Ron Jarvis is the Chief Sustainability Officer for The Home Depot. He is responsible for aligning the Company’s business strategies with its social, environmental and sustainability objectives. Ron also leads our SER factory audits, Utility Rebates, Product Safety departments, and he is the chairman of the Home Depot Environmental Council. Ron joined the Company in 1995 as a merchant. He has held positions of increasing responsibility including divisional merchandise manager, national product merchant, global product merchant, vice president of merchandising and senior vice president of pro and tool rental. Ron is a past Board member of The Home Depot Foundation, as well as an Outward Bound Board member and a past member of the Yale Forest Forum. Prior to joining the Company, Ron spent 11 years with Lowe’s in sales and merchandising. Ron has a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from North Carolina State University
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so honored to have with us today, Ron Jarvis. He’s the Chief Sustainability Officer at Home Depot. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Ron.
Ron Jarvis: Thank you, John. It is my pleasure to be here. Looking forward to it.
John: Well, this is a true honor. We’ve been doing this almost 15 years. We’ve never had the honor of having you or your iconic and great brand, which is so important to the American public and the American retail landscape on with us. So, this is just going to be a delightful day today, to have you share the Home Depot sustainability Journey. But before we get into that Ron, can you share a little bit about your own Journey? Where did you grow up? And how you even begin this journey of where you are today?
Ron: Certainly. Well, at least I’ll try to hit it, John. I grew up in North Carolina. It’s interesting, my mother, when I was in high school, went to work for one of our competitors. So when I was in high school college, I started working at the competitor in the summer. Driving forklifts, waiting on customers. Then after I graduate from college, I went to work for that competitor and ended up moving up through the company, was there for about 11 years. When I left, I was running the number of building materials departments as a merchant and a marketing specialist. So I came to Home Depot in 1995, in the beginning of 1995. At that point, Home Depot had different divisions. I think we had 10 different divisions. I moved to the Tampa division, which had responsibility for Florida stores, the Carolina stores and the Caribbean. So very interesting market. I was a product merchandise manager. Product merchandise managers are responsible for buying the product. But the reason Home Depot does not call their merchants buyers is because the merchants have to be in the stores a lot. In those days, in 1995, we were in the stores, three to four days a week, waiting customers, looking at our presentation, looking at our product here in the feedback from the associates and the customers about the products that you’re buying. So a tremendous amount of time on the floor with, an apron on, waiting on customers. So great way to understand what your product decisions mean to the associates and also to the customer. I was product merchandise manager for, I think five years in Tampa, I was promoted to divisional merchandise manager. So I’ve had most of the departments inside of the company as either a product merchandise, a visual merchandise manager, or a merchandising vice president. So I’ve had probably 80% of the department’s responsibility working for the customer to get the right products, negotiating deals, setting retails, setting bypacks. In 2000 I was asked by one of our founders, which he got named Pat Farah, he called me one day and said, “We really need someone to step in and help us on the environmental side. And since you had so much experience with wood and wood pursuing the building materials, we think you’re the guy.” This was on a Saturday. He said, “Your first meeting in first presentation is Monday, so be in Atlanta and be prepared.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll take the job since I’m already penciled in.” So I stepped in as a Global Environmental Product Manager. That was in 2000. So I stepped into a hornet’s nest. We’d had 600 protests in about 18 months, lots of issues around with purchasing, and I suggest we come back to that at some point. Then in 2001, I was promoted to a merchandising vice president. So I had a responsibility for lumber and building materials at the time. 2007, promoted to senior vice president of contractor sales and tool rental. Now, from 2000 to 2007, I still had all the environmental stuff.
John: You were juggling a bunch of titles.
Ron: Yes. I was wearing two very important hats. Ever since 2000, I’ve had sustainability and environmental concerns. Since 2007 I’ve shared contractor sales, tool rental, I’ve picked up product safety, I have utility rebates, so any rebates that utility company decides to put out on a refrigerator, or water savings toilet my group handles that. Then we also have product safety and oversee all of the overseas audits for responsible sourcing for factories that manufacture products for Home Depot under the private brand.
