Innovating and Simplifying the Recycling Process with Brian Coupland of Staples

April 9, 2024

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As Senior Vice President of Retail Merchandising, Brian brings 30 years of retail experience and over 10 years of international experience and a passion for innovative problem-solving to his role. Leading Merchandising and Retail Store Transformation in US stores, his focus is on enhancing the customer experience and optimizing space productivity.

In addition to his responsibilities in Merchandising, Brian spearheads Innovation in identifying new customer and growth opportunities.

Staples - So Many Ways To Recycle

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 For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit This episode of The Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners.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

John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so honored to have with us today Brian Coupland. He’s the Senior Vice President of Retail Merchandising for Staples. Welcome Brian to the Impact Podcast.

Brian Coupland: Thank you, John. Thank you so much, and I’m thrilled to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this afternoon and to reconnect again, so really excited to be with you.

John: Likewise. Brian, before we get talking about your story, career at Staples I’d love you to share a little bit about your background, where you grew up, where you’re from, and how you got on this fascinating and important journey to even start with.

Brian: Sure, sure. I’m happy to share it. So, I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Born a Canadian, and really, I had moved around quite a bit in my early years. My father was a Royal Canadian Mount of Police, and kind of like the military, every four or five years, you make them move. So, there was a lot of moving around parts of Canada. So, you got to see a lot of things and certainly for those who have moved around quite a bit, you certainly get accustomed at spooling up and embracing newness and change. That’s always a part of your life. Something else that’s pretty accustomed to parts of Canada is hockey.

So, that was a huge part of my life from a young age, and I played a lot. Played a lot so almost every day of the year I had skates on. I was a goalie and a passionate hockey player, so loved that. I did that through a number of years and went to school, University of Manitoba. I was really passionate about photography and so coming out of school, I had an opportunity to start my own business and become an entrepreneur. I loved it. I learned so much. I learned so many lessons and lessons that I carry with me today. We’re here at Staples, our founding mission supporting small business.

I reflect back on the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur back then, very young family and all those challenges. Boy, oh boy, I respect the courage and passion and drive of every small business owner and entrepreneur. So, I take those lessons with me. I did that for a period of time. Then I had the opportunity to get into retail and I was hooked. I was hooked at the very, very beginning of retail. How dynamic, the speed, and probably the thing that I just love the most is the connection with a customer and the ability to really have cause and effect to create an experience and have the customer react and give feedback, and ultimately vote for that experience with their wallet and have them come back and return again.

Not only build a business, but also build a relationship with one customer at a time, and really making that connection of never taking for granted a customer. As small businesses back then when wasn’t an email, but when the phone rang, that was your next opportunity to connect with a customer and you do all the things right as a business owner, create a relationship, and then you have an opportunity to earn and grow that relationship. In retail, it’s really that one customer at a time.

So, that was a really exciting opportunity for me to learn the mechanics of retail. I then had an opportunity to join Staples from my first retail experience. As a Staples brand, so started off in Staples, Canada, and the brand was fairly new then. I think we had about 30 stores back then. So, I started off working in stores and became a general manager and operating a store and just loved. Loved the relationship with customers, loved working so closely with the people day in, day out and your store teams, and loved the mission of the brand from the beginning. It was really around providing solutions and products and services and connections with small businesses.

At that time, there’s a pretty big void in the market in terms of who was helping out small businesses. If you’re a big corporation, cost savings, but there wasn’t as much opportunity, and that’s really what our founders of the brand found. There was just a great opportunity to connect with small business and provide all of this. So, back in the day, if you recall, there was stationary stores available for small business and very small footprint, very small assortment. Product knowledge sometimes was limited, pricing was significantly high, and you weren’t open seven days a week. A small business works seven days a week. So, there’s just a lot of opportunity, and that was really the starting point. So, it was really exciting to be with a brand growing so aggressively. At that time, John, there was just opportunity to cover so much geography to ensure you’re helping small business from corner to corner of the country,

John: Right.

