Best Buy CEO: Sustainability is serious business

CEO Dunn predicts that within three years, consumers will come to expect total product stewardship services from the retail industry.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO - Best Buy is already the retail world's largest collector and handler of electronic waste, but that is not enough when it comes to its sustainability aspirations. Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn is pushing for the company to become the consumer electronics industry's leader in total product lifecycle management. Sustainability for Best Buy is a serious business opportunity.

"Product stewardship falls into our wheelhouse," said Dunn during his keynote address at BSR Conference 2011 here. "Our goal is to be the consumer electronics industry's leader across the entire span of the lifecycle."

Consumers may not be asking for e-waste or end-of-life services now, but they will become table stakes for the retail industry within three to four years, Dunn said. Retailers ignore this at their own peril, he suggested.

One of the most obvious expressions of that strategy is the company's fast-growing program for handling e-waste. "We are fully in favor of an electronic waste bill," Dunn said.

Best Buy customers can already arrange to take Best Buy-purchased products back to stores at certain points in their lifecycle, receiving some sort of prearranged value. Customer can bring most sorts of electronics devices into stores to have them recycled for free, and for a $100 fee Best Buy employees will come to your home and pick up bigger appliances or gadgets.

A primer on the Best Buy e-waste processing program:

Watch live streaming video from thebby at livestream.com

From an internal perspective, the focus on reducing waste has translated into an overhaul of the Best Buy brand packaging. So far, more than 3,300 tons of PVC and 2,500 tons of plastic have been removed, despite an initial concern that consumers wouldn't like the changes. "Believe it or not, people appreciate the fact that they don’t have to struggle with packaging anymore," Dunn said.

Another way that Best Buy hopes to participate is through new sustainability services that tap into its core businesses, such as a new home energy management service that it began piloting in three U.S. Best Buy stores this week in Chicago, Houston and San Carlos, Calif.

The Home Energy retail concept is centered on technology and services that help consumers assess their home energy consumption and then use technology to help manage power usage to their individual expectations.

In the press materials describing the service, Neil McPhail, senior vice president for the Best Buy new business customer solutions group, said:

“Through several small-scale experiments over the past two years, from home energy audits to installation of home charging stations for electric vehicles, we have learned there is real consumer interest in options to cut energy costs and use in their lives, particularly in the home. Our role is to help consumers make the most of the technology in their lives, and the Home Energy concept is our latest experiment that will demonstrate the knowledge and expertise of our employees, and how our brands and our channels can help consumers understand how to own, use, and maintain energy efficient technologies.”

The pilot dovetails with Best Buy's own heightened attention to building energy management, which it will address through technologies installed across its retail locations. Dunn said 400 stores will being using that technology by the end of 2011, with the balance of the retailer's network up and running by the end of 2012. These technologies will help Best Buy reduce both its energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 15 percent over time, Dunn said.

Over time, sustainability related initiatives such as these will help differentiate Best Buy from the competition, Dunn predicted, although in the future they are likely to become table stakes. The challenge is to find ways to incorporate these themes in ways that don't disrupt short-term results. If senior executives don't buy into these challenges, it might be time to show them the door, he said, because these changes require total team buy-in.

If there is one mistake that Dunn admits he has made in his 30 months as Best Buy's top executive, it is in underestimating the sow wheels of bureaucracy left to its own devices. "The game belongs to the quick," he said.

More posts from BSR Conference 2011:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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