John: Wow. When were you named Chief Sustainability Officer?
Ron: It was probably three to four years ago. But the work and everything else didn’t change.
John: Right. It’s so fascinating because back in 2000 there wasn’t such a title as Chief Sustainability Officer.
John: But the fact of the matter is, as retailers go, you were very early into this by taking that role on in 2000.
Ron: Oh, we were. At that point, I was, well, and probably still today, the only person that has had that position and be under the merchandising group. Most of the environmental positions are either under compliance, or legal, or some other operational side of the business. Pat Farra said, “For this job to be effective, you have to be under the regime of the people that are buying the products since we’re a retail. So you need to be a merchandising.” It was a stroke of genius.
John: It’s funny, I was sitting in a meeting years ago with the gentleman who was named chief sustainability officer of one of the big AT&T or Verizon type of companies. He juggled chief sustainability officer and he was then the chief supply chain officer and I said, “Well, that doesn’t make sense.” He goes, “John, let me explain to you why it makes perfect sense.” What you’re saying Pat was right on target in terms of having you handle both, it makes so much sense. It’s so interesting, because really just now the whole world is really catching on to ESG, circular economy, but you’ve got 22 years underneath your belt. So what’s so interesting, Ron, is we’ve been doing this show since 2007. We’ve had the luck and the honor to interview so many chief sustainability officers, or folks that were in charge of the environment for great brands around the world. So one of my favorite questions to ask you is, you’re faced with so many fascinating challenges. How, as where you sit with a global brand that’s so iconic and so important to the world at large, how do you strata and choose among the different opportunities and challenges that you have in the chair that you sit in as Chief Sustainability Officer of Home Depot?
Ron: Yeah. John, one of the things that became very obvious to me in the beginning, and by the beginning, I think back of 1993, 1995, 1996, Home Depot won the President’s Award for sustainability from President Clinton. Thinking 1996, who was talking about sustainability at that time? No one.
John: No one.
Ron: As we put these programs together, we realized that there were thousands of touchpoints. Walk into a Home Depot store, look to the far left, you see the lumber, see plywood windows. Look to the far right, you see pesticides, herbicides, a lot of goods, lawnmowers and you go, “What are the environmental impacts?” Well, what are the environmental impacts? Every walk of life is represented in that store as far as what you’re doing for your habitat. We supply a basic human need, which is shelter. So it’s a thousands of environmental impacts. As I started dealing with these early, and the earliest issue that we worked on was wood purchasing and wood supply. But then as we saw those trickle in and trickle out, just in the wood supply, there’s scores of issues. Is there such thing in sustainability? Can you have sustainable forestry? We had a paint merchant come into me one time into my office and say, “You’re going to love me.” This was in 2001. I said, “Great. You’re the paint merchant, I probably am going to love you, whatever you’ve done, because it’s got to be good.” He said, “We’re only going to buy plastic paintbrushes.” I said, “Was that the love part?” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “No more trees. We’re not cutting any trees to manufacture any paintbrushes.”
Ron: I said, “Time out.”
Ron: There’s probably the best replacement for wood, is sustainable wood.
