Xerox: A Model Green Company for the 21st Century

by Editor

Patricia Calkins, Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety is interviewed.  She is responsible for implementing green policies that help Xerox save serious money and maintain a triple bottom line. She has been with the company since 1993 in various “green roles”.

Patricia Calkins

Rahim Kanani: How did your position at Xerox come about as the head of sustainability efforts?

Patricia A. CalkinsAt Xerox, in the early 1980s, we realized that to more effectively manage some very fundamental elements of sustainability which include the health and safety of our people, product safety and the natural environment; it was necessary to organizationally merge the company resources that managed these aspects.  This provided a perfect foundation for applying a systems approach to managing these areas; resulting in more effective decisions that are dependent on evaluating complex trade-offs.

For example, many years ago in electronics manufacturing highly flammable petroleum based solvents were traditionally used for cleaning parts.  The effort to eliminate this fire hazard led to the introduction of chlorinated solvent as substitute cleaners until it became evident that these chlorinated materials were carcinogens. Freon was then developed as the “miracle cleaner” – a material so inert you can snuff out a match and you did not have to worry about any direct health consequences from exposure.  But we later learned that Freon increased skin cancer concerns because it allowed molecules to make their way to the upper stratosphere and react with the ozone layer.  This eventually led to the ban of its use in aerosol cans, manufacturing, air conditioning, etc.

As we continue to transform our business and advance our knowledge of complex dynamics of science, culture and economics, Xerox has continued to evolve our organization to make more effective systems based decisions.

Rahim Kanani: Reflecting back on sustainability at Xerox, what were some of the early pioneering efforts in this space organizationally?

Patricia A. CalkinsXerox was an early leader in its industry for focusing on sustainability; pioneering two-sided copying in the 1960s, introducing recycled paper products in the early 1970s and developing automatic power-down functions on some of our machines in the 1980s. But my favorite example demonstrates our systems approach to prioritizing our efforts; resulting in real results.

In the early 1990s when we started our remanufacturing initiative, we realized that to effectively optimize both the economic and the environmental benefits, we needed to address some critical elements – designing products for multiple lives, building reverse logistics capability, developing diagnostic tools for evaluating condition of parts, and applying a new “life cycle” based financial model.  As we started working to integrate remanufacturing concepts into the design of our products, we took the next step in 1993 and applied environmental life cycle analysis tools to ensure that we were focusing our subsequent efforts toward impacts where we could drive the most significant benefits.  Our study findings pointed to energy consumption and paper as the most important priorities.  As we worked to improve the energy efficiency of our products, we realized that we could drive substantially greater benefits if we leveraged our efforts through partnering with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to help build the Energy Star program.

Rahim Kanani: Similarly, what have been some of the more recent sustainability measures put into place?

Patricia A. CalkinsGenerally the most recent measures are focused on delivering sustainability value beyond our own four walls. Because our business model has shifted from the actual product offering to the value proposition, there’s an even greater focus on our customers’ needs. Additionally, our expertise has become particularly important as customers have put a higher premium on environmental responsibility.

Now instead of simply delivering bottom line benefits, we help our customers capture bottom line benefits while reducing their environmental impact with sustainable products and services.  This in turn contributes to our top line growth. Michael Porter and Mark Kramer call this “shared value”.

An example of this shared value is the optimized print infrastructure we deliver with our managed print services.  We now advise customers on how to save money on their document management process while reducing energy and paper usage. After conducting an in-depth assessment of our customer’s printing process, we find ways to consolidate a variety of expensive office equipment with fewer more cost-effective ones.

By reducing the number of print devices needed, we improve the efficiency of our customers’ office workflow; ultimately reducing the amount of hard copy print output generated.  Typically our customers see a 30 percent monetary savings and 25 to 30 percent energy savings and associated carbon reduction.

Rahim Kanani: What kind of environmental and social return has Xerox had over the years, and how do you measure that impact?

Patricia A. CalkinsXerox has defined its own corporate citizenship under four areas; supporting the customer, improving the workplace, preserving the planet and advancing the community.  Impact is measured internally as well as by our industry, peers and influencers.

