As the leader of HP’s Sustainable IT Professional Services, Mary Curtiss is responsible for forming new alliances with customers and partners to drive down the impact of technology on the environment. While at HP, Mary has had a broad range of responsibilities within the umbrella of climate action. She was responsible for creating HP’s first category of Circularity services: building the business for extending the lives of our products in new and innovative go-to-market strategies. She was also Global Head of Energy and Sustainability for HP’s corporate real estate. In this role, Mary was responsible for developing and driving HP’s strategy for all matters related to sustainability in the global real estate portfolio. Through her work, HP has established a goal of 100% renewable electricity as well as a 60% reduction on carbon emissions and zero waste in our operations by 2025.
John Shegerian: Have you been enjoying our Impact Podcast and our great guests, then please give us a thumbs up and leave a five-star review on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you consume your favorite podcasts. 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 electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com. 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.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and with us today is Mary Curtiss. She’s the director of Sustainability Services at HP. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Mary.
Mary Curtiss: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here.
John: Mary, we’re so excited to have you. HP has been a leader in sustainability for a long time. You have been leading that charge for a long time and doing incredible and amazing things. Before we get talking about everything that you’re doing in sustainability with your colleagues at HP, I’d love you to share with our audience a little bit about the Mary Curtiss story. Where’d you grow up? What got you on this journey? Who inspired you? Share with our listeners a little bit about your background, please.
Mary: Sure. I grew up in Iowa and most of my family are farmers. I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, and in my grandmother’s world circularity was just how they did everything.
John: Life. Life.
Mary: Yeah. Our tablecloths came from someone’s dress, and the curtains used to be something else, and so there was no idea of a landfill. She was really holistic and the what she did on the farm, and so I really learned about eliminating waste and multi-purposing everything and thinking about our footprint. It just all seemed super logical back then, which was quite a while ago. I kind of feel like lot of what we’re doing is not rocket science. It’s just kind of getting back to what makes sense and being responsible and doing what’s best for the planet. So yeah, that’s how I grew up.
John: That’s so interesting. I think that’s a great point. You are a leader, you’re an educator, you’re a collaborator. We’re going to get into that in a little bit, but like you said, it’s not rocket science, but a lot of people have made it a little bit rocket science.
John: And overcomplicated, and overstated the complication of it. Like you said, when broken down, it’s an opportunity to really do the right thing, and it’s not that complicated.
Mary: Yeah. That’s what I believe in my heart of hearts, that it’s all of our nature to do things that make sense and that are logical and so, it’s just being conscious of it. I think we’ll get there.
John: This is HP’s second time on the Impact show. Chris Librae, your colleague, was [crosstalk] talking about a very much cutting-edge issue back in 2015, repurposing plastic from your printers into new HP printers. I just want to make that clear that HP has been doing this a long, long time, and I want you to go into that a little bit, but I read something when I was doing some of the homework preparing for today. I read a line that was really, really important and I want to share it with you. I want to hear your thoughts on it. “Sustainability is core to our values at HP and is demonstrated in how we do business. Impact is our North Star.” Talk a little bit about that. What does that mean to you? And explain how that really relates to the important work you and your colleagues are doing in sustainability and HP’s DNA.
Mary: Great. Yeah, I really think HP is not a new tech company. We have, over 80 years and founded right here and on Stanford campus. It hasn’t changed a whole lot, I think, in terms of our values and that’s what feels really good. We’re not jumping on the latest bandwagon. We’re trying to be responsible from the very beginning. Bill and Dave were both stewards of the environment, they were both environmentalists and they had a lot of all of our sites were located near areas that were focused on the outdoors, so that is still in our legacy. When we talk about impact being the North Star, I think a lot of corporations get caught up especially now in our ESG reporting and making sure that, obviously that’s super important for us, but that shouldn’t be the North Star, that should just be guiding us. The impact that we make with people and the planet should be what we’re all striving for. It’s difficult though because a lot of regulation is driving reporting, and so you’ve got to put the resources on it and you’ve got to pay attention to it.