Ron: So you look at that, that’s one touchpoint. Then you have pesticides, herbicides, energy, water use, noise pollution from leaf blowers, the fact that people spill 18 million gallons of gas a year when they’re filling up their lawn equipment. All those thousands of touchpoints. So I was able to pull everything down into five buckets. Those five buckets are carbon emissions, chemical exposure, deforestation, which we also include mining in that, water use, waste and recycling, which we now also call circularity. So all of a sudden, things started getting really clear to me that I go, “Okay, all the different things that we’re talking about, it’s going to fall into one of these five buckets.” Today, when you think of the emotionally charged issues, most of those are around carbon emissions. Think of climate change, global warming, control disaster increases. All the things that are happening, people are tying it to global warming and climate change. Well, that’s carbon emissions
Ron: So that’s a pretty big bucket. So we look at each one of these five and say, where does Home Depot play as an entity? So our operations, our stores, our distribution centers, our trucks, as an entity, what part do we play in each one of those five? We play part in all of those. Then you look at our supply chain and you go, “Okay, go upstream in the supply chain, what part does a factory setting in Mexico, or Iowa, or China have in carbon emissions and transportation and getting product to Home Depot?’ Well, we better know that and you need to know what those impacts are, and you need to know, are you a major player or a minor player? When you make a move, is it like a bull whip if you do this? Is it a huge slap, 10 feet down? Or is it very, very minor? So we look at product categories under those lens of those five product categories and say, how do we make sure that we minimize and continue to work to minimize the environmental impact?
John: What’s inspiring to me, Ron, and I’d love to hear how you did this, is since sustainability wasn’t a thing when Home Depot won that award in 1996, and even when you were made in charge of the environmental issues that were in and around in surrounding Home Depot in 2000, there was no blueprint. So how did you find your way in terms of creating the five buckets and getting on this journey? What were your paradigms or inspirations, or what blueprints were you looking at since it just wasn’t part of our lexicon or vernacular back then?
Ron: Yeah, it definitely wasn’t part of lexicon and everything was completely new. Everything was trial and error and you had a tremendous amount of pushback from every path that you took. As many people would tell you that it was right, they would tell you that it was wrong, whatever the issues were.
John: Of course.
Ron: Since I did step in, in 2000 in the wood issue, now picture this, we’d had 600 protests in 18 months, and the protests were around wood purchasing. What happened was, environmental groups in Vancouver Island wanted to cease and protect, which I’m completely for protecting old growth, where it needs to be protected, they needed a platform and they knew that a company like Home Depot would probably be that platform. So stepping in, I’ve never been in environmental issues, I didn’t go and study environmental studies. I’ve been a merchant. But what I did know was how to get stuff done and how to circle the wagons. So I stepped in and we’d had probably 36 month of activity around this. We’d hired consultants, we had a lot of people working on it, and they said, “Okay, now you’re in charge.” So I said, “Okay, first of all, let me get everyone together that’s working on this.” So I had a big meeting in Atlanta and I brought in the consultants. I think we had four different consulting groups, the four big ones, working on this and they were saying, “It’s going to be probably 18 to 36 months, it’s going to cost millions of dollars and we’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to do it.” So it really bothered me for a couple of days and I called them all back in and said, “We’re going to relieve you of your duties, we do not need consultants, so you guys can all go home.” Then I called the NGOs, and they were probably 12 environmental groups that were the core of this. I said, “Can you please come to Atlanta?” They hadn’t been able to talk to most of the people at Home Depot because they didn’t have someone in this position in [inaudible]. So they said, “Yeah, we would love to.” So it took about six weeks, but I got all of them into Atlanta. We started at 7:00 AM in the morning in the store across the street. They were all mostly West Coast, so it was like four o’clock in the morning for them. But we started seven and we walked the store. For the entire day, I said, “We’re going to stop at all the different wood products. You tell me what the issues are. You tell me what your concerns are.” They went back to the office, we sat down. So for another day and a half, we just went through every issue they had. So they spilled the beans, “This is what we love,” “This is what we hate,” “This is where you’re right,” “This is where you’re wrong,” “This is where the big unknowns are.” I said, “Okay, I’m going to ask you, for 24 months, no protests. We’ll have dialogue but no protests for 24 months. Give me time to research this and we will come back with a plan.” They said, “Okay.” So we took two parallel paths. The first one was to find everything in the store that had wood in it. Is it a two before [?]? Is it a hammer handle? Is it an ax handle? Is it a fan blade?