Brian: So, I did that for a period of time in the field, in stores, and then multi-unit management with supporting stores. Then I had an opportunity to take a master’s of innovation. There was a recognition that we thought a terrific business model and a really exciting time for us. But in any business, you look down the road and you know, there’s got to be change, there’s got to be evolution, there’s got to be innovation. So, really, I learned a lot of things that stuck with me in terms of how to think a little bit differently in solving complex problems and applying an innovation process that could be repeatable, that could be teachable.

It just was an unlock for me career-wise and personally as well. So, that was a really exciting time and applying some of those and then shortly after I moved into a new role, a director of innovation. Again, exciting time to look at new business models and where there’s new growth channels for the brand. So, that was a very exciting time for me, for the business. It really started differentiating my career, I would say, and taking a little bit non-typical path. As I look back, I sometimes get asked, John of any reflection on your career, and now this is 30 years for me.

John: Right.

Brian: If I look back at my career in different roles, there seems to be a correlation of the bigger risks I took, the bigger personal reward from learning and development in my skill set. So, that was a big one for me. Then shortly after, I had some additional responsibility for loyalty, for marketing. While I was going through that portion of my career in Canada, I was also beginning to spend a fair amount of time south of the border with my US partners. Really being inspired by that journey and the opportunity. Frankly, there’s some additional challenges with a much bigger business, a much bigger scope, and much more complexities. So, I was really enjoying my time in the US and then I would say about 10 years ago, I had an opportunity to begin working in the US business full-time.

John: Got it.

Brian: So, I’ve been really doing that full-time in the last 10 years in the US business. My responsibility now, I think you nailed it in my title, it’s really responsible for US retail merchandising. So, it’s really the products we have in the store, the experience, the store design, and certainly recycling is a highlight for me within my portfolio. So, passionate about that. Hope didn’t bore you, John. That’s my fly over my life in about three, four minutes.

John: No, that’s amazing. I want to talk about recycling a little bit, but I want to go back to the first iteration of you scaling Staples in Canada. How many stores does Staples Canada have now? You incubated it when it was very small. How many Staples Canada is there now, approximately?

Brian: Yeah, there’s 305 stores now. I started about 30. So, you’ve seen a lot of that growth and that was just really exciting. You look at most all national retailers rewind the clock and big box retailing, and now everyone’s had to reinvent themselves. But back then it was a really new concept of specialization, pick your channel. So, you really became very equipped at identifying an opportunity with geography and really having a location come in, connecting with the community, hiring a new group of people, training and sorting and building a store and ensuring there’s a great launch in every new community you went into. So, those are really exciting times as a young company. I guess we’re a fairly big brand, but back in the day, it did feel like a scrappy startup. So, it was pretty exciting times.

John: Yeah, very. It’s like Staples 1.0, you were there for that, and now you’re there for the whole reboot of Staples 2.0. Talk about the North American footprint. How big is your North American footprint?

Brian: Yeah, so in the US we have a thousand stores. We have a thousand stores here in the us. So

John: Then Brian then, do a little bit of a compare and contrast. How, much does Staples Canada and United States inform each other to best practices? How much overlap is there, and how many differentials are there that you have to be culturally aware and sensitive to differentials and make sure you are making room for that as well?

Brian: Yeah. So, great question. So, I would start off by saying certainly we’re way more similar than we’re different. I would just say that.

John: Yes.

Brian: There’s certainly a lot of similarities between it. What I would say, just from an overall store, I would say back in the day rolling out stores very, very quickly, I would say geography and available retail space in general was probably a little more challenging in the US market than in Canada. So, there’s pretty consistent footprint in the Canadian model. I would say the US when there was just speed and when there was opportunity. So, there’s probably fair bit more uniqueness in our store formats which on one hand is exciting on the hand, that could add a different dimension of complexity.

But as I said, as a whole, I would say we’re a lot more similar than different. I would say there’s some small nuances in assortment, but for the most part it’s very, very similar. What I would also say to your other part of the question, there’s a lot of great practice sharing, and we’re very, very connected both businesses and I think it benefits us. If we look at where we are in our brand, in our transformation path, who our customers are, there’s a lot of parallels. So, we share best practices, but what’s also exciting is we continue to explore a bit of uniqueness in each of our markets. We bring together ideas and bring together where there may be some successes, pass that along, and I think it’s really been exciting that we can benefit each other way, way faster. So, it’s been very beneficial [crosstalk] great partners.

