Leigh Pearson – Staples Canada
When someone buys ink or toner, they get to decide how to dispose of the empty cartridge. While Staples Canada agrees, it also feels a responsibility to recycle the products.
“We want to provide solutions for recycling the products that we’re putting out there,” says Leigh Pearson, the senior director of facilities, sustainability, sourcing and procurement.
Staples Canada, the largest office supply retail chain in the country, has recycled empty ink and toner cartridges for over 20 years by encouraging customers to drop them off in store. Over the years, Pearson has expanded recycling to include batteries, writing instruments and electronics.
Pearson started with Staples almost 25 years ago as a store associate. As she’s grown with the company, she’s led other changes, too, which have made the stores, warehouses and office facilities more energy efficient.
“Part of the reason for my tenure is that I have always felt Staples’ values were aligned with mine,” Pearson says. “We’ve always believed in the collective power of community, education, entrepreneurship and environmentalism. To work for an organization that takes great pride in this, and is always looking to provide better products, services and solutions, is incredibly fulfilling.”
The commitment to sustainability is most evident in a new store the company opened in Toronto in 2021, which is 100 percent powered by Bullfrog Power.
Staples Canada has partnered with the renewable energy company since 2013, but this is the first time an entire store has been Bullfrog powered. Bullfrog calculates the amount of power Staples uses and then invests the same amount into renewable energy generation across the country. With other stores, Staples has used Bullfrog Power for certain aspects of the business, such as its Staples Studio coworking spaces and Staples Solutionshop production centers.
“Throughout the pandemic it’s been great to see this store come to life with an increased focus on sustainability,” she says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented some challenges for Pearson, as she’s responsible for procuring personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. She dealt with the supply chain issues many companies have experienced, which also affected her ability to receive mechanical equipment and HVAC units.
Having new HVAC units not only makes the stores more comfortable, she says, but more sustainable, too. She also works to make the stores more energy efficient by converting to LED lights and using automation to control light and temperature. Energy use is tracked and monitored by a long-standing energy committee to ensure sites are consuming the appropriate amount. If usage is more than expected, Pearson and the committee look for ways to regulate it.
Delivery drivers will also help customers recycle by taking back the corrugated cardboard Staples uses for packaging. They will also take back the other products the store recycles.
“We want to provide a service that’s easy for customers to engage with,” Pearson says. “We want to create the opportunity for Canadians to make relatively small changes that have a big impact when aggregated.”
By allowing customers to drop off recyclables for free at any of its 302 locations and through its delivery fleet, it recycles about 3 million metric tons of electronics each year.
The company is hoping to increase this diversion by doing more online outreach and education. Pearson says Staples is planning to launch a new sustainability landing page on its web platforms in February that will give customers more information on how to recycle. The website will also have resources and tips on how to be more environmentally responsible.
“Sustainability is about responsibly reducing waste, and ultimately Staples Canada wants to be effective at doing that and in helping others do the same,” Pearson says. “We want to be a business that our communities are proud of.”
When Pearson was hired at Staples Canada as a store associate in the late ‘90s, she was in a management training program. Her goal was to be a store manager, but she hadn’t envisioned making a career with the company. Then, as an assistant manager, she was placed on a team tasked with opening a new store.
“That changed the whole trajectory of my career,” she says. “There was something so appealing about walking into the shell of a building and transforming that into an operational store.”
Following her interest, she became a project coordinator and helped open other stores across the country. By the time Staples Canada had 80 stores, the company decided to create a centralized repair and maintenance department instead of each store managing this independently. When Pearson was asked to lead the department, she didn’t hesitate.
In the years since, she says her role in the company has evolved as sustainability efforts have. She was promoted to her current position in 2020.
“Working here has been incredibly motivating because every project and initiative I work on goes back to improving our sites, our communities and ultimately, the environment,” Pearson says. “It gives me a great sense of purpose.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. III 2022 Edition here.
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