Ron: What has it? We thought it was going to be around five or 600 items, ended up being over 9,000. So we had 9,000 items inside the store that we needed to find where does it come from? What’s the species? Are there any issues with those countries? So it took us two years to do that. But at the end of those two years, we called those groups back together. We met at the NRDC headquarters in San Francisco in their basement and I handed everyone in the room a book. Inside that book was transparency of Home Depot’s wood, by department, and by country. If you want to look at Brazil, here’s what we buy from Brazil. If you want to look at the flooring department, here’s where it comes from. So after that, a lot of good relationships came from that. Instead of a catalyst that we were used to make things happen, we became a partner at the seat, at the table.
John: Well, you found a brilliant way by asking for that space to do the work that you wanted and needed to do, you found a way of building a bridge of trust.
Ron: At the end of that bridge of trust, John was facts and data and information that they could only guess at before.
Ron: So they were appreciative that all of a sudden they had insight. All of a sudden we were the most knowledgeable person at the table.
John: That’s really interesting.
Ron: So it became an educational moment for all of us. So I came back and thought about this for about a year. During that time, right after this is when I was promoted and I now had environmental and the business side. So I was the merchandising vice president over the lumber building materials and that disrupted everyone, because the NGOs were saying, “Okay, what’s the deal now? We’ve got a business guy, Home Depot, running the environmental department who is not an environmental scientist, he’s a business guy.” All of a sudden the business was saying, “Wait a minute, Home Depot, you can’t take your environmental person and put them over lumber purchasing, that’s just not going to work.” But again, it was a stroke of genius for us because on Monday I could sit down and listen to Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network and all these different folks talk about, ‘Here’s what we need to do.” On Tuesday I could sit down with warehouses and Georgia-Pacific and they could say, “This is what we’re doing.” On Wednesday, I had the power to get them both together and say, “Now let’s go talk about it.” We made some big, big transitions during that period of our wood purchasing, where it came from, certified wood, moved quite a few programs that weren’t certified into certified programs. So it worked really well. John, to get your point, that’s how we said we’re going to do it that way for every environmental issue, we’re going to do the grassroots movement. Whatever it is, we’re going to find out the science, we’re going to find out the business behind it, we’re going to find the emotional ties that you have to these because every environmental concern you have has a tremendous amount of emotional ties to it, and then we’re going to try to build the bridge of trust.
John: That’s great.
Ron: At the end of the day, then we may not do what everyone wants us to, but everyone will know where we stand and why we stand there.
John: Ron, this is just brilliant. I mean, this is really inspiring. Since you have 22 years of history and data and facts put together now, which is rare because brand most brands are just getting with it right now and playing a lot of catch up, since part of sustainability now, part of this whole ESG movement and the shift from the linear to circular economy sort of requires this need of radical transparency, which you were already doing back in 2000 when you produced that book for those NGOs, how do you produce an annualized book now that shows to the world both constituents, analysts, wall street, media, et cetera, what you’re doing now and how you’re going about doing that?
Ron: Well, we had our first responsibility report in 2009.
Ron: So they’re 13 years ago when the first responsibility reported. As we started pushing that out, I basically, for the first four or five years just to sat down and wrote the whole thing. I would go sit down with the subject matter experts and the business leaders and say, “Here’s what the world needs to know on diversity.” “Here’s what the world needs to know what we’re doing on purchasing.” “Here’s what the world needs to know.” We look at confidence, how much of our wood comes from North America? So we put a lot of that information into the responsibility report, and that’s what we continue to do. We also have a website called Eco Actions Website that we put a lot of information and transparent, because we’re a true believer that transparency is the right answer. That if you’re doing something, if you find something that needs to be changed, change it. There’s a lot of options out there, there’s a lot of opportunities to make things better and to improve. So just continue to do that. Consumers won’t beat you up because you’re trying to do better. So we do have a, it’s called ESG Report Today that we have out there, we put a lot of this information in it. We’re completing more reports in 2023 that’s going to have even more transparency than we have now. We believe in being transparent.
