Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Bill Roth headshot

Staples Advantage: Growing Green Supply Chain Revenues

Words by Bill Roth

The greening of the supply chain is one of the economic engines of the global, $1 trillion revenue growth opportunity for companies selling sustainable products and services.

KPMG reports that 95 percent of the world’s largest 250 companies now publish metrics on their environmental and social performance. This metrics-based focus upon environmental performance by the world's largest corporations is creating revenue growth opportunities for suppliers that can deliver cost-competitive solutions.

Staples, Inc. is a worldwide business supplier with Internet revenues second only to Amazon. At the retail store level they have promoted recycled paper, e-waste recycling and the introduction of electric delivery vehicles.

The Staples Advantage business division sells to the world’s largest companies and its revenue is growing selling products into the greening of the world’s corporate supply chain. Roger McFadden, Staples Advantage’s Senior Scientist, is an example of the human resources that Staples brings to a Staples Advantage customer. Roger and his associates collaborate with Staples Advantage customers in identifying paths for greening the customer’s janitorial chemicals.

“Leadership companies are searching for green and sustainable solutions,” McFadden explains. “In many cases these solutions need to be created. My job is to contribute scientific insights and research to the efforts of Staples Advantage and its customers pursuing cost-effective, safer product solutions for reducing the toxins and unhealthy emissions in their facilities.”

This search for green product design innovations is at the core of the greening of the supply chain. Remarkably this search has emerged as a collaborative process engaging suppliers and competitors in a common pursuit of innovation. McFadden explains:

Customers are asking questions of their suppliers beyond the traditional ones involving cost, quality and delivery schedule. Their questions ask for detailed disclosure and metrics including the amount and type of toxin and wastes associated with the product and its manufacturing process, delivery, use and disposal. Product metrics must stand the test of validation and align with the customer’s goals for reduction of toxins and waste.

This trend is creating business winners and losers measured by revenue growth. Product makers and suppliers who are not engaged in the greening of the supply chain face a real threat of losing contracts and market share to greener competitors.

“Reporting in detail on a product’s environmental footprint is heading toward being as much a criteria for supplier selection as price,” McFadden notes. “You don’t want to be locked out from being a supplier because you don’t adequately disclose your product’s ingredients and its environmental footprint.”

The pioneering of green cleaning products that offer lower toxin and environmental footprints is one of Staples Advantage’s revenue growth successes. “The LEED certification of commercial space has really increased property owner and tenant awareness of indoor toxins and air quality,” McFadden explains. “Staples’ environmentally preferable cleaning products have seen impressive revenue growth. These price-competitive products improve indoor air quality and have a lower health impact upon cleaning associates and building occupants without sacrificing cleaning performance.”

Examples of these Staples environmentally preferable cleaning product solutions include:

Reduction In The Number Of Cleaning Products Used. Using cleaning products that are designed for multiple functions (multi-surface cleaner, glass cleaner, carpet spotter, bathroom cleaner and floor cleaner all in one). Staples reports that this best practice for some companies have reduced the number of cleaning products from twenty-two to just four. The result can be lower costs, simplified cleaning associates training and improved air quality.

Multi-Use Microfibers. This solution replaces single use (use one, throw it away) wipes and mops with wipers and mops made from durable multi-use microfibers which can be used again and again, reducing cleaning product waste streams.

Capture and Contain. Eliminating cleaning techniques that dislodge dirt and soil into surrounding air by replacing them with cleaning tools and techniques that capture and contain soils. For example, replacing feather dusters with wet cloths, microfiber wipers or wool dusters.

Energy Conservation. Use cleaning products that perform in cool water rather in heated water thus saving energy and reducing utility bills.

Packaging. Concentrated products designed to be diluted in tap water use less packaging material and have a lower transportation footprint than “ready to use” cleaning products requiring larger, heavier packaging. And since most of this packaging is plastic, there are environmental benefits gained from reducing the amount of plastic consumed, the associated reduction in oil/energy in the plastic’s production and reduced plastic flowing into landfill.

Staples Advantage’s consultative services are pioneering additional customer value. One example is McFadden’s team's work with an international cruise line confronting tightened ship discharge regulations. “My team and I spent days on board in the engine room of a ship researching this customer’s situation. There was no obvious product solution. But through our role at Staples Advantage we created a cleaning product solution that aligned with both the cost and performance expectations of the cruise-line company and compliance with government regulations.”

These types of supplier opportunities are emerging across the greening of the supply chain. Buyers are searching for safer and more sustainable solutions that in many cases their existing suppliers do not offer. Never before have supply chain buyers been so open to new entrants offering green product innovations and working with their suppliers in open, collaborative relationships. McFadden summarizes:

It is no longer enough in today’s supply chain to sell based upon only offering the lowest price or fastest delivery. Today’s supply chain is demanding validation and disclosure on a product’s and company’s toxins and environmental footprint. Our experience at Staples Advantage is that this is a tremendous opportunity for strengthening existing customer relationships, to win new customers and to realize increased revenues.


Bill Roth is the founder of Earth 2017. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles businesses and their best practices for making money going green. Through the USHCC Green Builds Business program funded by Walmart, he is coaching hundreds of smaller business owners in their design of a project that will make them money, create jobs and enhance the environment within 120 days.

Bill Roth headshotBill Roth

Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!

Read more stories by Bill Roth

More stories from Leadership & Transparency