For example, when it comes to supporting the customer we can point to achieving five consecutive years of certification in the J.D. Power and Associates Certified Technology Service & Support (CTSS) program for providing “An Outstanding Customer Service Experience” and our recent induction to its Hall of Fame.

To measure how our employees view the workplace, we’ve developed innovative channels for employee feedback.  These channels include our Voice of the Employee Survey, which is used in 37 countries.  And as for how we measure the assistance we’ve offered the communities in which we reside, we can point to the over 18,000 projects and 400,000 employees who’ve taken part in our Community Involvement program over the years.

Measuring our results for preserving the planet is a little more complicated. From inception to end of life cycle, we think about every component that makes up our products and their potential effect on the environment. But because we believe “what gets measured gets done”, we do measure the impact of our approach.  For example in our latest citizenship report, we reported a significant decrease for water consumption which was 40 million liters annually across our worldwide sites.

Rahim Kanani: As someone who joined Xerox in 1993 as a manager of resource conversation, and now, as the head of the company’s sustainability efforts, what are some of the leaderships lessons you’ve learned along the way both organizationally, and within the context of moving the needle on sustainability more broadly?

I learn more every day in how to be more effective in moving the needle on sustainability.  While some of the most basic leadership lessons continue to be reinforced over time; here are five that seem to rise to the top.


  • There is no beginning, middle and end. While it may seem obvious, I have to continually remind all levels within the organization that there is no beginning, middle and end to our sustainability efforts. It is my job to keep reminding others within the organization that sustainability is not something that can be tied up in a nice package and considered “done”.
  • Do not assume. Never assume that the smartest business leaders in the organization really understand how sustainability drives value in the business. There remains a surprising portion of the business community that think the sustainability “risk” has to be managed but does not provide fundamental value to the business.
  • The “walk” needs to precede the “talk”. I have spent much of my sustainability focused career pushing a boulder up a hill and was thrilled when it seemed that the boulder had crested the hill.  I quickly found that the new challenge was in effectively managing the ensuing “marketing enthusiasm” to ensure that we were not at risk of misleading the market by treading into the “green washing” territory.  As we have all learned over time, it takes a lifetime to build brand value. But that value can be lost instantly when actions do not align with perception.
  • Partnerships are critical in order to really peg the needle to the right. When efforts become disjointed and redundant, the resulting inefficiency limits the collective value potential for each individual organization.  With an increasingly connected world, collective efforts from partnerships are vital to really moving the sustainability needle. Signs of collective value creation are evident with the innovative partnerships that have been developing more recently among businesses, government, environmental non-governmental organizations and academia. These partnerships are critical to reducing inefficiency and to effectively address the complexities arising from the dynamic nature of the economic, environment and societal systems influencing sustainability.
  • Sustainability must be integrated throughout your business process. Although we’ve come to the realization that it takes everyone in the organization to really push the needle to the right, it’s not easy.  But if we are successful in tightly integrating sustainability concepts into the business; results should follow.  Fundamental tools such as goals, metrics, and incentives are important for basic alignment.

Rahim Kanani: If you were to give the keynote address at a convening of multinational, mega corporations, on the benefits of integrating measures of sustainability into your organization and operations, what would be your key take-away message that day?

Patricia A. CalkinsThere’s a Cashmere proverb that says we have not inherited the world from our forefathers; rather we are borrowing it from our children. Market winners are those that do not rely on myopic eyewear to manage their business but understand that their existence is inextricably linked to creating more value to society than they extract.  If a company can point to how much is spent on green research, there’s a problem.

For sustainability to be worthwhile, it must be integrated throughout your business operations.  From inception to a product’s end of life cycle, you should think about every component that makes up your products and its potential effect on the environment.  Sustainability, separate and apart from your core business, means it’s not part of your everyday thought process. While it is important to deliver shareholder value; there’s a widely held misconception that green responsibility carries a high cost. That’s simply not true.  In reality, green innovation helps the bottom line by reducing cost, increasing revenue and enhancing brand value.

Source: Forbes

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