenship in light of the enormous pressures placed on profitability, Nelson offered that "the challenge before us concerns redefining success." He urged his fellow business executives to "measure ourselves on more than financial results," noting that "corporate social responsibility goes hand in hand with sound business practices to help build not just a stronger and more successful company, but also the trust of an ever-expanding list of stakeholders."