But my fear is that a lot of eyes are coming off the impact and now looking just solely at reporting. I think for us at HP, we have a lot of opportunity to meet with customers, meet with consumers, talk about their individual impact. I think it resonates because a lot of our consumers in terms of technology, don’t think about technology the same as sustainability. It’s complicated for them in some ways and what do we do with our devices? How is one device compared to another device? I think, we want to make sure when you talk about being an educator, that that’s one of the most important things. Being able to impact the communities where we operate in, where our customers are is super critical. Obviously, that grows the bigger you are and the more impact opportunities you have, both positive and negative. It’s a lot, but I think when you get back to our original values, it’s right there and it hasn’t changed.
John: Mary, you’re known for, as you said earlier, this is not rocket science, and you’ve helped demystify sustainability. Explain what leadership, education, and collaboration means for you with regards to your journey at HP in terms of sustainability.
Mary: Yeah. I think for us, leadership really shows up when third parties see you as a leader and are willing to put your name at the top of some of these leaderboards. Again, that’s not the end goal, but it definitely validates that you’re doing the right thing. A lot of these third-party validators aren’t necessarily focused on did you set a net zero goal, but do you have a roadmap to get there? We all know net zero is extremely difficult. Climate week last week, I think everybody was struggling for how are we going to do this? And everybody’s in the same boat, but we’ve set interim goals at HP, and I think that’s going to really help us navigate the net zero world. I think being a leader definitely shows up in things like CDP Newsweek rankings and those things. It’s easy to say when you’re inside a company that we’re a leader and blah, blah, blah, but it means a lot more I think, when a third party recognizes that.
John: It’s interesting what you said about Climate Week, like you said, everyone is excited, but also struggling in many ways to get to net zero. Isn’t it important for us to realize it’s not a zero-sum game, that just getting on the journey and starting to make an impact and starting to do the hard work instead of talking about it, [crosstalk] is really what this is really more about than actually having to achieve 100% perfect net zero?
Mary: Yeah, absolutely. I think that it can’t be overstated, just getting started. Start where you have influence. I think for us, there’s a lot of areas where we’d like to be further ahead, and yet the infrastructure’s not there, or the customer willingness isn’t there yet. We know that’s not going to happen overnight, but there are things we could do today to start to improve those major factors. Yeah, I think you’ve got to start. You’ve got to get started and no excuses for not starting where you have the influence and where it’s material for your company.
John: Right. Like you said, just because there’s no perfect plan to get there doesn’t mean you don’t start putting [crosstalk] one foot in front of the other and moving in that direction.
Mary: Right, right. Absolutely.
John: For our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’re so excited to have with us today, Mary Curtiss. She’s the director of sustainability services at HP. To find Mary and her colleagues in all the impactful and important work they’re doing in sustainability, please go to www.hp.com. We’ll put in the show notes some more specific links that will take you to her sustainability reports, so you can read about all the great achievements that HP’s making in sustainability. Mary, the list of achievements is long and wide, because this is, like you said, an 80-year-old company that already had sustainability and circularity in its DNA. Talk a little bit and highlight some of the more exciting achievements that you and your team have been able to accomplish at HP in recent years that you’re most proud of.
Mary: Great question. In one of my previous roles at HP, I was head of sustainability for our real estate. We did net zero waste at multiple sites. Now, we have a goal to get to net zero globally at all of our managed sites by 2025. I think that really demonstrates both externally and internally to our own employees, how seriously we take this because it’s one thing to work for a company whose products are really sustainable and whose marketing messages are really, resonating with the customers, but then if the employees don’t see it at their workplace, then it’s really disillusioning.
As we all come back to the workplace now, we’re all focused on what’s going to be engaging for our employee experiences right at the top when it comes to what matters for us. The more we can do around sustainability in our workplace, the better and it will always be a big emphasis, but I think it’s doing the things that might be small might be larger, but at least employees will see it and feel it when they come to the office. When we think about our employee base, really, essentially, they’re the spokespeople for the work that you’re doing. If they’re not feeling connected to what you’re doing in sustainability, then it’s kind of pointless because, you have 50,000 people out there that can be spokespeople for your programs and what you’re trying to achieve, so we want to make sure that they feel it every day. This is a big part of what we’re doing.
