From Charity to Foresight to Business: The Evolution of HP’s CSR

From the beginning of its existence, Hewlett Packard (HP) has been ahead of its peers in giving back to the community, showing concern for work/life balance, and acting to preserve the environment — long before it was trendy to do so. Currently, it is the largest technology company in the world, shipping 3.5 products per second. So it is no surprise that Marc Gunther says that “no tech company – not even Google – is more important to the health of the planet.”

In 1938, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard invented their first product. In 1940, the year HP moved out of its garage birthplace and issued its first bonuses, it also made its first donation to charity. In 1960, Dave Packard explained to a reporter that he didn’t believe companies existed only to make a profit. He conceded that that was important, but Packard thought that a group of people who came together to comprise a company could also contribute something worthwhile to society.

This conviction earned HP a prominent place under the newly minted CSR umbrella where it had little company at that time. In 1973, it was the first company to implement flextime in the U.S., and in 1993, it built a computer parts recycling facility in Roseville, CA, while many were simply throwing their computers away and making them someone else’s problem. Time and again, HP saw the future needs of our rapidly expanding computing culture and thought ahead. To this day, HP constantly strives to grow its business, while at the same time, shrink its environmental impact.

One-Two Punch
Throughout most of its life, HP has enjoyed a healthy reputation, but it was injured by the unpopular reign of outsider Carly Fiorina and was bloodied again this past August when CEO Mark Hurd resigned after allegations of misconduct. Although HP is implementing strong sustainability campaigns on several fronts, Gunther and Reuters writer Alex Dobuzinskis claim that Hurd didn’t really support HP’s CSR efforts. It turns out that even just as a CSR figurehead, Hurd was a poor choice. The 2009 HP report, Changing the Equation: The Impact of HP Global Citizenship—and Beyond, had a full page picture of Hurd next to an unfortunate pull quote about high standards of integrity and accountability that vanished, most likely, before the door closed completely behind him on his way out.

Through it all, HP’s global citizenship program marched on: computer parts were recycled by the millions, plans for an innovative, energy-efficient data facility in the U.K. were refined and implemented, and supply chain greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions transparency lists were published for all to see. Where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard aimed simply to give back to the community with HP’s first donation in 1940, the company’s clairvoyant sustainability strategy has evolved into an important business tool. One that is becoming sharper, more efficient and more effective every day under HP’s current environmental CSR shepherd, Engelina Jaspers.

Jaspers, a 12-year HP veteran, bears the responsibility of our planet’s health with cool efficiency and a single-minded purpose. It’s no accident that HP occupies the number 2 spot on both Newsweek’s U.S. 500 and Global 100 Green Rankings for 2010.  Her future vision is to integrate sustainability principles even further into HP, and focus on bringing the companies HP has acquired into line, as well.

It’s Just Business
Does this mean that HP’s c-suite has a passion for green issues and the environment? It makes no difference to Jaspers. She doesn’t know, and it doesn’t matter. She is a business person first, environmental advocate second. “Better to focus on the business case, on the way that sustainability can drive revenues, reduce costs, or spark innovation,” she said.

How does the new HP CEO, Leo Apotheker, another outsider coming from German software giant, SAP, feel about sustainability? Only time will tell, but it looks like nothing will deter Jaspers from driving HP toward the ambitious goals of a 40 percent product GHG emission reduction by 2012, and a 20 percent facilities ghg emissons reduction by 2013.

Jaspers says, “It’s not about getting your CEO passionate about sustainability. It’s about connecting sustainability to your CEO’s passion.” From all accounts, Apotheker sounds like a business-minded, results-driven leader, so we’ll look for Jaspers and HP to help our environment make it off the critical list in the years to come.

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

One response

  1. Thanks for the insights into HP. It would be interesting to hear from other executives, the CFO for example to understand their commitment to CSR…I get concerned when Jaspers responds to a question about the commitment of her colleagues to green issues and the environment: “She doesn’t know, and it doesn’t matter”.

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