John: For our audience out there, if you just joined us, we’ve got Ron Jarvis with us today. He’s the Chief Sustainability Officer at Home Depot. To find Ron and his great colleagues and the work that they do at Home Depot at sustainability and everything else you could go to www.homedepot.com. Ron, the things have changed in 22 years, as you know, what major challenges today, comparatively speaking it from 2000 where it was all around wood and it was first of all around wood, but then it evolved into 9,000 products, those first precious two years, where are you today and what kind of challenges, I don’t know, keep you up? Because you’ve seen a lot of things in 22 years, but what challenges are you facing today that you weren’t facing back then?
Ron: Well, there’s definitely the challenges of more interest. I always call it 10 cupping. So from 2009 until probably 2018, everything that you could get for support inside of ESG had to be bag and borrowed. Since then, there’s a lot of support on the ESG side and a lot of folks involved, which is great, the more the merrier. But one thing that we’ve seen that’s changed, to your point John, is the transparency. Not only transparency, but also the information.
Ron: In 2007, I remember setting a meeting with some store associates and they were saying, ‘Hey, you know, earth Day’s coming up and we want to highlight products.” Now we had a program with a company out of Oakland, California called SCS to where they would validate environmental claims for Home Depot. I think they first started doing it in 1997. So they would validate environmental claims. So somebody says, “Hey, this product makes the grass greener” we’d have to validate it through SCS.
John: It would be your third party auditor, in other words?
John: Okay. Got it.
Ron: But what we found was in the store, as you walk through the aisle, there were a ton of claims on products and customers didn’t know and the associates didn’t know exactly what those claims meant. So we said, we’re going to create an Eco Options program, so we’re going to identify these products that really do have less of an impact on the environment than standard products. We said, “Okay, how’s the best way to start this?” I said, “Well, let’s do like we did the wood purchasing. Let’s send a lot of information to our suppliers. Let the suppliers tell us what they’re doing.” Well, at the time, we had about 135,000 different items in the Home Depot portfolio. The average store carried about 35 to 40,000 items. So we set this out. When it came back, 76,000 items were green from our suppliers. I go, “Wow, this is going to be the easiest thing I’ve ever done, 76,000.” But I said, “We’re going to put a filter on top of each one of these, and you’re going to have to meet this bar before we’re going to say that your Eco Options.” Like for instance, recycled content, you had to be 100% post-consumer recycle content to be considered green in Eco Options. So that 76,000, after we put the filter on it was 2,000.
Ron: Seventy-four-thousand was what I consider to be voodoo marketing around green. That part is still happening today. So you see a lot of environmental claims where people go, “Well, this is great because of x.” We have companies that come to us all the time and they go, “You’re going to love this new product. It is a new green widget and here’s why.” So the first thing that I do when I talk to suppliers is I go, “You have to tell us what the biggest environmental impact is for your product.” Is it paint and indoor air quality and dermal uptake? Is it carpet, which is dermal uptake and some indoor air quality? Is it wood products for deforestation? Is it concrete for carbon emissions? So whatever your issue is, that’s how you lead the story when you talk to us. So we’ve had companies come into us and say, “Our new green model is, we have a green widget because we have smaller pallets in the truck and we’re getting more products on the truck.” They go, “Yeah, but your products are not carbon emissions related. It is dermal uptake, or it’s deforestation, or it’s something else.” So today it’s tough to look at all the difficulties. Every company has some type of environmental platform today.
Ron: So it’s going through those and saying, yeah, but what really is impactful to your product? And are you addressing that issue?
John: So you’ve created an algorithm scoring system, which continually, in a gentle way, forces your suppliers to continually improve if they want to get the right type of visibility at Home Depot. Is that the right way to put that?
Ron: It’s not a software program that’s an algorithm.
Ron: It is just looking at the industries.