John: You’ve never given up your entrepreneurial roots, and you’ve never given up your innovation roots as well, right?

Brian: Passionate for both of those, John. Passionate for both of those.

John: For our listeners and viewers, if you’ve just joined us, we’ve got Brian Coupland with us today. He’s a senior vice president of retail merchandising at Staples. To find Brian and all of his colleagues and what they’re doing at Staples, please go to Brian, you are doing something fascinating and unique, as are some of your other important leaders at Staples. You actually straddle both wonderful countries, Canada and the United States. You live in Canada, but you work at headquarters in Massachusetts. Talk a little bit about the beauty of that, but also the challenges of that as well.

Brian: Yeah, so certainly from a beauty, certainly broadens your horizon. As much as the two countries are similar, there’s nuances that are slightly different in the culture. Anytime you have an opportunity to travel in general, we all know how exciting it is to expand knowledge of different cultures and sensitivities. So, certainly, I’m better for all of that. As it relates to the travel, you certainly need to understand what routines work best for any individual, but when most people get up in the morning and head to their commute, my commute’s just a little longer. It involves an airplane to be down here and then commute back at the end of the week. So, having kids and grandkids and all of that certainly is an exciting reason to be heading back for a weekend to fuel up and love with grandkids, as you and I spoke about before.

John: Right. I love it. I’ve had the honor, and it was an absolute honor to go look at one of your Staples 2.0 stores in Massachusetts, not far from your headquarters. I want you to share a little bit because it’s so fascinating that you’ve had an amazing career at Staples that now spans over 30 years. You were there for the beautiful rise of a small entrepreneurial brand from 30 to 300 in Canada and up to 1,000 now in the United States, 1300 stores. But now you’re in a new phase. This is almost, for lack of better terms, the Staples 2.0. Your innovation, I could see you leaning in now to your innovation roots in that the store looks much different than it did 10 or 15 years ago. Can you share a little bit about recycling and what you’re now focused on in terms of Staples 2.0 and the new version and the better version of Staples that you’ve created for the future?

Staples - So Many Ways To Recycle

Brian: Yeah, I’d be happy to. Anyone in retail understands the importance of change with various dynamics that are happening. Certainly, when we look at the core components, John, that has been disruptive and certainly as it relates in our business supporting small business, I would say there’s two primary that has fueled the need for change and transformation, as you noted. Number one, there was a day when you’re starting a small business, and you look around your office, John, I’m looking behind you at your very busy office and all the books and papers and printers and binders and all that, all of those things that a small business would need 15 years ago, for example, to launch their small business, if you made a list of the top 20 things to start the business, we carried all of those and then some. Over time, a significant change happened with the digitalization. So, in fact, now there’s only one item you need to start a business, and it’s this item here.

John: That’s right.

Brian: So that’s pretty disruptive. If you’re an innovator, that’s a big challenge, but also a real creative challenge. So, understand what’s our response to all of that. Didn’t happen, certainly overnight, and there’s certainly a tremendous amount of business that relies on all of those core supplies, but you ought to be thinking a lot every day about evolution and new opportunities. So, that’s number one. Of course, the second one is the migration of the efficiencies and benefits of shopping online.

John: Right.

Brian: Certainly, with our partners at and that omni approach, for sure that’s a solution and best solution all are offering with As a retailer, fueling that challenge is understanding and thinking about every customer and really asking a tough question, why would someone want to come to a retail store for this?

John: Right.

Brian: Coming to a retail store in general, and that starts to fuel really some exciting opportunities for change. So, back to your question in our conversation in our Bellingham store in Massachusetts. So, if you start to look at some of the things that look and feel different about the store, one key thing is when you start talking about customer’s needs and opportunities and some things that can’t be fulfilled online, regardless of how great your online experience, they’re just some things that are physical.