I think on the product side, we now have recycled plastic content in every single PC that we deliver. This is industry leading, and this is something that again, takes a lot of work to get there because finding the right materials, testing the right materials getting in your product lifecycle, there’s risk there, but we feel really good about that. I think we all realize single use plastic is such a huge issue, and so the more we can address it, the better in our products and will have significant impact there. I think those are a couple things that we can really just be proud of.
John: Let’s just pause on the plastic issue. It’s so fascinating, Mary, when you and I, and our listeners turn on any major network, whether it be CNBC or Fox or MSNBC, or CNN for that matter, they characterize plastic as the boogeyman of the environment. But unfortunately, [crosstalk] it’s not parsed out in terms of single use post-consumer plastic, which would be a trash bag, for instance, or a shampoo bottle, and the plastics that you use and other OEMs use to manufacture our great gadgets that we all get to enjoy. You’re making such an important part that the media doesn’t cover, that your form of plastic is very rep purposeful and goes back into the circular economy when companies like yours that care actually choose to do so. You guys have sort of mastered it and led on that issue, and it’s working, but it doesn’t show up in any headlines or bylines or anything else when plastic is being discussed.
John: That’s a shame. But that’s something I really want to highlight and really give you guys credit for because you’ve been working on it a long time. It’s unbelievably challenging, as you said, from an engineering point of view, from a sourcing point of view, from a repurposing point of view. But you’ve done it and it’s working and your consumers are voting with their pocketbooks. The next generation really cares about circularity and the environment, and you’re winning on that. You’re really winning on that topic.
Mary: Yeah. Yeah, I think so too. I think the whole plastics debate is a tough one for consumers. It’s tough for consumers to understand what single use versus repurpose plastic and multi-use plastic. I think it’s something that the whole industry probably is struggling with, how do we communicate the effectiveness of certain plastics and how do we make sure it’s clear to the consumers? That’s a big challenge, but I really think so much of what we’re trying to do lies at the feet of education and information, and your podcast is huge for that, but I think that we need more of it for sure.
John: Yeah. We talking about challenges and opportunities. Talk about what you see out there today in 2023 and in the next early years ahead, what are some of the biggest headwinds that we face with regards to circularity right now?
Mary: Yeah. For me, in circularity, at HP, we’ve set a really ambitious goal of 75% circularity for our products and our packaging. A lot of companies are focused on packaging, which absolutely makes sense, but for hardware, for electronics, and that’s a huge one. Our biggest headwind there with that goal is getting the devices back, and it can be from corporations or consumers. There’s a lot of resistance in the marketplace to turning back in your electronic device, whether it’s your phone or your laptop or printer peripherals, but essentially, I think most importantly, PCs, because there is a lot of data there. A lot of people are concerned about turning that over to someone.
I think for us it’s really making sure we communicate effectively how we wipe the devices and how secure it is, and that the certification that’s behind it so that people will be able to relinquish their device and then we can put it back in the economy. Even people at our company have stacks of laptops at their homes going, [crosstalk] what do we do with it? And just gathering dust. I think it’s something that we all could probably look through our home or our office and find something that we could repurpose. Again, I think, that’s on us really to be able to educate consumers and our commercial customers on why it’s so important. It helps their footprint if they can do that as well. Anyway, that’s truly the biggest headwind and something I think we could solve.
John: Well, I know you’re not only a great leader, Mary, but you’re a great educator and collaborator. Let’s talk about all the stakeholders in the circular economy. Let’s talk about the consumers. What actions can you share with our listeners and viewers out there who are all consumers that they could take to help increase the shift from linear to circular economy and accelerate it?
