Office Depot testing small store format with eco-twist

The retailer has downsized more than 40 U.S. stores to save energy and real estate expenses. Its latest one in Portland, Ore., features 900 products carrying green or sustainable branding.

Retail giant Office Depot is downsizing stores across the United States, as part of its strategy to reduce energy consumption and to highlight sustainable products that might be of interest to green-minded consumers.

The company's store in Portland, Oregon, is the latest to get one of these makeovers under the experiment -- and it is also the first store to feature a new green labeling brand from EPEAT, which rates computers and other technologies for a number of factors such as energy efficiency, materials choices and end-of-life disposal strategy.

That brand, called EcoSense, is the first consumer version of the EPEAT methodology used by many larger companies and government agencies to evaluate technology for environmental credentials. The rating system covers desktop computers, integrated systems, workstations, monitors, laptops and (in the near future) printers, copiers and televisions.

"By creating smaller stores, we're reducing our retail footprint, our energy footprint and our carbon footprint, said Yalmaz Siddiqui, senior director of environment strategy at Office Depot. "In Portland, we are also helping customers reduce their environmental footprints by providing them with greener choices that are more readily accessible, including EcoSense. This store represents a new model for consumer engagement on sustainability."

Approximately 900 of the products carried by the store have some sort of environmental attribute.

For example, the Pilot B2P pens sold there are made from recycled water bottles and store-brand school notebooks are made out of sugarcane paper. In all, nearly 600 of the items include recycled content, and 40 of them are notable for their energy-efficiency metrics. There are 12 featured EcoSense notebooks and monitors, according to background information about the store format.

As a standard practice, all of the black and white copies produced by Office Deport are made on 30 percent post-consumer recycled paper.

When I spoke with Siddiqui about the new format earlier this week, he said the store's team received training about energy consumption issues, low-toxicity materials, recycling strategies and other sustainable business practices aside from the usual education that the retailer gives to its employees.

The company isn't planning a national rollout of the concept until it assesses how it works in the Northwest, although it is testing small-format stores in other markets.

The store itself is 7,000-square-feet in size and is staffed by 18 full-time and part-time employees, uses T5 lighting technology, which is approximately 30 percent more energy-efficiency than the options used in most retail environments and will probably result in an overall electricity consumption reduction of about 20 percent. The space was designed with an energy management system, it reuses store shelves and fixtures from especially, makes use of recycled content carpeting and was finished with materials that emit low levels of volatile organic compounds.

Office Depot is testing its new smaller stores in 11 cities, including Washington, D.C., Baltimore, St. Petersburg, Fla., and Hoboken, N.J. So far, approximately 41 of its stores have been transformed.

It should not be overlooked that going smaller isn't just greener, it will save money -- to the tune of about $100 million annually, according to previous management statements.

It is clear that Office Depot needs to rein in expenses: It just reported a second-quarter loss of $64 million compared with a loss of $29 million. Sales for the quarter fell to about $2.5 billion.

Image courtesy of Office Depot

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