Ron: In this industry it is this and this is what you need to be focused on.
John: Got it. You have a team of folks underneath you that are handling the scoring and doing the explanation to these suppliers on a regular basis?
Ron: What we do is, and concrete built the world, I mean, it’s done a lot of good things, but it’s also pretty carbon intensive, so we’re in constant dialogue with the large manufacturers around concrete saying, “What are you working on? Are you going to have a substitute for clinker?” Or you come up with something that’s a better adhesive. So those type of conversations that we’re having. We also have very good merchants. The great thing about sustainability, probably 10 to 11 years ago, sustainability became a competitive measurement among industries. So whenever you’re going to pitch to a retailer, or even if you’re selling tires to an automobile company, when you go in, you’re going to pitch whatever your sustainability pitch is for that. When that happened, I saw it because I was there and we didn’t have that, all of a sudden I slept better at night because I know that when company A comes in and they know that they’re going to be followed by company B that may have a better widget than they do on the sustainability side, they’re going to do everything they can to improve their product. So when competitive measurement moved into the boardroom, then everything moved quicker. Today, when you look at reduced energy, reduced water use, single-use plastic reduction, shipping closer to point of distribution, shipping in non single-use plastic but cardboard, every single company today is working on that, where 15 years ago they weren’t.
John: All about the issues around green energy and stuff, are you constantly looking for different sources of more renewable energy to power the great heat Home Depot stores that you and your colleagues are managing and in charge of?
Ron: We do. John, energy is a part of the carbon emissions bucket.
Ron: I look at carbon emissions, I’m not a scientist, but I understand that there’s climate change always. There’s just a constant flux of climate change, and the question is, is man expediting the climate change? Home Depot doesn’t have a position on that. I personally say, yeah, we probably are. You can’t have this much pollution and not affect something. So I look at this and go, we need to prioritize what our five buckets are as a society, not Home Depot, not Ron and John, but as a society.
John: You’re right.
Ron: Which one of these are the most important? Now the unfortunate thing about ESG, and I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but in a certain way I feel like the S and the G is hijacked in E, because all of a sudden there’s a thousand touchpoints inside of ESG that everyone’s working on.
John: Great point.
Ron: If we think climate change is the biggest concern, then if we would put all our focus on that, we could probably fix a lot of the carbon emission issues because it’s the combustible engine, it’s the power grid. We could probably fix that a lot faster if it was a single focus instead of a thousand point focus. So we look at this and go, “Okay, so where do we play in carbon emissions?” So we track our Scope 1, 2, and 3 and I assume you’re familiar with those. So we know that as a company, how much carbon we knit from things that we own. We know from the utilities that we buy from for Scope 2. We’ve been tracking Scope 1 and 2. I did the first report on Scope 1, 2 and partial 3 in 2008. So we’ve been tracking this for years. We know where our improvements. The great thing, when we look at carbon emissions as a store in our distribution centers for Scope 1 and 2, and we also track category four, which is upstream transportation in those carbon emission numbers for the core of the company, since 2009, since we did the first report, we’ve reduced those carbon emissions by around three million metric tons. So think about that. Three million metric tons, not 100, not 10,000, not 150,000, but three million metric tons.
Ron: These are absolute metric tons. During that same time, we’ve gone from 60 billion to 152 billion in sales.
John: So your explosive growth plus also the offsets you’ve created is unbelievably impressive.
Ron: Yes. We’ve done it by running a better business. In 2003, we were running about 26.5 kilowatts per square foot on an angle basis of our sales floor, today we’re around 11.8. So we’ve gone from 26 kilowatts to 11.8 by running a better business. We didn’t do it by offsets, we didn’t do it by intensity, we did it by running a better business. We think that’s key. We think that in sustainability, you have to walk the talk. If you’re going to ask your suppliers, if you’re going to ask customers to make sacrifices or make changes, you have to say, “And here’s how we did it.” We look at customers on and we go, “Okay, as a 520,000 square foot store, we’ve taken our energy use from 26 to 11 per square foot. Here’s how you do it. You go with energy star refrigerators, you go with high-E, low-E windows, you do super caulking, you do flex ceiling, things like this so you can reduce those impacts and you also have a tremendous improvement to your operational monthly cost of running your home.”