Mary: Yeah. In the US for any device, computers, phones whatever it is, our best partner to take the devices to is BestBuy. BestBuy will wipe it on site. While you’re there, they’ll give you a rebate or an incentive to give them your device, and so there’s nothing that you have to wait for. It’s immediate. I think BestBuy is a name that people trust. It’s not a small third party, it’s a large corporation that’s a huge partner of ours. That’s one way. I think another is being open to second life devices that we tend to think that the latest and greatest is always the best, and sometimes it is certainly for certain applications. I don’t want to suggest that we don’t want to sell new hardware because that’s [crosstalk] our property, but to get into the circular economy, we’re going to need to repurpose a large percent of our hardware.
What we’re finding is that it’s different for different demographics, but for certain demographics, it’s kind of a badge of honor to say, this device is scratched, it’s not the latest generation, but I feel really good about it, it speaks to who I am as a person. We hope that kind of tide is shifting a bit for certain personas. It’s not going to be the people that need the highest compute power, but for the right persona, it really works. That I think is the other thing that we’re thinking a lot about, how do we make sure a second life device has the same experience as the first life device so that people don’t feel like they’ve been kind of shortchanged by using a second life device, but also that they kind of get credit and get recognized for being willing to take on a second life device.
John: Mary, what’s your experience? Do you see your competitors seeing the success that you’ve had in circularity and in repurposing the plastic and other materials into your new products and that the consumers really do now, care about those kinds of issues, the young consumers out there are voting with their pocketbooks and they’re starting to move similarly in the same direction that you’ve led on?
Mary: Yeah, absolutely. I think we pay close attention, obviously, to our competitors, and there’s certain things I see about Dell and Lenovo that are great, that they’re really stepping up in certain areas. I think in terms of collaborating, this main issue about the confidence of consumers to return devices is an issue for all of us. Things like that, sourcing materials, creating closed loop systems, I think all of those issues are common. That’s where I hope that we can come together more, because a lot of us are using the same sourcing and the same vendors and the same remanufacturing organizations. There’s so much work to be done that it just makes sense that collaboration should be happening more. I think that’s the direction that’s going
John: In the short years ahead, ’24, ’25, ’26. What does success look like in circularity for you and HP with regards to your technology and devices?
Mary: Yeah. Regionally, it’s popping up in certain regions in different ways. In the EU, it’s at the critical kind of breaking point in terms of the public sector is requiring it. For us, success in the EU means that we could get ahead of regulation and that we’re not just responding to regulation. I think that’s one of the things that HP has always done well in the past, is anticipating either where regulation is going or where the market’s going and leading rather than following. I think success for us is definitely in the EU being able to meet the criteria but also be a leader in the criteria for the regulation. Ideally, what we would like to do is to help shape regulation.
That would sure be a great sign of success. We also want to come into the industry with a product that customers know is a OEM-certified product, and so the refurbished market exists already. It’s been out there, a lot of great companies doing really good work. But consumers are looking for an OEM product as well that they know an extended warranty and OEM parts will be part of that product. That’s one of our, I would say North Star vision is to get to that level where we feel like we could stand behind the standard and then create an industry standard for what is a grade A level device and so on so that customers start to have that confidence of what it means when they buy a refurbished product.
John: It’s so interesting what you said, it’s taken longer to adopt than we would’ve thought it would’ve in terms of the comfortability of the consumers to use slightly used or secondhand technology, which is still unbelievably fast and very great at what it does, but think about how many of us really get to live in a brand-new home. We all buy used homes.
John: Think about the used car market. It’s a massive market.
John: It should just fall in line that these electronics are okay. It’s okay. It’s fun to be new and cool, of course. I’m not taking anybody away from buying the latest gadget from any of the OEMs that exist because HP and all the great OEMs are creating fun and new devices all the time, so this isn’t taking away from the new market either, but we’re comfortable using used products in so many other markets, and we trust those products. Electronics and technology should follow suit. It just would be logical.
