A Seat at the Roundtable: Green Insights From Members of Business Roundtable - Featuring Ursula M. Burns, President, Xerox Corporation


Guest Post By: Ursula Burns, president, Xerox Corporation
Introduction by: Marian Hopkins, Business Roundtable

We are thrilled to introduce a new series for our Business Roundtable guest posts, A Seat at the Roundtable: Green Insights from members of the Business Roundtable. These posts feature the perspectives of member company leaders – directly from the leaders themselves – on environmental initiatives personally important to them and to their business practices. We are excited to unveil our introductory guest post below featuring Ursula M. Burns, president, Xerox Corporation.

Xerox is a leading Roundtable member that and has made sustainability a serious business priority for more than 40 years. An active member of the Roundtable’s leading initiatives, S.E.E. Change and Climate RESOLVE, Xerox is a model case for how strong leadership and a commitment to sustainability can lead to success and a positive impact on the environment.A conversation with Ursula M. Burns, president, Xerox Corporation

Remember the paperless office? As the story goes, we should all be working in offices with virtually not a scrap of paper to be found. When I joined Xerox 28 years ago, we were so paranoid about it that we made it the top priority of our researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center. Well, last night I was filling out my daughter’s forms for summer camp - writing each and every one of them by hand, just like I’ve been doing for the last 14 years. All on paper. When I go to the doctor, the first thing that still happens is that the receptionist hands me forms – forms that were printed, filled out, copied, entered into a system, filed, etc. All on paper. And as I sit here today, my desk is brimming with paper - as much, if not more, than when I first started working as an intern nearly three decades ago. We now call it the myth of the paperless office.

Last time someone counted, the number of pages printed each year stood at something like three trillion (it was actually the World Resources Institute that did the counting).

And the World Resources Institute says that in the United States alone we go through more than 700 pounds of paper a year for every man, woman and child.

Our own studies have found that office workers throw away 45 percent of everything they print each day - the equivalent of one trillion pages every year. Some people use these printed documents for less than a minute. Do you know the average lifespan of a cover page on a network printer job? Thirty seconds.

And yes, if we’re using that much paper then we’re cutting down a lot of trees.

I’m guessing you’ve already picked up the irony of Xerox talking about paper in a blog on Treehugger.com. And you’re probably already guessing the punchline…but I’ll give it to you anyway.

At Xerox a lot of our business is putting marks on paper. Our business, like just about every one out there, has an inherent impact on the environment– and will continue to do so. But if we want to stay in business, serve our customers well, and do what’s right to minimize the impact on the environment, then our job is to ensure paper is produced and used responsibly. So we’ve become a voice of reason in our industry. In fact, long before green was en vogue, Xerox was on the sustainable paper trail. Hear me out….

As far back as 1969, even before the U.S. first celebrated Earth Day, Xerox introduced a copier that could print on both sides of the paper. It has since become an industry standard. In our world, it’s called duplex. When you set your copier or printer to duplex as a default, you cut your paper use in half. In 1973 we launched our recycled paper and made sure it worked just as well in our copiers as regular paper. There were many similar innovations throughout the next three decades, but let’s fast forward to 2000. That’s when Xerox issued comprehensive environmental requirements to our paper suppliers. That means the companies that manufacture our paper are not allowed to source the paper from endangered forests, and they must replace the trees cut down for paper manufacturing through reforestation activities. In fact, the paper industry plants more trees than it cuts down. All Xerox-branded paper must be certified to standards for sustainable forest management. If businesses want to sell paper to Xerox, they must meet these guidelines. Period. Believe me, these policies originally weren’t too popular, but nearly ten years later, they now make perfect sense throughout our supply chain.

In 2006, we began a three-year partnership with The Nature Conservancy. We provided this well-regarded organization with $1 million and - just as valuable - the time and talent of our people to help create better forest management practices and ensure protected forests continue thriving. And we were the first high tech company to join the U.S. Climate Action Partnership; in fact, I’m personally involved in this one as the company’s rep on USCAP.

Last year, we launched another major innovation in paper. It's called High Yield Business Paper and it is created with a unique manufacturing process that uses half the trees of regular paper.

And this year, we're launching our first papers certified to the world’s most recognized sustainable management certification program, the Forest Stewardship Council. Paper labeled with the FSC stamp is manufactured and distributed in the most environmentally responsible way possible.

While putting marks on paper drives a lot of revenue for Xerox, so does managing digital documents, which may never result in a printed page. A growing part of our business today is helping customers decrease their dependency on paper by digitizing more documents, creating Web-based digital repositories, and simplifying paper-based processes, like all those health forms and camp registrations. In fact, we just started working with a school in Pennsylvania that is putting all student records in a digital repository, which can be securely accessed.

We also put our brilliant researchers to the task of making paper reusable. They came up with self-erasable paper. It’s still in the development phase, but the prototypes are amazing. Print a document - say those pesky network cover pages - and within 24-48 hours the marks disappear, leaving a clean sheet of reusable paper.

Back to the bottom line: business impacts the environment – no argument there. But my role, and our role as leaders of global businesses, is to minimize our impact in the most responsible way we can. It’s the only way to draw the connection between doing what’s right for the environment and doing what’s right for business. The two goals are not mutually exclusive; they must be mutually beneficial. By the way, if you choose to print this blog post, I hope you will do so on recycled paper. Make sure your printer defaults to duplex. Recycle the paper when you’re done. And, if you’re printing on Xerox paper, know that the paper was sourced and made responsibly. We wouldn’t do it any other way.

Endnote:
To download a Windows Media Player-based video of the re-usable paper in action, click here.