Family office supplies company leading where others fail
Willow Aliento | 20 June 2017
Shifting politicians on climate change might be tough, but at least one family-owned company is showing the way.
Complete Office Supplies owned by Dominique Lyone, a refugee from Egypt following the Six Days War in 1967, has installed massive numbers of solar panels over his company’s three facilities in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and is now looking at sustainable procurement, with a plan to steer customers the same way.
The company’s installation of 1500 solar panels is a $1 million investment, generating more than 611 megawatt hours a year – 80 per cent of the total energy needs, reducing the operational carbon footprint by 532 tonnes a year.
Mr Lyone, the company’s managing director, said it was part of the strategy to become carbon neutral.
“Six years ago we wanted to become emissions free, but it was impossible to do without buying a lot of offsets,” Mr Lyone said.
“I am not a big fan of that.”
The solar, by comparison, is something visible, tangible and substantial, he said.
It will be around a 10-year payback, but Mr Lyone said it was a good thing to do for the planet.
Being privately owned helps.
The company’s staff like the idea that management is thinking long-term and they see an association between the solar and environmental thinking from the leadership team and company owners, he says.
“I used to look out my office window and see a big roof with sun on it, now I look out and see 1000 solar panels.
“We hope this inspires other organisations to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Mr Lyone said for public companies, this type of investment might be more difficult because “it is all about next quarter’s numbers”.
But more privately owned companies could be stepping up, he said.
The solar system was one of the biggest for installer SunConnect, its chief executive Mark Tuke said.
Mr Lyone said his company was also installing a large TV screen in its reception area so visitors and staff could see how much energy the panels are generating. This data will be live-streamed at the company website.
The next phase of this project will involve further investigation into battery storage and the ultimate goal is for its day-to-day operations to have zero impact on the environment.
Measures have also included being one of the first companies in its industry to achieve accreditation for environmental management standard ISO 14001:2004.
“This means that we comply with the standards that frame world best practices for businesses minimising environmental impact.”
The next step for the quality team is looking into ISO 20400 – the new sustainable purchasing standard – and seeing how that can be applied.
In its warehouses, sustainable practices include carton re-use, using cartons made from recycled materials, recycling plastic wrap from packaging and using large re-useable plastic tubs instead of cardboard boxes for some of its large clients.
It also operates its own printer cartridge take-back program, with cartridges recycled.
The offices have used passive design measures to maximise natural light and ventilation, with sensor lighting installed also to conserve energy. Priority is given to video conferencing to reduce travel.
Being environmentally responsible adds value to both the business, and to the environment, Mr Lyone said.
Helping customers go green
Beyond its own walls the company is also looking to encourage its customers to purchase more sustainable products across categories including office technology, office consumables, print and promotional items, catering, furniture, hygiene products, education supplies and cleaning products.
“We are in a market that is increasingly looking for environmental alternatives,” Mr Lyone said.
When it comes to the company’s core customers – big corporates and government departments – ethical and green products is one of the things they are demanding.
The business has been in operation for 40 years, and seen green come and go. In the 1980s, he said, recycled products worked really well as there was no sales tax on them, which gave consumers price equality with new products.
But when those concessions left the momentum “died”.
Now the big buyers are willing to pay a little more for an environmentally friendly product, and the increase in demand and subsequent increase in volumes is bringing prices down.
Currently, the company sells more recycled paper than the virgin kind. As demand for it has grown, the price difference has shrunk from 60 per cent more for recycled to 10 to 15 per cent.
“It is not a big gap,” Mr Lyone said.
To encourage people to make better choices, the company has a feature on its website where if a customer selects a particular product, and there is a greener or more ethical choice available, a pop-up will suggest it to them.
“Around 30 per cent of people take that up – it is not a lot – but it is better than zero.”
Where customers are deliberately looking for the good choices, the information on product credentials such as Fair Trade Certification or Good Environmental Choice Australia certification makes a strategic procurement process faster.
There is also a value add, he said, as the information about product credentials can be fed back into the customer firm’s own reporting on environmental processes and aligned with company or department corporate social responsibility objectives.
The checking of credentials is something he said the company puts a lot of resources into.
“One of the things with the increasing demand for green products, is it also brings in increasing greenwash.
“So our buyers, led by my daughter Belinda, go through quite a few things with suppliers so we are not just selling a story. So we know the product has green credentials not just green wash.
“There is an increasing amount of greenwash on the planet.”
As well as environmental considerations, the company is pro-actively looking to support Australian Indigenous businesses, and is an accredited member of Supply Nation, the government’s Indigenous business promotion initiative.
It is in a partnership with Indigenous-owned Sydney enterprise Muru Group. In addition to having the license to distribute its products, COS is also a joint venture partner, with Muru Group being the “customer front” and COS backing them up with infrastructure.
Why business can save us all
Mr Lyone says he has “been a bit of a greenie” since the 1970s.
“At our core, as a family, we think about sustainability into the future.”
“In the last 10 years we are seeing [environmental concern rise] because business is demanding it – and business is the biggest game on the planet.”
Business, he said, was more likely to drive the change we need than government policy.