Mary: Right. Yeah. That’s our hope. I have a son that’s working for a tech startup and he asked me for a used HP laptop. He’s always been a little bit contrarian, but he’s very techie. He writes software at work, but at home he wants a device that he can mess around on. He can create some new programs on his own, and so, that was his ask of me. I thought, well, that’s great, I’m going to use him as a test case.
John: It shows that the mindsets are changing and that generation cares about the environment. They think mom’s got this right. I can use a secondhand HP piece of technology and it’s wonderful and it gets everything done that I need to get done.
Mary: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
John: Let’s go back to that important issue you just raised, Mary of regulation. In the United States, as we know there’s a highly complicated patch quilt of regulations around technology and electronics in terms of landfill bans and other type of regulations and laws. Some states without, some states with and some of the laws look different, and then on the federal level, not much. When you start looking internationally, as you just pointed out, EU is different in many ways than United States could be different than Asia, is different than South America, and even the United Emirates and other parts.
Talk a little bit about the future and not only leading on this issue, Mary for you and HP, but is there a hope of harmonization of regulation so we could get some rationalization to what’s really going on and make it easier both on the OEMs and the recyclers and the repurposing bodies to really accelerate this industry which needs acceleration. Given if the UN has their statistics, right, only 17% of all technology that’s used around the world is being responsibly recycled. If great companies like yours and great people like you are leading on this, can we get more harmonization so we can get those numbers up?
Mary: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think for all of us, the more we can get to scale the more efficient we’ll be. One of the biggest challenges for us in the EU and also in the US is crossing borders with what we would consider e-waste. We know there’s a lot of issues with that, so we don’t want to minimize that we also think there’s a lot of opportunity we’re missing because it’s so difficult. Even within the EU to send a used laptop from one country to the next is not frowned upon, but it’s kind of discouraged. We really want to try and alleviate that.
I think in the US too, it’s important because when we think about where the needs are, the needs for used devices may not be in the same location where you get the devices back. If you have an inventory in one location, but you can’t transfer it, then do those devices ever get used? It could contribute to more waste if you can’t manage that. But ultimately, I think we’ve seen a lot of positive outcomes from certain regulation and absolutely we’re seeing that with EVs, with emissions, with so many different environmental issues that if we could get a cross country consistency, how much we could all scale so much easier. That absolutely would be our desire as well.
John: Well, you’ve accomplished so much at HP and HP is such a great leader on so many of these important sustainability issues and circularity issues. What gets you excited right now about 2024 and 2025 that you’re working on that you’re allowed to discuss, given I know some things we can’t discuss, but what can you discuss that gets you out of bed, gets you super excited right now?
Mary: One of the things I’m seeing with our customers is that, so our customers on the commercial side are usually the IT organizations. A lot of our customers now within that organization have people dedicated to sustainability. That’s, I think one of the first times that we’ve seen that it’s going to be more important in terms of the ranking when they’re issuing an RFP, if they have people on their team that are measured by the sustainability of the products that they’re buying. This is kind of a first, but I think it’s going to be a trend that keeps going and especially for certain customers where their hardware is a large part of their carbon footprint. I think that’s a trend that really excites me. Another for us is that we really are pivoting to scale up on the reverse logistics for devices, so this’ll be a big focus of ours next year.
It’s been an area that we’ve been doing for about five years, but it’s kind of the best kept secret, which is not great. We’re going to be spending a lot of time and people’s time at HP focused on how do we build that awareness and how do we build the capabilities to make sure that whatever we sell we can bring back. Another area I think that’s super important for circularity is device as a service. Everything is as a service these days, but there’s so many different models that you can do with a device as a service. For us, we’re looking at if customers have a large fleet of devices, can we manage that fleet so that we have a lot of the data on how the devices are performing, so we know ahead of time which devices should be either refurbished and we can upgrade the memory, we can upgrade the battery, or should we be removing those devices from our customer’s fleets?
