Ron Jarvis is the chief sustainability officer for The Home Depot, responsible for aligning the company’s business strategy with social, environmental and sustainability objectives. He will appear at NRF 2021: Retail’s Big Show – Chapter 1, speaking about building authentic relationships through social responsibility initiatives.
Ahead of the virtual event, Jarvis spoke with NRF about The Home Depot’s commitment to sustainability.
How long has The Home Depot been focusing on sustainability?
We’ve been leading the industry in sustainability efforts since 1991, when we began work with Scientific Certification Systems to have our suppliers validate any environmental claims for their products. In 1994 we were the first national retailer to carry Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood products, and in 1996 we won the President’s Award for Sustainability from President Clinton for our efforts. This was 24 years ago, when very few retailers had sustainability on their radar.
In 1999 we set the nation’s first wood purchasing policy to protect endangered regions and promote certified wood, and in 2007 we created our Eco Options program to help consumers easily choose products with less environmental impacts.
What are your current top sustainability projects?
A few years ago, our direction to our merchants pivoted. We said, ‘Let’s not focus on buying “green” products, let’s “green” the products we buy.’ We review the environmental impact of each of our major industries and work with merchants and suppliers to reduce those impacts, which vary by industry. Some industries may focus on forestry, while others’ main impact may be chemical exposure or carbon emissions.
What has 2020 been like for you?
It’s been a challenging year. As the early COVID-shelter days brought a large decrease in sales and production, sustainability initiatives in certain industries were put on hold. Then, as homeowners began to transfer their commute time to home-improvement time, many manufacturers found themselves scrambling just to keep their orders complete and delivered.
Throughout the manufacturing stress cycle, we stayed in constant contact with our suppliers to maintain our sustainability initiatives for innovation, certification and reduced impacts.
What do you see as the next big sustainability area for retail?
The major retail environmental impacts are carbon emissions (manufacturing, transport, use), chemical exposure, forest depletion, and waste. I believe that one of our collective efforts must be on reducing scope 3 transportation/distribution emissions. We have been very successful in reducing our transportation emissions though cube optimization and route utilization. The electricity grid continues to get cleaner, which strengthens the case for fleet electrification.
The other major collaboration effort should be protecting large carbon-sink forests like the Amazon and Congo Basin. We have strengthened our wood purchasing policy to define these two vital areas as highly restricted harvest zones.