Devising a Convenient E-Cycling Solution with Best Buy’s Leo Raudys

July 19, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and I’m so honored to have my good friend, Leo Raudys on. He’s the Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability for Best Buy. Welcome to Green is Good, Leo. LEO RAUDYS: Thanks, John. Good to talk to you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, we’re so happy to have you on today, and you’re doing so much great work at Best Buy, which is one of the greatest iconic brands in the world right now. Leo, you’ve done so much in your young life. Talk a little bit about how you became the Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability at Best Buy. What was your journey up to that point? LEO RAUDYS: Well, thanks for calling me a young guy. My mother will be very pleased. Yeah, you know, as you mentioned, I head up environmental sustainability here at Best Buy, which includes everything from green business development, product stewardship, environmental compliance, carbon-reduction work and of course, the most notable thing is our consumer electronics recycling program, but prior to coming here, I have a policy background and actually a science background, but first the policy background. I served as the State of Minnesota’s Deputy Environmental Commissioner for several years after a long career in public service and also had the opportunity to serve on a couple of boards involved in issues such as water quality improvement and low-level radioactive waste, to very, very different issues, and prior to that, I spent a number of years in graduate school in college and studied biology and ecology so I think I’ve got a fairly well-rounded background for the work, both from a sort of a scientific analytical perspective and on the policy side and regulatory side. I actually came to Best Buy several years ago, because it has a very strong history of innovation and I believed it was the kind of place where I could come and be part of some groundbreaking environmental work, and I’m very happy to say that that’s proven to be the case. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, let’s get into that because your work at Best Buy and Best Buy’s work with you has been leadership in so many ways. You personify leadership. Talk a little bit about the average consumer. One of the things is your electronic recycling takeback program. If I’m an average consumer, what does taking back electronics at Best Buy really look like, Leo? LEO RAUDYS: Yeah, it’s actually pretty simple and what we try to do is we try to make recycling old electronics and appliances as easy as it is to purchase them and if you look at the totality of what we take back, we really aim to try to take back virtually everything that we sell in our core categories and we’re pretty close to doing that so as you mentioned, on the electronics recycling program, that’s the most obvious program that we have, of course, from a customer point of view, and we do this because we know that the majority of tech devices that are purchased today are replacing something that’s old or obsolete, so we know that we have customers that are coming to our stores to buy new gear or they’re looking to buy new gear so we want to make sure that they’re given the opportunity to responsibly recycle for free at all of our 1,400 Best Buy stores across the nation, and we do it in a few different ways. We have recycling kiosks at the door for smaller items, things like cables and cords, rechargeable batteries, toner cartridges, etc., and then inside the store at the customer service, we will take pretty much just about any kind of consumer electronics out there with very few exceptions, and your listeners can take a look at our website to see exactly what it is that we take. We also recycle appliances and large TVs in customers homes and finally, we’ve got a trade-in program where we will take in electronics that are gently used and still have value in the marketplace and provide a gift card in exchange, so it’s a fairly comprehensive assortment of options for consumers and again, the objective here is to make it as easy as possible for our consumers who have a pretty pressing problem. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have some old electronic devices or gear in their houses, basement, garage, attic that needs to find a home, and we aim to provide an option to recycle that responsibly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, Leo, just again to reiterate, and this service costs how much? LEO RAUDYS: The service costs nothing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, it’s free? LEO RAUDYS: It’s free. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, I mean, this is just great, and people can bring in almost anything. Have you seen some interesting or offbeat items come through the front door? LEO RAUDYS: Oh, we see all sorts of crazy things. Of course, the majority of what we see is your garden-variety old television, VCR, stereo equipment, things like that, things that wouldn’t necessarily attract a lot of attention, but we also get a lot of the old flip phones, block phones, things that you’d seen in Miami Vice, etc., old gaming systems, eight-track tape players, some pretty unique stuff, so it’s amazing how old some of these items are that come in. It just tells you again that people really are just sort of at a loss many times to understand what it is they can do with their old gear and make sure they take care of it responsibly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, again, for our listeners that just joined us, we’re on with Leo Raudys. He’s the Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability for Best Buy, and for those who want to go on the site like I’m on right now, it’s BestBuy.com. It’s one of the most heavily trafficked websites actually in the entire world. Talk about, Leo, pulling the curtain back a little bit. Once the material comes into your store or you pick it up and it’s gonna be recycled, what does recycling look like at Best Buy behind the scenes? LEO RAUDYS: Yeah, it’s a great question, and what we try to do is we try to ensure that everything that we do with the items that our customers bring in are taken care of to the highest standards possible so when somebody brings in a device to a store, particularly if it has customer data on it, we’ll make sure that it’s securely brought to the back of the store and we consolidate all of that and then after that, it heads off eventually to one of three recycling partners and we work with three of the best companies in the business who are audited extensively by us and by third parties to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to meet our own very strict standards about not exporting electronic waste outside of the U.S. and making sure that customer data is taken care of, etc., but it goes to recycling facilities where the products will move through some fairly sophisticated processes to make sure that every ounce of value and repurposed material is actually reclaimed and added to second use and the way we look at it is that pretty much all the materials that you’ll find in consumer electronics do have some other metals, plastics, glass. There is a place for all those materials to go and to go into end products once again. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, how successful, Leo, has this program been? A lot of big companies make bold announcement that they’re gonna do things in sustainability or lower carbon footprints and all these other important issues, but is this program of recycling electronics quantifiable and then have you had the success that you wanted to get here? LEO RAUDYS: Absolutely. You know, have we had as much success as we’d like? We’d always like to be more successful, so we’re happy with what we’ve done but we’re hungry for much, much more. But over the four years that we’ve been running this program, it’s been amazing and the growth has been consistent year after year after year, so a couple of years ago, we set a goal for ourselves to recycle a billion pounds of consumer goods — and that’s both electronics and appliances — and the reason we included both of those is that we sell both of those and we wanted to be as comprehensive as possible. But the total to date is over 700 million pounds of consumer goods collected, and a little more than half of that is electronics. I’ll give you a very recent example. Last year, we collected and recycled more than 96 million pounds of electronics. We think that was about 21 million units and what that translates into is that for every minute that our stores are open, we’re collecting 409 pounds of electronics, so a lot of materials coming in, and I think we’re just doing a lot of good in the world and helping our customers solve a pretty important problem. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, you’re giving your customers an opportunity to recycle that they might not ever have in their community. It’s a place that they know, they feel safe in, and they’re able to drop this stuff off and so that 96 million pounds, Best Buy kept 96 million pounds out of landfills last year? LEO RAUDYS: Yeah, and you make a good point. There are many parts of the country where people just don’t have a great option for responsibly recycling old electronics, and in many cases we might be the only option for them. In my past life as a state environmental regulator, we grappled with this problem of what to do in rural communities and places that just don’t have really a good infrastructure for recycling and one of our goals is to, again, try to make it as easy as possible for our consumer to buy electronics as it is to recycle them. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s pause on that easy as possible, Leo, because that’s a great point. There’s a lot of people out there, whether it’s because they’re a single mom or their elderly and they’re somewhat infirm or the product is just way too big to carry so for our listeners out there who love your great brand, Best Buy, who can’t carry or bring the material back into your great stores, can you share a little bit about your large TV and appliance haul away program? LEO RAUDYS: Yeah, so we do this in two different ways. One is if you’re a customer who’s come into our store or online and purchased a large TV that needs to be delivered or an appliance that needs to be delivered, as part of that purchase, we will haul away up to two items for free so let’s say you buy a large flat panel TV, have it installed by the Geek Squad, and you have an old tube TV or appliance or whatever that you want to get hauled away, we’ll make sure that we take that away for free and it’s going to be recycled responsibly. If you’re just sort of anybody on the street who just isn’t purchasing anything from us at that time, we hope you come in and buy something, but if you just want to have it hauled away, we’ll do that for a small fee and we’ll take up to two items for a $100 charge, which is actually a pretty good deal given that there’s transportation involved and the requirement that everything that we do is gonna be done responsibly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Exactly, and that’s great, so you have a pick-up service called your haul-away program also and for our listeners out there, Leo, you have a much bigger influence at Best Buy than just e-waste. You’re in charge of environmental sustainability. Talk a little bit about also your other waste reduction programs that you head up over there with regards to packaging, waste recycling programs, and other things that you’re doing to reduce waste at Best Buy. LEO RAUDYS: Yeah well, I’ll actually broaden that. So, for us, when we think about waste and environmental waste, it’s a couple different things. It’s sort of the general waste that you would expect from an operation like ours, which is packaging waste, things like Styrofoam, plastic and cardboard, and we aim to recycle as much of that as we possibly can and those efforts seem to grow pretty considerably and then of course, just your garden variety waste. We do have a goal of diverting 75% of what we generate through all of our facilities away from landfills and we expect to get more aggressive over time. The other very important type of waste is carbon so any time that we’re using energy, we’re causing carbon to be emitted into the atmosphere and climate change is a pretty serious issue so for us, we consider that as waste because anytime that we don’t need to be using, two things happen. One is we’re wasting money, and two, we’re emitting carbon into the atmosphere that doesn’t need to be there, so we have a very aggressive goal to reduce our carbon footprint and it’s been in place for a few years. We decided to set an absolute reduction target and this is even in the face of growing our footprint and the target is 20% reduction by 2020 and we’re well ahead of schedule and the reason we’re well ahead of schedule is that we’ve implemented a number of innovative approaches to reduce that amount of energy that’s consumed on our stores and in our distribution facilities. We’ve made our buildings much smarter and as a result, we’re using a lot less energy. We’re emitting a lot less carbon into the atmosphere and we’ve gotten fantastic external validation on our efforts so we report to the Carbon Disclosure Project and have for several years and last year, we were pleased to get a score of 96A from the Carbon Disclosure Project, which is tied for the second highest in the S&P 500 so the score is certainly something that we feel really good about, but it’s just one indication of the fact that we’ve made some great progress and done some great innovating along the way. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so important that you say that because, like you said, not only are you doing the very tangible waste-reduction initiatives, but the carbon footprint reduction is also so great that you’re taking the lead on that, Leo, because one thing for our listeners to understand out there, with great brands like that, it really moves the needle. What do you have? A hundred-and-sixty-five-thousand workers worldwide and 600 million shoppers come into your stores so the more green initiatives that you’re doing, the more eco-initiatives, the more you’re really leading by example. LEO RAUDYS: That’s a great point. In fact, that’s part of the overall carbon footprint reduction story for us because we put a lot of emphasis on encouraging our consumer to buy Energy Star products, which use a lot less energy, so if we’re going to ask our consumers to try to reduce their carbon footprint, we need to do everything that we can to reduce our own, so it’s definitely trying to walk the walk. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When you’re walking the walk, there’s all sorts of certifying bodies out there now that are being created over recent years, some longer than others, and I saw recently that you were getting involved with this ISO 14001 certification programs. Can you explain to our listeners who are not familiar with this certification what that really means to you with regards to environmental management systems and things of that such? LEO RAUDYS: Absolutely. I love talking about this because it’s not a very glamorous thing to talk about, but I think it’s very, very important to making sure that a company like ours is operating at the highest possible standards when it comes to the environment, so the ISO 14001 standard is an internationally recognized standard for environmental management systems and in plain English, what that means is it’s a system to document what you say you’re going to do, making sure that you actually do what you say you’re going to do, and then checking to see what you did, so it’s a very simple thing and concept. It’s been around for years and it’s something that’s actually fairly common in manufacturing industries, in the recycling industry, and it’s actually something that we require all of our recyclers to be certified to. In retail, it’s a very unique thing. To our knowledge, we’re the only national retailer that’s become ISO 14001 certified and I think the reason that it’s taken so long for retailer to get certified is it’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to do when you’re dealing with as many issues in as many facilities as we have so we’re talking about well over 1,000 facilities that are covered by our certification and basically, what it means is that we have processes in place to check to make sure that we’re doing what we say we intend to do and again, we did this for a couple different reasons. One is we wanted to make sure that we did everything we could to ensure operational responsibility in the company but we also, again, wanted to hold ourselves to the same standards that we hold others so when we’re asking our recyclers to get a variety of independent certifications to assure us that they are doing things properly, we wanted to make sure we held ourselves to the same standard and we got certified in June 2012 and it’s been a great success so far. It’s generated a lot of excitement in the field because people feel proud about it. They know that it’s something special and unique and that it’s taken a lot of hard work to accomplish. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, good for you and good for Best Buy and good for our planet and let me ask you — we’re down to the last two minutes, Leo, and we’ve talked a lot about all the great sustainability initiatives you’re doing at Best Buy and that Best Buy really is leading on. If you want the listeners to take away just one memory from this discussion today and one thing for them to remember about your commitment to sustainability and Best Buy’s commitment to sustainability, what would be that one item today? LEO RAUDYS: Oh, that’s very simple. I would say that everybody out there has old technology and we would very much like them to recycle it with us and the most important thing is it won’t cost you a thing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love that. It’s for free and, Leo, we’re down to the last 30 or so seconds. For our next generation behind us that want to be the next Leo Raudys, give them a couple pearls of wisdom. LEO RAUDYS: Well, from a career perspective? JOHN SHEGERIAN: Yeah. LEO RAUDYS: I would say approach the world with an open mind. You just never know what path you’re going to end up taking. When I think back about the choices that I made 20, 25 years ago, I had a deep and still have a deep love for the natural world, which is why I pursued a degree in psychology, but I never really imagined that I’d be working for a Fortune 50 company running programs like this and I just basically tried to pursue my curiosities along the way and just tried to keep an open mind about the world, and I think if you do that I think you’ll surprise yourself. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, Leo, you’ve been an amazing guest, as always. You’re a great friend and we’re so appreciative of the wonderful work that you’ve done at Best Buy and the work you continue to do and that Best Buy continues to do out there. For our listeners out there, please go support Best Buy who’s doing all this great eco-work that you heard Leo talk about today at BestBuy.com. Leo Raudys, you’re an inspiring sustainability business leader and truly living proof that green is good.