Staples CFO: Going Green Means Saving Green

Switching from using three-amp to two-amp lightbulbs, for instance, adds $4.2 million to the company's bottom line.

Such large savings are a result, of course, of Wal-Mart’s size. But there’s also a spillover effect to other businesses. Wal-Mart sells more detergent in the United States by far than any other company, so detergent manufacturers acceded to its demand for the new production specifications, and are now distributing the smaller soap containers throughout the whole retail industry.

Another Wal-Mart program involved Minute Maid orange juice. The juice formerly was made at a factory in Florida, shipped to Minute Maid warehouses around the country, then to Wal-Mart distribution centers, and from there to Wal-Mart stores. The companies agreed to skip the stopover at the juice company’s warehouses and ship the product directly to the retailer’s distribution centers. That change took a million miles off the total shipping distance traveled, saving 140,000 gallons of fuel and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 1,500 tons.

Ruta also told of a fleet management program in which Owens Corning eliminated its least-efficient vehicles, right-sized its SUVs and trucks, and incorporated more four-cylinder vehicles into the fleet. These changes cut greenhouse gas emissions by 16%, boosted fleet fuel economy by 18%, and decreased fleet operating costs by 8%.

The Environmental Defense Fund, meanwhile, last summer started Climate Corps, an internship program for MBA students between their first and second years. They get “boot camp training in building energy efficiency and financial analysis,” and are placed in companies to help develop energy-savings programs. In the first year the seven students in the program generated an aggregate $35 million in operational savings that will be spread over the next five years, and saved 120 million kilowatt hours (enough to power 10,000 homes for a year) and 57,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (equal to taking 7,000 SUVs off the road). For this year, EDF expects to increase the program to 20 students.

“This was all done in California, which has already done more than any other state in energy efficiency,” Ruta said, adding that companies that have implemented energy-reduction programs and other green initiatives should take second, third, and fourth looks at savings possibilities.

“There’s always more you can find,” she said. “We’re even continuing to find improvements in our own operations” at the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s not rocket science — it is looking at your operations through a new lens, finding efficiencies, and keeping track of the cost benefits.”

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