For us, being able to do this is going to improve sustainability because it means that customers don’t have to replace every single device all at the same time. We can look at which ones are the poor performers, which ones are the better performers, and selectively replace those, or remanufacture refurbish those devices. One of the customers we’ve just done this with Capgemini in Europe is a huge proponent of sustainability and they see this as a great way to reduce their carbon footprint. I think more and more we’ll be focused on that, but if we can get customers to think about using compute as a service versus owning a device, it will ensure that we get the devices back [crosstalk] and also that their footprint will be reduced as these devices come back and it will be an automatic thing. They won’t have to track every single device because they know how their fleet’s managed.
John: True. They get to then get credit also in their own impact reports and ESG reports, etc., that they’re doing the right thing with their technology sector, which is again little wins add up to big successes eventually when folks are going towards decarbonizing and also meeting their own goals inside. I think the shared use of technology is so smart, and I think that’s going to become a bigger and bigger trend, and I hope it does.
Mary: Yeah. Yeah. I do too. I think a lot of companies are hearing from their end users that when they look at the catalog, they want to know which device to choose and which device has the smallest footprint. It’s pretty cool that the end users are driving these decisions a lot when we think about the stakeholders.
John: Mary, and I always say this with unbelievable love and admiration, you’re a sustainability and circularity OG. You’ve been doing this a long time, way before it was ever cool, way before it became part of our lexicon and vernacular here, especially in North America. Because we have lots of listeners and viewers around the world that are want to be the next Mary Curtiss, really dig what you’re doing and dig what HP’s doing and colleagues like you are doing. If you went back and spoke to the 18-year-old Mary Curtiss or the 22-year-old Mary Curtiss coming out of high school first and then coming outta college, what’s the right path now to become a director of sustainability services or an impact, director or a chief sustainability officer? What advice could you give the young woman and men around the world who really want to not only make a living, but also want to make a difference like you’ve done your career?
Mary: Yeah. That’s a great question. What’s exciting now is that so many colleges really offer programs for sustainability and so many environmental studies, but I think that what’s also really cool is there’s so many roles that have an impact, even if that wasn’t your degree. Just an example for us, we have someone very high level in our finance organization that has ESG in their title now. This person came from a strictly finance background, but now realizes what an impact we can make from our treasury department, from green bonds. From where we invest, what is the IRR on sustainability investments versus the rest of our investments? When I look back, I think it may be held me back because sustainability wasn’t in my title in the beginning, but when I got outta college, I started as a construction project manager in the corporate world, and I love that. I love buildings. I’m really still a big believer of green buildings and renewable energy.
Mary: But I quickly realized that doing construction through the lens of sustainability is just, again, super logical and not that hard. I think that’s what’s really the message I would try and tell someone that’s just wants to get into this, is do what you’re good at, but do it in a way that matches your passion for climate work or human rights work. Because I think there’s always an avenue there that can be explored. People are paying attention and people care. Yeah, it is a great time to be getting into this for sure.
John: Now you’re the cool mom with your son. Now you’re the one making the world a better place in decarbonizing it, so your son gets to work at his startup and brag about what his mom does. Where I don’t know if 20 years ago our kids really understood all that stuff, but now for sure they do.
Mary: Right? Right. Thank goodness they do. They were paying attention.
John: Exactly. Mary, listen, as you and I know sustainability, there’s no finish line and it’s a journey.
John: I just wanted you to know that I’m honored to have you on today. You really are one of the true leaders and OGs in this space, and to have you and HP on talking about these issues means a lot to me. You’re an inspiration to me. HP is an inspiration to all the other OEMs out there. I know that for a fact. Many of them are our clients and they look to HP on these issues. I just want to say you’re always welcome back here on the Impact Podcast to continue to share this important journey with our listeners and viewers. For our listeners and viewers to find Mary and her colleagues and all the great and impactful work they’re doing in sustainability, please go to www.hp.com. Mary Curtiss, you’re a special human being, you’re inspiring to me, and thank you for not only making an impact, but thank you for making the world a better place.
Mary: Thank you, John. This was such a pleasure. I’d be happy to come back again and share as we make more progress in our journey. But thanks for all you’re doing. I know your impact is huge as well, so really appreciate it.
John: This edition of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.