John: I assume because of where you reside and the great brand that you’re involved with, that’s Home Depot, you at some point crossed paths with the legendary Ray Anderson.
Ron: Oh yes. That is a great segue into one of the paths that Home Depot took in the beginning. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Natural Step?
John: No. Tell me. Share more.
Ron: The Natural Step was started in Sweden by Dr. Karl Robèrt.
Ron: Dr. Robèrt was a pediatric oncologist. He kept seeing all of these children coming into his clinic with cancer and terminal cancer and he said, “It’s increasing, it’s getting worse in Sweden. So I’m going to stop my practice and look at what we’re doing as a society and what is causing this.” So he created a program called The Natural Step, and it’s still out there today. In 2000, we brought the Natural Step into the Home Depot. We took our entire leadership team through a year and a half process of learning the Natural Step. Ray Anderson was the first one to bring it to Atlanta. So we’d actually picked it up from Ray in what he was doing at Interface at the time. So we were so lucky. The Natural Step had hired three people, one is now Jib Ellison, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Jib. He has a company called Blu Sky Strategies in California.
Ron: Katherine Gray, who is a leader in sustainability, and Dr. George Basile at Arizona State. Now, these were three underlings that it brought in to try to help Ray Anderson and Home Depot understand the Natural Step, three geniuses in my mind. So the Home Depot was so fortunate to have those three there directing us, saying, here’s what you need to do as a company, and here’s how you bring sustainability into a multi-faceted 9,000, 10,000 supplier business by backcasting to find out what’s happening upstream that could be causing deforestation, could be causing excess chemicals, could be causing all these different issues that you’re facing today. The way you get to the root of it is to backcast. So yes, we are familiar with Ray.
John: Ray back in the day he appeared on our show and he was one of the most delightful human beings I’ve ever come across and was a great interview and just unbelievably inspirational, which, of course we’ve pushed on. What you’re great at Ron, what I’ve realized during this interview is that, you’re really amazing at taking complex ideas, complex issues, challenges, and synthesizing them down and creating a simplicity around them that makes it understandable by all. So if you were to take a message that you want your Home Depot customers, which of course are all of our listeners and our audience out there around the world that’s had the benefit and the opportunity to enjoy your great brand, what would be the message that you want them to take away today about the 22 years of work you and your great colleagues have been working on at Home Depot around sustainability, circularity, and those very important topics?
Ron: Well, probably the message would be that just know that there’s someone inside the company, some groups inside of the company that are looking at what the issues are and to put that in practice. After we got through Eco Options, we had products out there, it was still 10% of the total. So as I would walk through a store to take a new merchant or reporter to go talk about the Eco Options products, I’d walk past 90% of the product to show, “Hey, look at this certified something,” or, “Look at this new low flow toilet.” What I realized is that, even though we’re walking through stuff that’s good to get to the stuff that’s great, what about the stuff that’s good? So I was in a store with a group of merchants one day and I said, “Here’s what, let’s do.” Let’s stop buying green products. Let’s just stop. Now let’s go green the products that we buy beause that will be much more impact. So I had a group of six environmental scientists, and I don’t want to call their names because I haven’t warned them I was going to talk about this, in the office in 2014, these are all leaders in environmental science, building about science. I said, “Let’s play out a role here. If we could switch jobs and you were the CSO of Home Depot and you could do anything you wanted to, what would you do? And tell me what you do as a group.” I got my pad out expecting just to rapid fire and they didn’t hardly say a word. So they finally got together and they said, “Can we come back after work?” I said, “Yeah.” I said, “My last meeting ends at five, so be back at five o’clock.” So they went across the street to La Quinta and they came back at five o’clock. I was thinking about it all day during my meetings, okay, is