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Procurement of Display Units as an Opportunity for Improved Sustainability in Stores

August 25, 2014

The Challenge

Best Buy has more than 1,000 stores in the United States, all of which have many in-store displays. In 2012, the company partnered with the Center for Sustainable Procurement (CSP) to explore ways that it could improve its procurement process for displays and define the criteria for making them more sustainable in the future.

The display lifecycle intersects a range of functions at Best Buy, from design and vendor management to store operations and disposal, making it a useful test case. Additionally, this work was well-aligned with the company’s commitment to reduce its stores’ environmental impacts and with earlier efforts to ensure that all Best Buy displays comply with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) requirements to reduce toxic emissions from composite wood products.

From the beginning, Best Buy expected that supplier engagement would be essential to support the development of more sustainable displays, whether through validating and implementing design choices or helping to identify options for preferable components at competitive prices. Internal supporters for this work included the procurement lead responsible for sustainability and the sourcing manager responsible for construction and displays, as well as senior leadership responsible for sustainability and corporate responsibility across the company.

CSP identified several challenges, including educating both staff and vendors about the desired sustainability improvements, unclear incentives for change, unknown cost implications of changing display components, and limited information about the sustainability, availability, and durability of alternative components.

Our Strategy

CSP interviewed key internal stakeholders and decision-makers related to display procurement and management and researched the materials used in displays to understand the options for environmentally preferable alternatives.

Through this analysis, CSP identified a set of opportunities across the lifecycle of displays, starting with design, vendor selection, manufacturing, and deployment and carrying through to in-store use and display end of life. CSP then recommended that Best Buy gather information from select suppliers and outside experts about environmental opportunities and areas where suppliers are considering the environmental impacts of display materials. These discussions would be designed to identify current activities and to clarify specific opportunities for short-term actions to improve the procurement process or displays themselves.

CSP also recommended that Best Buy investigate targets or preferences for more sustainable materials, principally focused on availability and cost, while also documenting other sustainability benefits or concerns. One example of implementation might be setting specific component goals, such as making sure that at least 75 percent of all the wood and wood composite components used in its displays is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Another example could be working with existing suppliers on methods to meet sustainability targets and including these targets in procurement criteria with new suppliers through the request for proposals (RFP) process. Best Buy could also establish a time line for making these shifts in display procurement.

Our Impact

This research led Best Buy to engage directly with its key suppliers of metal and wood-based displays to execute the recommendations. In discussions with them, the company found that several suppliers were already addressing potential improvements, including:

  • Light-weighting of display components (design enhancements to reduce materials while retaining structural integrity)
  • Use of recycled content
  • End-of-life recovery of electronic components in displays
  • Use of environmentally preferable materials and techniques in transport packaging

By engaging directly with suppliers, Best Buy learned about product improvement opportunities and began realigning its goals to account for them.

However, it was unclear whether it was feasible to make immediate changes to display materials or disposal processes. While some options or activities, such as light-weighting and improved packaging, help reduce costs and improve environmental impacts, other environmentally preferable options or activities, such as using FSC-certified wood or reusing components, are less immediately viable based on their cost. CSP recommended that Best Buy continue to explore these options because of their environmental benefits and their potential for positive business impacts.

Lessons Learned

Although this study did not uncover immediate opportunities for changes to displays, Best Buy now includes questions about relevant environmental issues in its display procurement process, which has resulted in deeper discussions with suppliers about their activities and possible, related sustainability opportunities. These discussions also have enabled Best Buy to emphasize to its suppliers how much the company values environmental sustainability, particularly in relation to the products it purchases.

The value of integrating environmental issues into supplier engagement for displays suggests that this approach could be applied in other areas at Best Buy. By regularly engaging with suppliers on specific sustainability opportunities, such as the use of FSC-certified materials, as well as posing open-ended questions about other opportunities for social and environmental improvements, Best Buy can identify new opportunities and act on them in the future.

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