ALPHARETTA, Ga. – It’s easy to assume large companies don’t care about the environment, only looking at their bottom line. For Home Depot, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
That was the message given by Ron Jarvis, Home Depot’s vice president of environmental innovation and sustainability, at the weekly meeting of the Alpharetta Rotary Dec. 13.
The Milton resident started with Home Depot in 1995, working at the rival store, Lowe’s, for much of his working life before that.
“I know a lot about this industry,” Jarvis said.
After a very public protest of Home Depot goods using old growth tree lumber, the company began looking into the sustainability and origin of the goods it sells. Jarvis was chosen to lead that effort. What began as an audit of 300 wooden products quickly turned into one of 9,000 products and led to every country on the planet. Everything from plywood to ceiling fans and hammer handles was investigated.
“We didn’t know if [our goods] were sustainable or from a rainforest,” Jarvis said. “Do you really want [rainforest wood] in the handle of your hammer? There are a lot of issues when you are a big company buying goods from all over the world.”
Now, the company is sometimes more knowledgeable of where its goods come from than its suppliers who make them.
“We take a hard look at our suppliers for sustainability practices,” he said.
Beyond environmental issues, labor practices are also investigated.
Home Depot has begun flexing its corporate muscle to encourage suppliers to be more environmentally friendly.
A case in point is with paint. The gases given off by paint can be harmful to the consumer but also to the environment. However, Jarvis and his team realized the low-emission paint was more than twice as costly as the name brand, typical paint.
So Home Depot went to the name brand companies and told them the company would only be selling low-emission paints. The suppliers had two years to comply.
Cleaners are also an issue Jarvis is tackling. He said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires chemical cleaners to have labels detailing the ingredients – except for proprietary chemicals. So what do companies do? List all the harmful chemicals as “proprietary.” Using this tactic, some companies are able to label their product as “healthy” or “eco-friendly” when in fact it is not. Jarvis and Home Depot are working with other retailers – notably Walmart and Target – to remedy this.
By implementing sustainability practices throughout the company, in just 2012, the company reduced its carbon footprint by 220,000 metric tons and saved over $700 million in utility costs.
Jarvis routinely meets with groups such as Greenpeace and attends conferences to ask what issues the company should be working on so it can get in front of them before they become problems. Deforestation, carbon emissions, fair labor practices and child labor laws are all issues Home Depot tackles in its effort to be the friendly giant, both to consumers and the environment.
For more about what Home Depot is doing for sustainability and the environment, visit www.ecooptions.homedepot.com.
Ways Home Depot has taken sustainability to heart
A construction task force worked to integrate energy-efficient specifications into store design and construction. The result is an average 34 percent energy savings between stores built before 2003 and those built after. Some elements of the energy-saving new store design include:
• Reflective roof membranes
• Rooflines that are 4 feet lower than the previous design
• T-5 fluorescent lighting
• Entrance vestibules
To improve the energy efficiency of renovated stores, the company reconfigured HVAC systems, developed horizontal lumber doors that open in stages based on the size of the load, converted front signs to LED and implemented a low-watt bulb program in all lighting displays.
To help protect endangered forests and to ensure that there will be timber for future generations, Home Depot issued its first wood purchasing policy in 1999. The policy:
• Gives preference to the purchase of wood and wood products originating from certified well managed forests wherever feasible.
• Eliminates the purchase of wood and wood products from endangered regions around the world.
• Practices and promotes the efficient and responsible use of wood and wood products.
• Promotes and supports the development and use of alternative environmental products.
• Expects its vendors and their suppliers of wood and wood products to maintain compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to their operations and the products they manufacture.
The Home Depot’s supplier social and environmental responsibility (SER) program has evolved from an internal commitment to the highest standards of business conduct. It includes policies that address:
• Denial of access to audit
• Age requirements
• Forced labor
• Wages and working conditions
• Emergency planning
• Environment health and safety
• Freedom of expression and association