Best Buy CEO: Sustainability is all about people

Best Buy’s in a tough business. The electronics giant ($50 billion in revenues in 2010) competes with Amazon, the best of the online retailers, and Walmart, the world’s biggest bricks-and-mortar retailer. The company’s shares have fallen lately.

What’s Best Buy’s competitive advantage?

It’s the people in the blue shirts, says Brian Dunn, Best Buy’s chief executive. “Our business is utterly dependent upon getting those 180,000 people aligned and moving forward,” he says.

This is why sustainability is important to Best Buy, the 51-year-old chief executive says. It’s about providing those people with opportunities, making sure they are heard and showing them that Best Buy cares about them and their values.

Brian gave the keynote speech this morning at the Boston College Corporate Citizenship Conference, which is being held in Minneapolis, Best Buy’s home town. We spoke briefly after his talk, which wasn’t your typical speech about sustainability or corporate responsibility. I don’t believe he mentioned the words “carbon footprint.” Instead he talked, in a personal way, about Best Buy’s people, their  aspirations, how they connect to sustainability and how he connects to them. [click to continue...]

CEO Dan Hesse: Sprinting towards sustainability

“People just want a cell phone,” Dan Hesse, the CEO of Sprint, told me. “They don’t care how green it is.”

“But we think they will over time.”

Is that sufficient reason to try to sell “green” phones, aggressively promote recycling and buy renewable energy?

“People want to do business with good companies,” Hesse says. “I want us to be thought of as a very good company.”

I met with Hesse last week in Washington to talk about Sprint’s environmental practices. They’re impressive.

You probably recognize Hesse. The 56-year-old chief executive has been starring in Sprint commercials for the past couple of years, touting the company’s “Simply Everything” plan which offers unlimited calling, text and email for one price. Sprint’s subscriber numbers have perked up a bit this year, but the company remains the No. 3 player in the cell phone industry (far behind Verizon and AT&T), with about 48 million subscribers and $32.3 billion in revenues. Its stock price is down by nearly 40 percent in the past two years, trailing rivals and the S&P500.

So Hesse, who has been CEO since the end of 2007, could be forgiven if he had shoved environmental concerns off the agenda.

To his credit, he hasn’t.

Sprint offers not one, but three environmentally-friendly phones–the Samsung Restore, which is partly made from post-consumer recycled plastics, the Samsung Reclaim, whose casing is made in part from bioplastics sourced from corn and the LG Remarq, which also uses post-consumer recyled plastic. Their chargers meet the EPA’s Energy Star standards and they all contain “low levels” of potentially hazardous chemicals (PVCs, BFRs, Phthaltes and Beryllim.).

Because of its aggressive promotion of recycling, Sprint’s collection rate for recycling and reuse of phones has climbed from 22% in 2007 to 34% in 2008 to 42% in 2009–about twice the industry average, according to Hesse. Like some electronics companies, Sprint now offers free recycling, not just to its own customers, but to anyone who has wireless phones, batteries, accessories and data cards that they no longer use, as part of a program called Sprint Project Connect. Proceeds, if any, go to charity. Better yet, a program called Sprint Buyback pays Sprint customers for their old devices, which are then either recycled or, more often, refurbished and reused. The company’s long term goal (2017) is to collect nine phones for every 10 that it sells. [click to continue...]

Best Buy: An emerging green giant

best_buy_5th_ave.home By now, everyone paying attention to the greening of corporate America knows about Wal-Mart’s sweeping sustainability programs. Big-box rival Best Buy has not been nearly as visible about its efforts to become more environmentally and socially responsible. But I recently visited Best Buy’s headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota, on assignment for FORTUNE, and came away impressed with what the $40-billion a year company has been doing.

My story, headlined Best Buy Wants Your Electronic Junk, appears in the current issue (December 7) of the magazine, as the latest in a series on FORTUNE 500 companies. This one showcases a corporate responsibility leader, and we settled on Best Buy.

Why, you may wonder? Predominantly because Best Buy is a pioneer when it comes to electronics take-back, which is the focus of the story. [click to continue...]