HP Interview: Carl Eckersley, Environmental Product Stewardship Director

I recently had a chance to chat with Carl EckersleyDirector, Environmental Product Stewardship, Personal Systems Group, at HP.  He provided insight not only on designing for environmental sustainability at HP by taking account the entire life cycle (LCA) of the product, but also how the electronics industry has joined forces to push forward the human dimension of sustainability.

TriplePundit: Tell us a little bit about the LCA process at HP?

Carl Eckersley: HP has always taken a life cycle approach to its environmental management and sustainability.  Since 1992, we created design for environment principles, standards and specification.

We put product stewards, environmental specialist into the design teams, to look at the entire life cycle of the product, from design, to it’s manufacture, to use, to end of life and disposal.

Each step of the products life cycle, we look at it’s energy use.  [For instance,] today we can say that the PCs we build today are twice as energy efficient as those we were making 5 years ago.

As consumers have become more aware of environmental and social issues,   HP has developed a desktop tool called HP Power Assistant. The tool turns energy and power management capability into a graphical user interface for the user.  They can turn on and off features graphically, and see how that effects the energy used in that PC at that time.  We also convert it into CO2, so you can see what the CO2 equivalents are.  You can see how much energy you are saving.  That is unique differentiator for HP, that I don’t think anybody else does.

3p: Can you talk about your take back program?

CE: We’ve been doing take-back program since 1987.  We started taking back ink cartridges since 1987.  I think we have taken back 2 billion pounds of hardware for recycling or reuse.  But today we offer the customer a wide variety of choices [for various electronic hardware]. You can donate your product, you can reuse the product, which is the first choice.  If it works, let’s reuse it.

For a customer here in the US, if it is usable, tell us what the specs are, and we will buy that product back from you.  We have a buy back program.  We’ll pay the customer in cash or in HP home and office store credit.  We will then refurbish it and sell it on secondary or tertiary markets.

But if the hardware has no life left, we will then recycle it responsibly.  HP has a very strict no export recycling policy.  If we get it back, we are not going to ship that oversees for recycling.

3p: So where do the recycled take-back products end up? 

CE: In most cases, we shred it and separate it into plastic parts, metal parts, glass parts, and PCA [Printed Circuit Assembly] parts.

The metals have value, so we’ll sell it to a metals guy, he’ll will take it and put it into a smelter and turn it into whatever.  The plastics we’ll separate into the various different plastic types.  Those plastic streams have value, so the plastics guys will buy that plastic.

The PCA material.  It’s got a lot of precious and semi-precious metals.  Gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper.  We’ll sell that to a smelter, and they will extract it for those precious metals.  It is actually cheaper for them to get those precious metals out of a PCA than to mine it out of the ground.

None of the material we take back goes into a landfill.  It’s all sold into a commodities market of some type based on what type of material it is.

3p: How is sustainability taken into account in the supply chain, where you rely on a second or third party company?

CE: We have a social environmental program as part of our supply chain.  We probably have, I’d argue, one of the strongest programs around that.  We initiated a supplier code of conduct in 2003.  And realized quickly that we weren’t going to do it alone.  In 2004, we were a founding member of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC).

So we got all our competitors and developed the EICC, to establish a code of conduct that we expect of our suppliers in terms of working health and safety, worker rights, worker pay, worker dormitory conditions, and all facets of how we manage that extended supply chain.  And we continue to do that, to ensure the workers are not being exploited.

3p: In terms of a violation of the code of conduct, what does HP do with the supplier?

CE: We actively audit our suppliers and expect continual improvement from our suppliers.  It is part of their contract.  It is part of what we expect them to do.  If we find a serious violation, we have a couple zero-tolerance violation, they have 30 days to fix.  It must be fixed.

It is not our first choice to terminate them, because all that does is put the workers out of business.  Our goal is for workers to be employed.  But if a supplier ultimately says we are not going to do it, they will terminate that.  Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often.  But our program has teeth!

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.