So, when you start to think about those, there are some pretty exciting opportunities that we’ve doubled down on and taken advantage of that. So, if you look at opportunities, and let me just talk about services for a moment, and the kinds of things that become really difficult to achieve that solution online, and it’s really driving a significant amount of new incremental traffic and many times incremental customer to our business. So, when you think of the kinds of things as it relates to returns, which is just part of our lifestyle now, we purchase things, storing online with all of that, now you have to return something.

John: Right.

Brian: Where do you go for that? So, whether you bought something Old Navy or Gap or Amazon and multiple others, so our rich partnership with many of our providers when it comes to the process, now where do I go to return this? We’re a key partner for returns for so many of those brands and many more I just mentioned. So, that is bringing so many customers in and with a lot of frequency to experience our brand in our retail stores for the first time, and with our great retail teams in store to be communicating. Every time there’s an opportunity, we’d like to incent- to reward that customer to explore in the store with offers as well.

So, that would be an example. Another example I would use, we’re actually the largest TSA precheck provider in America. [Crosstalk]. It’s something we’re very proud of. So, if you line up that experience, John, and you look at TSA precheck, we’re one of the largest providers of passport photo, expedited passport, and then for your trip, travel products, you need travel accessories, and of course luggage. You put all those together and now we’ll talk a little more about, what I’m very excited about is luggage recycling. You bundle that together and you say, well, where else can I get that? I’ll be pretty confident, I say, right now it’s just us.

John: That’s true.

Brian: Now you put all those factors together. So, you continue to look for ways that provide solutions, services, products together that marry up beautifully, that have a gap in the marketplace, and there’s a need for the customer. So, whether you’re a small business traveling, you’re a consumer at traveling, we have those solutions for you. What I just mentioned altogether, you can’t achieve that solution online. Physically, you have to be in a store for some of those services that I noted. So, those are just some big examples that we’re really excited about as we transform our brand in our store for the future with all of these new services and a great segue to the importance of recycling. So, something we’re incredibly passionate about, and we’re going to unpack that in just a moment.

But it is something, again, for recycling and our portfolio of offerings. It’s just ones that there’s a gap in the market, and particularly where we’re focused, John, it’s solutions for a small business solution for the consumer. But at the heart of it, it’s really, frankly a little bit more difficult to recycle items that it’s not so easy. There’re great solutions for your bottles, cans and cardboard, and paper that all of us do at home. But we’re focused on some of the ones that are a lot more difficult, which we’ll get into. We’re pretty good at the stuff at home. I think I mentioned to you we’ve got quite a process in my household. So, I’m passionate about it but as I said, the CEO of recycling at my house is my wife and very strict protocols, John, I should tell you. If I don’t follow those protocols exactly, I hear about them.

John: A little shout out for Canada. I’ve been so many times to Canada on both pleasure and business both to the east coast and the west coast, and it’s been just always my experience that it’s been ahead of us in the United States in terms of cultural, circular economy behavior, recycling behavior, and just very sensitive to all environmental issues. Canada’s been leading the way for many, many years on these issues.

Brian: Yeah. Well, thank you for that. What I would say is, it’s again, working and lived in both countries, I get the best of both worlds, all the great things that I think that America’s just such a leader in so many areas. Of course, there’s a big part of my heart, of course, in Canada and many things you just noted. So, it really is certainly broadened my sensibilities for sure.

John: Well, Brian, when I’ve had a chances to visit with you in person, I’ve heard your vision and your vision, without giving away any secret sauce today or without sharing too much, I’d love you to share a little bit about your vision on how you are looking at this holistically, recycling holistically from not only the brands that you carry in your stores, the great brands that you carry in your stores across United States, but then also, like you said, picking sectors that typically have been marginalized and there’s really not a lot of solutions.

Luggage is a great one. By the way, I have many employees now that are thrilled and have gone to Staples and have used your TSA pre-check enrollment program because it’s easy. You make it so simple, and there’s always a Staples in a neighborhood flows by. It’s hard to go get the TSA precheck otherwise, and it’s out of the way, and airports are tough to deal with as are others. So, you’re creating solutions that not necessarily have ever existed in the marketplace before.

Brian: Yeah, it’s a great call. I guess the highest level, John, there’s two things, we identify the opportunity, customer first and where’s that opportunity? And then part of it, and something that we work very hard at is how do we make it easy and convenient for the customer? Very, very important. Because if it becomes too difficult, and I’ll talk about a couple of those that I think have been difficult in the past, that we think we’re excited about the potential unlock, which is right for the customer, and of course, it’s so beneficial to the environment. I just want to underscore that.

John: Sure.

Brian: The other part of that, John, that I think is important in all of this is to help incent the customer to be doing the right thing for the product, the circular economy, the environment, and that is reward them. So, we’re really excited about everything that gets dropped off and recycled. Not only do we not charge, but we want to reward the customer. In fact, we’ll continue to offer those rewards every month to the customer. So, we’ve got customers who are very excited to take full advantage of it, and we love it. The monthly trip they come in and recycle, and we can continue to reward these customers proudly for coming in and partnering with us in the recycling efforts.

So, that part for us is extremely important. If we look at some of the portfolio, I’d love to be able to share and unpack with some of those, John, that I think we’re excited about. Certainly, the one, and you mentioned, our partnership for 15, 16 years is one that we’re certainly thrilled with from a recycling and over that time, it’s very significant in terms of what together, what we’ve done for e-waste. So, over 200 million pounds of e-waste and building every month that goes by, keeping that out of landfill and also recycling it with your great team in the most sustainable way is just been something that’s been incredible and something we’re so proud of.

John: But Brian, not only are we honored and proud of that relationship, but I just have to say this, I remember early days sitting in your headquarters with my entire team, with your leadership team, and back then, 16 years ago, you were considered such a maverick brand. To step out and give away the retail space for a box for recycling was considered a big taboo in the retail industry. But you guys stepped out first and wanted to take care of the environment and the communities that you did business in, and like you said, 200 million pounds, the numbers speak for themselves over those 16 years. But it’s so fascinating how what went from a taboo in the retail industry, you’ve turned into a total asset and opportunity now with all the different verticals you’re about to launch in the months ahead. I find that just a fascinating business and case study.

Brian: Yeah. Thanks for that, John. I think what’s exciting is we continue to look for opportunities and unlock new ones.

John: Right.

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Brian: Another one that we’re so proud of that we’ve had for a number of years in the last 10 years, over 250 million ink and toner cartridges.

John: Wow.

Brian: So, you can imagine that kind of volume heaven forbid, that goes into a landfill. What’s absolutely fascinating is working with our partners and you walk through their facility and you just see from being received all the way through and where this is put back in the world, it’s so interesting. Some of the corrugated boxes that you see in your daily life at various places, and you see them printing on the outside, most of that is residual from what looks like an empty cartridge being flushed. So, that’s reused or some of the core components of the plastics. That’s part of asphalts in the state of California. There’s just so many exciting things when you understand where it’s going versus landfill and it’s being used and the value it offers.

John: Well, 98% of the electronics that came back, those 200 million pounds, the steel, the aluminum, the copper, the gold, the silver, and the plastic goes all back to the circular economy. Even Staples had asked us, because you’re an OEM as well, about eight or nine years ago, you would ask us to parse out some of that plastic and sell it back to your manufacturers, could go into your new equipment. So, Staples has been also not only supporting recycling by receiving it, but also helping fuel the circular economy by putting the recycled plastic back into your new OEM materials, which again, is very circular and where the world seems to be going right now.

Brian: Right, right. Totally. You expanded that just the traditional e-waste as you think for your old printer, your old laptop, but you think about other things. I’m pretty sure if you pull open a few drawers in your office, you can find the old cable that just doesn’t get used as much. We certainly do those as well. John, I want to talk one that you and I have been having a lot of conversations, really excited: batteries.

John: Yeah.

Brian: One that we think is just a huge opportunity. What I’m most fascinated by is we started off in understanding a bit of design thinking from what happens from the time each consumer, we all go through it, go to the battery, no longer works, we take that battery out of our device, and then, okay, what happens now? Let’s follow that battery all the way through. We engaged a very exciting program with the folks at MIT who really did some very, very interesting research with consumers. What we together found is there’s a range of outcomes that typically happen, and I would say most of them aren’t good. So, it just speaks to an opportunity. So, there’s folks that have the best intention.

John: Right.

Brian: They gather up the batteries. So, whether it rolls around in your junk drawer or some have their ziplock system and they throw in the ziplock bag. What tends to happen after that was some of them wait a once a year activity from their local facility in their town that opens it up for a special day.

John: Right.

Brian: Between now and then, people aren’t necessarily sure what to do. We did speak to a number of folks and they were a bit reluctant. They did say, well, I throw in the garbage. I probably know that’s not the right thing. I don’t know what to do with it.

John: Absolutely.

Brian: I don’t know where to go or what to do with it. So, it was very clear, we have to help this. Very clear we need a better solution and we need to create some awareness. The other thing that we did learn that we can help them with an at-home battery storage solution. So, for a limited time, we’re going to be launching at various times a year, and we hand those out for free, that really talk to customers as to how to store them safely with instructions, what to do with them to help customers out.

So, we’ll be launching that. We’ve done some initial pilots, very good response, but there was a really big opportunity. When we connected with a customer through the research and there was great enthusiasm of an easy solution, and you noted about our footprint being really some terrific geography in all cities through the country. So, it makes it very easy to come in recycle. Again, we reward our customers. There’s no fee and we reward them for their recycling efforts with the batteries.

Of course, we’re working very closely with you and your team, John, as to where it leaves from our facility to yours at really, really exciting time. So, that is one. We’ve done some initial pilots. We’re looking at doing something exciting and earth month coming up right around the corner. The customer responses have just been tremendous, which tells me there’s a pent-up demand and need. I’m so thrilled to be leading a team that’s going to offer the customers and help create a needed solution, frankly, in the marketplace.

John: I so agree with you. Nice news about batteries, again, both alkaline and lithium ion batteries. Again, when responsibly recycled and not in a landfill or a lake or anywhere else inappropriate, not about 98% or so of that battery can go back into the circular economy. Again, that’s a massive difference as opposed to the inappropriate disposal of these things, which is historically, as you said Brian earlier, that’s been going on because they just avoided in the marketplace and a lack of knowledge of what to do with this stuff.

Brian: Exactly. Exactly. So, we’re really excited by that one. Some additions, we’ve launched as cell phone and tablet cases. We’ve got a solution with the revs on phones. We all have several cases, and what happens doesn’t fit again, we can assist with [inaudible] with that. Another one that it’s one of those, it should be us, is we recycle a range of writing tools. So, think of pens, pencils, markers, crayons again would be the solution for that. What’s exciting as well for me is when you think about luggage, and that’s another one. So, when you think of your last purchase of luggage and you say like, what did you do with your old? Most people, the answer I get is, well, you put it in the garbage, it goes in the landfill.

John: Right.

Brian: We can help with that, and we’ll reward you into a beautiful Samsonite or American tourist or pick your piece of luggage that we can support you with. But along with that is backpacks. Between backpacks, you talk about writing. I’ve been so excited to be part of so many years of that tradition that happens with families and kids going into the new school year. It’s been certainly an exciting time of year when that happens in our stores.

Now we can offer that solution when families get together, plan about the next school year, gather their old and tired and used supplies for school and bring it all into us. Now with the youngest generation being so passionate advocates of recycling, which is just beautiful, to bring it into us. We’ll recycle all your old supplies, all that stuff, and we’ll reward you to get into your new, fresh, exciting school supplies to get ready for the new year. So, again, that for us is just really, really exciting.

John: Brian, now that you got us all excited about this, tell us a little bit about your vision for the rollout in the United States. When can we expect the Bellingham store that I got to see and had the greatest time in and was just unbelievably amazed by, when does that come to a neighborhood near us all?

Brian: Yeah, for sure. A lot of them we have in neighborhoods today. We have a battery program today, and one that we are really taking the next big step, and we’ll be launching that nationwide in April. That is going to be something very, very exciting and we’ll be making a lot of noise. You hear a lot more about that. E-waste we have in every store in the country. In Canton Recycling, we have in every store in the country, all the writing tools I said, we have it in every store in the country.

So, we really have a lot of robust. The activity right now we are piloting and we’re working towards in June having luggage recycling everywhere in the country as well as backpacks. There’re new things that we’re looking at, we just actually launched. Again, when you look at our portfolio, we provide a lot of solutions to small business thanking their customers as well as consumer when it comes to holiday cards. So, you can imagine how many holiday cards we send, we receive and all that. Then when it’s done, we encourage customers to bring their old in to us. We’ll recycle, we’ll take care of those, and we also give them 75% off next time they need. It’s a pretty good incentive, pretty good incentive to keep that flow happening, and then we will help the customers with that. So, that’s just one example.

John: But again, so you’re giving holistic solutions. You’re not only asking people to come in and make a little pit stop in one of their local journeys, but you’re rewarding them to come in. Two of the greatest pillars of good recycling that my board of directors is always asking about, like, how could we get more people to do more recycling? One is ease, making it convenient. So, obviously, Staples is convenient with a thousand stores in a thousand communities across America, and b, you’re rewarding them. Those are two of the four pillars right there. I think you’ve got a winning program on your hands.

Brian: Yeah, thank you for that. Also, we don’t stop there. You mentioned Mike a couple times, and we’re always challenging Mike to look for new opportunities and a couple that we’re in the process of piling to learn more. One is eyeglass, which we do for readers.

John: I love that.

Brian: Then another one that I think is really exciting is we sell Lego and if you look at so many houses, how many Lego we have, and then it’s all fine but you don’t have a user, so you can bring the Legos in. We’ll bring those back into circulation, sterilize, clean them all up. We think there’s great opportunities to help the less fortunate, help sick kids. So, we think it’s a great thing just to put that back at no charge back to people who could really use that. So, we also think that there’s also benefits to our communities for taking in and reusing and putting it back to help others. So, we’re also really motivated by that cause as well, John.

John: That is just amazing. I’ve learned a lot from you, Brian, in person, and then of course on this interview. Go back to your Canadian roots and share with our listeners and viewers, what you taught me about a musky. What is a musky and how does that relate to your vision board at Staples on what you’re trying to accomplish with Staples 2.0 and the Bellingham version of Staples that you’re going to bring all across the United States soon.

Brian: Yeah, you’ve got a good memory. The terminology of musky, I guess it’s a fun Canadian way to talk about in business. So, the next big idea, or sometimes referred to as a whale, and that musky is, two things I would say about it. It is a very big fish. For those people who ever thought about it or in the terms of fishing for a fish, it’s a very, very difficult fish to catch. So, they call it a fish of a thousand casts. So, it’s a very difficult one. So, the context that we were having conversation with is at any given time any leader of a business there’s obviously focusing on success of the day-to-day business, but we all have to be thinking of the horizon and what’s next and what’s new and what other big ideas.

The reality of having ideas some take root and grow to be something big, bold, and strong, that’s the next level of your business and sometimes it just doesn’t work. But the fact is, you need enough of these ideas to foster and support and grow when something takes root. So, any given time, we have a number of ideas that are in the pipeline at various stages, and the bigger ones we observe we call those muskies. So, that’s a bit of the context. All business leaders would have those. We just have some fun with [crosstalk] a bit of context there.

John: I love it. I love it so much. Well, you made reference to my office, and this is my real office. This is the real artwork behind me that I’ve always had. It wasn’t set up for Zoom, that’s my wife there. That was about 18 years ago. My two children there. Then this is all the books and stuff I’m prepping for, for other interviews. Now, in the back though, that’s my sort of wall of fame of all the greatest hits of what got our company to where we are. So, I’m going to just show you something. I’m going to get up and I’m [crosstalk]

Brian: I see something in the background, John. I’m pretty sure I know what it is.

John: I’m going to bring them over. Here we go. Here they are right here.

Brian: There it is. The old Easy button.

John: They still work.

Brian: Right. Do you want to know the story on that?

John: Yes, of course. I want to know the story. I would love to hear the story on that.

Brian: Well, here’s the insider.

John: Yeah.

Brian: We always go through the business in terms of the next opportunity. At the time I recall that this is a lot of years ago now, I recall it being perhaps the biggest research dive we did with our small business customers to understand where we have opportunities to better support them and to provide better solutions. Really what came out of that was and I still remember the readout of that research, and they were just consistent themes how busy they were, long hours they’re work and just the demands that I just so respect entrepreneurs and small business owners. But the one theme was just how busy there were.

If there’s anything in life that helped make their life easier, just make it easy. Just make it easy. They would come up in verbatims across everything. So, that became a foundational change for us as a brand. It was an internal activity as we needed to make it easier for the customer so that it didn’t matter where you worked in the brand. You were going to cashier at the front, you’re the CEO, and everything in between. What are the things that we need to do to think of that customer and how do we make their lives easier? So that was a whole transformation at that time in terms of how we did, how we operated for the customer.

We heard it from the customer over and over again. So that was a component, and then when our clever folks in the marketing said, okay, so externally once we certainly have our house in order and we’ve made the changes to be able to work[?], how do we let our customers know? You could still YouTube, and there was the undercurrent of humor in there. There were very clever commercials around Easy. So, the whole situation would be super complex and there’d be someone who’s not in a position to be doing any surgery, hit the Easy button and there was a whole lot, and there’s a series of them, and they were incredibly funny. I thought they were very well done.

John: What year approximately was that? What year was that approximately?

Brian: Boy. I’m going to say, would’ve been about 15 years ago.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Brian: Maybe 15 years, around that time. But what was so interesting is we had the Easy button in the commercial. We didn’t sell it, didn’t offer it, it was just, it was a bit of a prop in the commercial.

John: Right.

Brian: So, it was a bit of a prop. Then we had outpouring of customers saying, hey, where do I get one of those? Oh, no, we just, for the commercial, we don’t do that. Then other people were creating this from the commercial and commercializing that and selling them for revenue. So, that was going on for a while. Well, customers keep asking, well, probably something we should carry. There’s, I guess, some demand out there. So, we created the Easy button, and I’d be grasping at my memory bank right now on how many we sold. The number [inaudible] pretty staggering and all that money went to the Boys & Girls Club of America.

John: Now, that story’s amazing. Now that’s [crosstalk]

Brian: So, it’s something that just makes me really feel great and the time in Canada was the Canadian Special Olympics. So, just two wonderful causes, and all that revenue it was given back, but we didn’t sort of set up selling Easy button. It came from the customers, then other people selling, hang on. If someone’s going to sell it, it ought to be us.

John: Of course.

Brian: The outcome of that I thought was very good, but kind of a neat story, though.

Staples - So Many Ways To Recycle

John: I love that story. I love it. Brian, I love what you’re about to launch at Staples. I can’t wait for the launch. I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting moments in US history when it comes to recycling, because again, I get to go to all these recycling conferences. There was just one last week in Phoenix and so much was discussed about the importance of recycling and the circular economy, but the inability for consumers and citizens of the United States to find great solutions. There you are going to be now one of the great solutions, one-stop shops for recycling so many hard to recycle items. I think it’s going to be a massive success in the months and years ahead.

Brian: Yeah, thanks so much. I gotta tell we can’t do it without you, John, and our great recycling partners. So, we’re really proud of the relationships we have and we know that it’s got to be a partnership together. Again, we couldn’t be doing this great work without and your team and just great partners to work with.

John: The Feelings Mutual. He’s Brian Coupland of Staples. To find Brian and all his great colleagues that are about to roll out one of the most exciting recycling programs in the United States, please go to From Legos to luggage and batteries and electronics and everything else in between, they’re going to make recycling easy. Thank you so much, Brian. Not only for spending an hour with us today, but thank you and to all your colleagues at Staples for making the world a better and more sustainable place.

Brian: Thank you so much, John. It’s been inspiring to spend time with you, as always. Thank you, my friend.

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 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