it going to be pesticides? Is it going to be recycled carpet? Is it going to be certified wood? What is their issue they’re going to come back with? Because I know what all the issues are. They came back and they sat down and they said, “Okay, we’ve got it.” I said, “What would you do?” They said, “It’ll be vinyl flooring.” I go, “What?” They go, “Vinyl flooring.” I’ve been doing this for 14 years at the time. I said, “I’ve never had one person, NGO, stakeholder, associate ever say anything bad about vinyl flooring.” I said, “Is it the PVC?” They go, “No, it’s orthophthalates.” They go, “If we could do anything, we would take orthophthalates out of vinyl flooring.” I go, “Why?” They said, “Well, it’s the plasticizer, it’s what makes orthophthalates bend, it’s what makes the vinyl bend, and think of where Home Depot sells orthophthalates or vinyl flooring, it goes into daycares and nurseries.” I go, “Well, there’s no real science around it, an EPA. I mean, there’s nothing that says we need to do that.” They go, “But you ask us. As environmental scientists, there’s one thing we could do what we do and that’s what we do.” So when they left, we had six vinyl flooring vendors at the time and so I called them and I said, “Suppose we wanted to take orthophthalates out of vinyl flooring. So three of them said, “You can, but you’re going to be about 20 to 30% above your competition. You’re going to stop selling vinyl flooring. Everybody else is going to go other places to buy because you’re going to be too high.” Three said that. Two said, “We’ve actually looked at some of the replacements and we know they’re out there, but they’re way too expensive.” The sixth one came in and said, “I’ve ran two lines and you don’t lose efficacy of the product, it works just as well. Everything looks and acts just the same. The only problem is, the replacement chemical is a little high.” So I reached out to who was the company that was most of their chemical supplier and said, “If you had the type of volume here as you do today with this, what would happen to the price?” They go, “It go down probably below where you are today.”
Ron: So May, 2015 Home Depot announced that all of their vinyl flooring is worth of the value at three. Now, was it big news? Did sales go up? Was it certified? No, none of that happened. But because of information that we’d gotten and we looked and said it’s something that can be done, and as we’ve looked, we’ve made similar moves to that in the past, so my message would be, to the customers, we’re looking for things, when we find things, we want to act to make a better world through better products.
John: So that’s just further proof that the journey is never done and it continues on. So if the journey’s continuing on and you’ve got 22 years already behind you, what’s next? What’s next for you, your colleagues and Home Depot in the sustainability journey, Ron?
Ron: Well, I think what’s next is other companies will be more transparent, and other companies I mean our suppliers, to where, if you’re a homeowner or a contractor or just an interested citizen, that you’ll be able to go in and say, “Okay, I’m looking at an ashtray or a table. I want to know what’s the deal here?” Where does the wood come from? How much water was used? What about the fasteners? What about the the paint? And that we’ll have scanability programs, and there’s some out there today to where at least products that you may have a concern with, you can get the answer and you get the right answer and then as a consumer, you can make the choice. Is this a product I want to support? Do I want to be a purchase activist and make my statement from what I buy based on the knowledge that I have? Yes, I think we all do. I think the next step is that, as a society, we’ll get to the point to where we know that information.
John: Ron, thank you so much for all the great work you’ve done the last 22 years and the work that you’re going to be doing in the future, you are truly making a tremendous impact and making the world a better place. For our listeners and viewers, to find Ron Jarvis and his colleagues and to find the local Home Depot near you so we could support great brands that are doing important things and making big impacts in sustainability, please go to their website, homedepot.com. Ron Jarvis, you’re always welcome back to share the journey that you’re on in sustainability and thank you again for making the world a better place.
Ron: Thank you, John. Thank you for the opportunity.
John: This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts and impact partners. Closed Loop’s platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronic.