Discussing Retail Recycling and Sustainability with Best Buy’s Matt Furman and Scott Weislow

January 28, 2015

Matt Furman has been with Best Buy about two-and-a-half years. He joined it most recently from Mars Chocolate, the manufacturer of beloved brands like Snickers and M&Ms. Before that, Matt worked at Google for several years, and he has also had the opportunity to work for other well-known brands, including CNN. Before that, he was in government, serving in both the Clinton and Giuliani administrations. He is also a former lawyer. Scott Weislow started off in environmental consulting for several years before joining Best Buy. He took a hard turn into the construction industry and manufacturing, and then had a great opportunity to come to Best Buy and lead their environmental services team and the company’s Renew Blue strategy. Best Buy’s environmental program has been important to the company since it unofficially began in 2001 and formally launched in 2009. In 2009, Best Buy publicly announced a very large stretch goal to help customers recycle their old electronics and appliances. The company pledged to recycle one billion pounds of those products by the end of 2014, and hit that goal six months early. At the time the show aired, Best Buy celebrated this important milestone.


JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to the Best Buy edition of Green is Good. We’re so honored to have with us today Matt Furman. He’s the Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer at Best Buy. Welcome to Green is Good, Matt. MATT FURMAN: Thanks for having me here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Matt, today was a very special day here at Best Buy. It was all about sustainability and recycling. But before we get into that, can you just share with our listeners a little bit of the Matt Furman journey and story leading up to joining Best Buy? MATT FURMAN: Sure. I’ve been with the company about two-and-a-half years. I joined it most recently from Mars Chocolate, which you’ll know is the manufacturer of beloved brands like Snickers and M&Ms. It was fun to work for the world’s largest chocolate company. My children and my family and I enjoyed that a lot. Before that, I had the good fortune of working at Google for several years. As you can imagine, I enjoyed that. The benefits there are well-known. I’ve had the opportunity to work for other well-known brands, including CNN. Before that, I was in government. I served in both the Clinton and Giuliani administrations. I am, much to my mother’s disappointment, a former lawyer, not a practicing lawyer. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You came to Best Buy. You’re the Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer. Today was about communicating, sustainability and more, specifically all the great things that are going on with regards to Best Buy and recycling, the pioneering and leadership role that Best Buy has taken in the recycling of electronics world. Can you share a little bit about why today was so important to Best Buy and where the program not only is today, but where it will be going in the future? MATT FURMAN: Sure. We reached an extraordinary milestone, not just for us, but I think it’s fair to say for the planet. Four-and-a-half years ago, we said we would recycle one billion pounds of consumer electronics and appliances. One billion pounds was not even contemplated by anybody. To put this in context, our sense is that there’s no one else in the world who’s even capable of doing it, let alone willing to. We reached that milestone about six months earlier than we expected, and we decided that today would be the day we’d celebrate. Just as importantly as celebrating, today would be the day we would announce what we’re going to do next. Of course, we’ve reached one billion pounds. Now the goal is to go for 2 billion pounds, and to do that by 2020. We are as excited about that goal as we are about having achieved our previous goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: 2 billion pounds by 2020. Let’s step back for a second, though. A couple years ago, Best Buy announced their Renew Blue program. Can you explain to our listeners what Renew Blue means to Best Buy? MATT FURMAN: Sure. In 2012, we had a new CEO join the company. At the time, the company was going through some well-publicized struggles. The CEO, Hubert Joly, decided that what he needed to do most importantly was explain to shareholders why they should have faith in the company. In the fall of 2012, he went to New York and gathered all the shareholders and analysts he could, and stood before them and said, “Here’s our plan to transform this company.” Our sales associates wear blue shirts, and so we named the plan after them, thus Renew Blue. Renew Blue had five pillars. Two of those pillars are relevant today. The first was fix the customer experience. It had, frankly, lagged. We were a well-known, well-loved brand, who, like many well-known, well-loved brands, had fallen on hard times, including our store and including our customer service. First and foremost, fix the customer service. The fifth pillar was maintain a leadership position