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 user 2004-02-03 at 10:28:00 am Views: 82
  • #4931

    Headline: green fingers

    While Office Depot’s environmental policy has been criticised in some quarters, director of environmental affairs Tyler Elm insists the company has every right to be proud of the Strides that it has made in recent months

    Tyler Elm. Or to Give him his full title, Tyler J Elm MBA, MRM, BSc, RP Bio is clearly a very clever man who knows his stuff.

    A registered professional biologist, Canadian-national Elm has spent the majority of his career consulting to the paper and forest industry and associated government institutions, advising clients on strategic business issues and how to manage natural resources. He is an acknowledged expert on the application of ecosystem-based management and the conservation of biological diversity in production forests.

    And when Elm isn’t working to help protect the great outdoors, he is outside enjoying it. Elm is something of a sporting star in his native Canada, being a member of the national canoe and kayak whitewater freestyle team. He has competed for Canada since 1993 and has consistently been placed as one of the top ten paddlers in the world.

    And considering this genuine love of the natural environment around him, to say that his appointment last September as Office Depot’s director of environmental affairs was mere window dressing to address a vogue topic would be most disingenuous and wide of the mark. It would also be insulting to Elm and his expertise to suggest that he would take a role that did not have real importance to his employer.

    Disgruntled pressure groups such as Forest Ethics and Dogwood Alliance would also be wise to listen to his arguments before painting Depot as the dirty man of the OP industry.


    Since peace broke out between the aforementioned non-government organisations (NGOs) and Staples last year, Depot has become their #1 target. Days of action picketing stores, demonstrating outside corporate headquarters and heckling CEO presentations have become an almost routine bugbear for Depot in the past year.

    Elm almost accepts it with a weary resignation, but perhaps surprisingly under the circumstances, he is not totally dismissive of the part that groups like these have played down the years in making the OP industry more environmentally aware.

    “You have to give some credit to activist organisations,” concedes Elm, “with respect to their ability to raise the issue within executive offices. Office Depot has thousands of environmentally preferable products and you don’t develop that breadth of products overnight.”

    Elm places the pressure groups and NGOs into two brackets. He says: “There are NGOs that seek solutions to environmental problems and seek to promote worthy objectives such as conservation and ecological restoration and sustainable forest management. They engage in relationships.”

    And while mentioning no names, no prizes are given for who Elm is talking about when he says: “On the other side you have political activist organisations that primarily seek change through manufacturing controversy rather than collaboration.

    “They promote a conflict model where political activism in public relations is fuelled by coercion. So actions are often motivated by the ability to generate funds as well as political ideology rather than the actual conservation objective. And their modus operandi is essentially motivate and escalate.”

    Elm maintains that Depot has “a very strong relationship” with the NGO community, although he is doubtlessly referring to the former type. Depot’s current relationship with the likes of Forest Ethics and Dogwood are frosty to say the least.

    But not surprisingly, given his background, Elm is far more interested in engaging with scientists than activists. And this fact, he feels, is a bone of contention for the activists: He explains: “Right now we’ve chosen to work with the conservation and science community rather than political activists and that may be a source of tension.


    “Activists will take advantage of the complex nature of the issues and the naivety of the general public to get headlines. But we are not motivated by coercion, we are motivated by collaboration and results. The conflict model results in more words, more policy and more headlines, but that is not our objection.

    “We take a stakeholder approach. We work with our customers, with the company itself, our shareholders and the science and conservation community. Our objective is economic benefits through improved environments. We work with all these organisations to promote sustainable forest management, conservation and biological diversity and even ecological restoration.”

    While Depot’s critics remain unconvinced on its green record and commitment to endangered forests, Elm says he is proud of the company’s record of recent months. “We’ve increased the number of products containing recycled content and we’ve increased the recycled content in those products. We’ve switched all of our copy and print centres to use our Envirocopy paper. And the next step is not just doing it but proving it by using third party verification.”

    The company has also been undertaking extensive research to fully understand its customers’ perception of green products, and which type of customer values environmental attributes or high performance environmental products more than others.

    Educating the consumer is high on Elm’s list of priorities. “Back in the 1980s, recycled paper was not nearly as good as it is now. We did some research and it wasn’t so much the price that was putting people off, but some still thought it was an inferior product and weren’t used to it. So we developed our ink and toner recycling programme where for every ink and toner cartridge you brought in for remanufacturing and recycling we would provide a free ream of our Envirocopy 35% post consumer waste paper. And sales have gone up as a result of that consumer education.”

    Elm had in fact already been advising Depot on its environmental strategy for eight months when he was asked to take a permanent position within the company last autumn. But since he relocated to Florida on a full-time basis, he says he has been pleased with how his vision has been shared by his colleagues.

    “My biggest surprise from the team at Depot is how much across the multiple channels in the company these values and ideas have been embraced. Having the support of your CEO is great but to implement them you need the support of your operations people and I didn’t have to build that support, I already had it.”