Sprint and Sustainability: A Passion for Paper

Swan’s Sphere of Sustainable Influence

It used to be said that an employee could work his way up the corporate ladder from the mailroom. Though it may seem that this is an unrealistic ambition in today’s competitive work environment, Keanon Swan proved it can still be done.

Twenty-five years ago, Swan began working for Sprint as an equipment operator, and today he serves as Manager of Strategic Partner Relationships & Postal Alliances for Sprint. In this capacity, Swan is responsible for print mail and paperless adoption strategies as well as supplier relationships. He also serves as co-chair of the Sprint Paper Leadership Council, a team comprised of key decision makers who buy paper on behalf of the company and its many business units.

Tree-Saving Strategies

It was exciting to learn about the changes in paper usage being made by Sprint, a company that has a rich history of paper innovation. Keanon helped Sprint implement its conversion from 20-pound paper to 18-pound paper, saving the company over $3M annually in postage costs. The company has also saved countless trees and hundreds of thousands of dollars by redesigning their bills to eliminate white space.

Sprint has partnered with environmental not-for-profit Canopy, an organization that specializes in collaborating with large-scale forest product customers to ensure sustainable supply chains. In 2012, Sprint eliminated the use of remit envelopes and began to use ecoEnvelopes, a unique technology that allows outgoing envelopes to be transformed into smaller envelopes for return mailing. This practice has not only saved Sprint over $500,000 annually in paper costs, it has also resulted in postage savings because the mailing is lighter in weight.

At this year’s Sustainable Brands conference, Sprint announced that it is launching a two-month pilot to test printing papers made with wheat straw. Sprint will be using paper made of 80% wheat straw and 20% wood fiber to send out about 2.5 million notices in August and September. If this trial proves to be successful, use of the new paper will significantly reduce the need for trees while also reducing pollution from wheat straw, which is typically burned.

Making Sustainable Change Happen

When we asked Swan about any challenges he’s faced in convincing leadership to buy in to suggested changes, he agreed that all of his efforts, like any project, have faced some barriers. In order to overcome these barriers, Swan said it is vital to ensure that proposals are not just emotional plays, but are backed up by quantifiable information. Secondly, you must create a winning business case. “You also can’t be afraid to take a risk, and or share the work you’re doing,” said Swan, “if you don’t tell your story, no one else will and then learnings from our experience can’t be shared.”

Three factors that always come into play in implementing change are intent, coordination and timing. For example, if a department wants to use a higher grade paper to support color, then Swan’s team needs to coordinate with them at that time with a solution to offset that decision, such as the possibility of switching to 100 percent recycled paper. If the change is cost-neutral, then implementation is an easy win. Fortunately, Sprint is committed to continuing its legacy of innovation, and since Swan’s team has had a number of past successes, the company has gained a lot of confidence with their decisions, making it easier to innovate.

Inspiring & Educating Others

Sprint is dedicated to education advocacy campaigns, with their first target being suppliers. Swan told us that Sprint’s internal mantra is “Sprint-inspired.” For example, Sprint brings suppliers in at least once every 18 months and teaches them how to report hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hoping to inspire them to institute their own corporate responsibility programs. Once that is accomplished, they hope that their suppliers can be convinced to inspire others in a pay-it-forward manner. Said Swan, “It feels great when you see a direct correlation to Sprint’s actions in the sustainable business actions of others.”

According to Swan, Sprint anticipates that we will see communications to raise consumer awareness of their efforts in the near future. This decision came about due to compelling results from a focus-group held to discuss their eco-Envelopes. The focus group participants were given the envelopes to examine, and at first the general consenus was, “Yeah, it’s just an envelope. We don’t get it.” But once the panelists were told about all of the environmental issues the envelope addressed, their attitudes took an immediate about-face. The feedback was essentially, “That was great, we didn’t know that! You should tell us more!”

Historically, we thought that consumers may not want the information because they might not understand it. But now we realize that if we educate consumers and create a compelling case, and if we can move them emotionally by what we’re doing, then telling them is a must.

Selflessness & Sustainability

Swan offers a great and selfless piece of advice for success in area of sustainability: get out of your own way and give the “what’s in it for me” to others. Find a win for others, and be willing to sacrifice yourself for others – that’s how you advance the ball. Said Swan, “My colleagues do it without hesitation, and it’s motivating that there’s no selfishness in the mix. We share, we don’t keep secrets. Get folks to rally around something and give them a responsibility to participate, and that opportunity turns into unwavering support.”

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