with the planet, in terms of taking care of our world. I want to pause for a second and just remind your listeners, this is, at the time, a Fortune 50 company who was going through extraordinarily tough times. Our founder and largest shareholder wanted to buy the company and take it private. Our stock had gone down to the very low double digits from a high of $50 or $60 a share previously. We had a brand new CEO, who many doubted could turn the company around because he had no experience in retail. For him to lay out, stand on a stage in front of analysts and investors, and say, “Here are the five things I’m going to do,” and for one of those five to be about sustainability and taking a leadership role in maintaining and saving our planet was an extraordinary leadership gesture on the part of the company and on his part. Today, two-and-a-half years later, we’re able to say that we’ve transformed the company and we’ve stayed true to our promise about taking a leadership role with the planet. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk a little bit about recycling specifically. Matt, walk us through what electronic recycling means at Best Buy. Give our listeners out there a little bit of the experience that they could have. A lot of our listeners still maybe haven’t heard about Best Buy’s electronic recycling program. Explain what it means for our listeners, and if they want to recycle their electronics, how they can do that at Best Buy. MATT FURMAN: The foundational principle of our recycling program is satisfying a customer need. One of the two basic customer needs we’re satisfying. You have a big old TV from 1996 that weighs 300 lbs. that you don’t know what to do with. We’ll take care of it for you. If you buy a TV from us and have it delivered, we’ll haul away your TV for free. There are lots of appliances that fit in that category, large and small. We’ll come get your old refrigerator, for instance, or you can bring your old phone to our store. We’re satisfying the customer need of what do I do with this? I don’t want to just throw it in the trash. I have a sense that that’s the wrong thing to do. The second, perhaps just as pressing, concern is I’ve got lots of data on my equipment. I have phones, I have tablets, I have computers that have all kinds of data I can’t even remember is there. I sure as heck don’t want to throw that away and have some criminal take it and use it for untoward purposes. We promise, we assure you, that we will recycle your materials responsibly, including cleaning all the data off of it before it’s moved beyond our stores. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You bring up a very timely and important issue, data destruction and getting rid of all the data from our devices. Obviously, in the news, it’s been big news recently all the companies that have suffered breaches, besides people that can suffer breaches. Talk a little bit about the reputational aspect of Best Buy’s program, how much care you’ve taken in choosing the vendors that you have today and why you’ve chosen those vendors, and how the program has gotten to be really the platinum standard in recycling amongst retailers in the entire world. MATT FURMAN: Of course. Let’s first talk about data for one second. I think it’s fair to say that data is the e-waste of the future. What do you do with it? We have the Geek Squad, which is world-renowned for its technological prowess. We rely on the Geek Squad and others within the company to ensure that your data is responsibly recycled, if you will, or, in this case, destroyed. When it comes to the physical equipment, we vet and carefully scrutinize a handful of vendors who we know will behave responsibly. We’ve all seen the 60 Minutes pieces or the internet pieces about landfills in China where it’s just being dumped somewhere. That’s not what this is about. There are two reasons that’s not what this is about. The first is we actually pick our partners well, and then we audit them and maintain a high level of scrutiny. The second is people should understand that so much of what they’re recycling with us is actually being reused. It’s not being just taken to a landfill. We’re stripping it for parts. We have the world’s largest computer repair facility run by Geek Squad. We use many of the components we’re taking out of your old computer in someone else’s computer to fix it. We sell many of these parts to third parties, and many of the minerals that are coming out of it are highly valuable because they’re so rare. There are some things in there that we use and we use to great effect. The rest of it, of course, we’re destroying or disposing of responsibly, as you would expect us to. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Just to be clear, I can walk into any Best Buy in the United States and drop off my old cell phone, my old laptop, and even if I go and buy a beautiful new flat screen television that Geek Squad is going to deliver, they’ll take out from my house or my office. Wow. MATT FURMAN: If we bring it to your house, we’ll take away the old at no cost. If you bring it to our store, we will take it from you. I’ve watched blue shirt sales associates wheel the cart out, help the person take it out of their trunk, and bring it into the store for them, no cost. It couldn’t be easier. People even stop the car running. They just take it out, drop it off, and leave. We think, again, we’re solving a real customer problem, we’re helping the planet, and we’re benefitting our business. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Today it was announced from the stage that we’re sitting here at Best Buy’s headquarters, and that you’ve created a whole new sustainability area to showcase everything you’re doing in sustainability. Talk a little bit, Matt, about that, the macro sustainability efforts beyond recycling that Best Buy is involved with because I know it goes way beyond recycling. MATT FURMAN: Of course. You’ve got the recycling. Carbon is an obvious area for a company our size with our footprint, between our physical stores, there are 1,400, and our distribution network. Carbon is a real problem. We’ve committed to reducing our carbon footprint by 20%, and we’re well on track and hope to make an announcement on that soon. Beyond that, we obviously have lots of influence with vendors. One of the ways in which we exercise that influence is encouraging them to use recyclable material in their products, or, frankly, just use less material in packaging their products. Another area, of course, is lighting. We’re able to reduce our lighting costs substantially by using better sources of lighting. Finally, we’ve used sustainability in its broadest terms, as it applies to our own employees and to the health and fitness of Americans all around the country. We are perhaps, I think it’s fair to say, might be the largest seller of the health and fitness wearables that are now the craze. One of the things we’ve started to do is to have preliminary conversations with healthcare providers and insurers and other large companies about the ways in which those devices could be used by employees, with the cooperation of the company, to make the employee more fit and perhaps lower healthcare costs for the company. This is a great effort. It’s in its nascent stages, but there’s obviously great opportunity to think of sustainability broadly, not just the planet, but the people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So it’s fair to say then, Matt, that sustainability and recycling are truly part of the culture and the DNA of Best Buy, from beginning to end. MATT FURMAN: You don’t get to a billion pounds with a few people working on it. It requires the concerted effort of virtually everybody in our stores and many, many people in our headquarters. You certainly don’t make a $2 billion promise, unless everyone is buying. JOHN SHEGERIAN: With that, we’re going to leave it today. Matt, we thank you for being a guest today at Green is Good. We thank you for making the world a better place. Matt Furman, you are truly living proof that green is good. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We are so honored to have with us today Scott Weislow. He is the Senior Director of Environmental Services at Best Buy. This is a special edition of Best Buy on their campuses. Welcome back to Green is Good, Scott. SCOTT WEISLOW: Thanks, John. Thanks for having me on again. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’ve been a great friend, obviously, and you’ve been on Green is Good before. For our listeners out there that haven’t heard you before, Scott, I would like you to please share your story, your journey leading up to Best Buy and getting this important position of Senior Director of Environmental Services. SCOTT WEISLOW: I’d love to. Thanks for asking. I’m a 25-year professional in the environmental space. I just dated myself, didn’t I? I started off in environmental consulting and did my tour of duty there for several years. I took a hard turn into the construction industry and manufacturing, and then had a great opportunity to come to Best Buy and lead their environmental services team, an opportunity in the world’s largest retail electronics and appliances recycling program. It was a very exciting opportunity, kind of hard to pass up. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Today was a very special day, of course, with the governor here and the CEO of Best Buy. You were asked to actually stand up, and you were given a lot of recognition today, rightfully so. Can you explain to our audience why today was so important with regards to Best Buy, not only what you guys created with regards to your great recycling program, your landmark recycling program, but why it’s so important in terms of the future of Best Buy and the future of recycling in the United States? SCOTT WEISLOW: Absolutely. This program has been really important to Best Buy since we started it unofficially in 2001, and formally launched the program in 2009. Today, we were celebrating a really big milestone. In 2009, we publicly stated that we had a very large stretch goal, to help our customers and recycle their old electronics and appliances. We wanted to recycle one billion pounds of those products by the end of 2014, and we hit that goal six months early. We’re really excited about that. Today was an opportunity to celebrate hitting that goal, being there for our customers, being there to take care of one of the largest waste streams on the planet, and doing our share and being a very responsible, sustainable company that we know people can count on. This program is an incredible pillar of our Renew Blue strategy that we launched a couple years ago with our new CEO, Hubert Joly, and all the work we’re doing there for being a sustainable and responsible company. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that haven’t had the pleasure of coming into a Best Buy and recycling, can you explain how the whole program works and how easy it is to recycle at Best Buy? SCOTT WEISLOW: Sure. It is very easy. In fact, our motto is Fast, Free, and Convenient. You can go into any Best Buy store, whether it’s our big box or our specialty stores, our mobile stores, in every single store in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, every minute we’re open, and you can recycle any of your electronics, TVs, VCR players, CDs, cases, cords, cables, anything you can imagine, almost everything we take at no cost to our customers every day of the week that we’re open. For the larger units, appliances and TVs that are just too big to haul into our stores, when you buy a new product and we deliver that to your home, we will haul away those old products as well for free. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. It’s convenient if you go into a Best Buy, and even if you’re getting something delivered to your house, it’s just as convenient. It goes away via Geek Squad, and you don’t even have to worry about it. SCOTT WEISLOW: That’s right. We want it to be as convenient as possible for our customers, so they don’t have to wonder where should we go with this material? What can we do with it? What are our options, and how do we get rid of it? When they’re ready to upgrade for their new products, we are there to take care of those old ones. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Scott, Best Buy has an amazing reputation, not only in terms of the quality of the electronics that you sell, but also the quality of the vendors that you have with regards to everything sustainable and also recycling. Can you share a little bit about the highest quality standards that you’ve put around recycling, and why that’s so important to Best Buy? SCOTT WEISLOW: It’s really important to Best Buy, John, because we hold our partners to very, very high standards, not only our own internal environmental standards. We audit our partners and their partners and another layer down to ensure that we know where our product is going and that it’s being handled to the standards that Best Buy has written and set forth years ago. On top of that, just in the electronics industry, there are two industry certifications. One is called R2 and the other is called E-Stewards. We require all of our partners to have both, so we’re providing that added level of protection for our customers, so they feel confident that they know we’re handling their products responsibly. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Which brings up a very important point. When this program started years ago, Scott, everyone was talking only about the environment. But as you and I both know, the issue of data protection, not only for just all of us personally, but for the companies that people work at, the governments people use electronics at, data protection is very important. How does Best Buy ensure that when people drop off their old electronics, that the data is protected? SCOTT WEISLOW: Data protection is, indeed, very important. As everybody has seen with some recent activities in the marketplace over the last year or so, it is of paramount importance that we ensure for our customers that their data is protected. We have a couple of options here. When customers come in to recycle, we always offer them the opportunity if they feel more comfortable wiping their data storage, their hard drives, by themselves, they certainly can. They can do it in our stores with our Geek Squad agents as well, and then the last step and probably the most important one that I rely on every day is our partners, because of those industry certifications I mentioned earlier, they have very stringent standards they must meet wiping data storage devices for us. They do it all day every day, and they ensure for us that issue is taken care of. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Today there was another big announcement made, not only the landmark number you hit today, a billion pounds recycled, but the future was talked about. Talk about the future of recycling and the new goals that you set for 2020. SCOTT WEISLOW: Fantastic. You nailed it. We have a new goal that launched today. It is 2 billion pounds by 2020. We are going to take twice as much material in a substantially shorter time, so the challenges are there, no question about it. We have the best partners, we have great teamwork out in the field, and we have the best customers in the world that get what we’re doing, and they’re going to be there with us every step of the way. We launched that goal today, and even more important, we’re going to drive awareness out to our customers throughout the country, that they do, indeed, have an outlet for these products. For those that don’t know, we’re going to be there. For those that do know, we’re going to continue to be there, and that’s our goal. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wait a second. Let me understand this, and I hope our listeners will understand this. This is not another billion pounds on top of the billion you’ve recycled. This is a fresh slate, a new 2 billion pounds you’re going to recycle. SCOTT WEISLOW: That is correct. We are going to hit 2 billion additional pounds by the end of 2020. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. For our listeners out there, also, Scott, talk a little bit about what else Best Buy does in terms of being able to recycle. One of the key portions of recycling is reuse. Best Buy takes back people’s products, so there’s a trade-in trade-up program that Best Buy has, isn’t there? SCOTT WEISLOW: That’s right. We have a trade-in program that customers that have product that’s still working, still has value, they can bring that in. It gets evaluated in our stores by trained professionals, Geek Squad agents, and then we determine what the value of that product is and we gladly give it back to our customer in Best Buy gift cards. Those products get repaired and resold in the marketplace, giving them a second life. I’ll even go one step further. I’m very proud to tell you that our electronics recycling partners and our appliance recycling partners do the exact same thing. They get the product in, and they do their first step, which is always to repair, reuse, and resell that product to give it a second life before it gets shredded for commodity value, where it still gets a second life. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Another thing that was talked about today that I’d love you to share with our listeners is that you have a new sustainability display here at the headquarters. Can you explain a little bit about your new sustainability display and why that’s so important culturally and from a DNA perspective at Best Buy? SCOTT WEISLOW: You touched on a great point. We do have a new display. It’s fantastic. I wish the listeners could see it. The idea behind it is that our sustainability program has four key pillars and the recycling program is absolutely at the core of one of them. How are we as a company, as the largest retailer of consumer electronics, doing our share to take care of the e-waste problem across the planet? Through our recycling program and our trade-in program and our open box inventory, we’re able to address that e-waste problem in a very big way. The new display is a way to tell our visitors to corporate campus, all of our employees, we are behind this from a corporate level, from the CEO down, who was our MC for the show today. It was fantastic. It’s a way to show, it’s a visual representation, of our company’s commitment, not only to this program, to our sustainability efforts overall, to our communities that we serve and our customers in those communities. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Beyond recycling, which, of course, is what we were celebrating today, Scott, here at Best Buy, talk a little bit about some of the other amazing sustainability things that Best Buy does every day and our listeners should really know about. You guys are really green through and through from a DNA and cultural standpoint. SCOTT WEISLOW: We are. We are, indeed. Sustainability, again, is at the core of our Renew Blue turnaround strategy. Some of the other things that we’re working on, John, is we have a carbon emissions strategy, that we are going to reduce our carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. We are actually very close already to hitting that target, and we are going to be possibly adjusting that target here soon. We’re doing that. We are very active in communities around the globe, worker conditions for the companies that manufacture our house brand products. We work very closely with all of our vendor partners, from Samsung and Toshiba to others, very, very instrumental both on the human element, as well as sustainable products. We’re very, very cognizant and very active in Energy Star appliances and making our customers aware that we have a lot of Energy Star products in our stores for them when they’re looking to buy products that use less energy, so they can conserve energy, they can cut electrical and gas costs on their home bills. We’re very active in that as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. Scott, we thank you for coming back on Green is Good today. We look forward to having you back on in the future to talk about all the things that are going on in sustainability and recycling at Best Buy. We also now know, thanks to you and your great colleagues, that the future of recycling is bright at Best Buy, as is the future of Best Buy being also bright as well. We thank you and everyone here at Best Buy for making the world a better place. Scott, you are truly living proof that green is good.