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WomanOf the Month 9-06: Mary Jo Lockbaum, Environmental Sustainability Manager, Corporate Express
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A mix of biology and business degrees led Mary Jo Lockbaum to a niche in the growing movement among corporations and other entities to “green” their businesses. She describes her job as “ensuring that what we’re doing today is beneficial for future generations.” The most rewarding aspect of her work as an “eco change agent,” as she puts it, derives from having people come up and thank her for implementing alternatives that save energy, for example, or inspire individuals to make changes at home. “How else can you effect that kind of change,” Lockbaum asks? “I just provide the means.”

Lockbaum’s love of the outdoors was nurtured in the natural setting where she grew up in the woods on a lake in Wisconsin. She then attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis where she earned her degree in biology and her MBA from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

She interned at Northern States Power Co., now Xcel Energy, working on low-level radiation and hazardous waste disposal projects. She also became familiar with the regulatory burden corporations faced. She then worked in environmental consulting, one of her favorite jobs thanks to its variety, for about six years. Her work there focused on pollution prevention, stormwater best management practices, and ISO 14001 implementation and auditing, which were just getting started at that time. “ISO 14001 involved helping clients go beyond compliance and incorporate environmental compliance into everyday decisionmaking. I found it interesting that companies with a substantial regulatory burden, with a staff of perhaps 40 people working on compliance, wanted to go beyond that—I really enjoyed it.apostrophe

Next came a stint in software development, a move to Colorado and the job with Corporate Express, which shifted over several years from a focus on ISO 14001 toward sustainability. “My background in science, in regulatory compliance and in business helps me every single day on the job,apostrophe says Lockbaum. “It would be a different job if I didn’t have a good understanding of organic chemistry, economics, etc.apostrophe

Today, more companies are incorporating sustainability into decisionmaking, says Lockbaum. “We’re starting to see a shift away from “greenwashingapostrophe, which is just saying that they’re green but not really being green. Today sustainability is not just a program or a line item in a budget that could disappear, companies take it more seriously than that. It’s a way for them to go to business, a competitive advantage and a way to put a belief system into play. I call this the “green/green mixapostrophe—because it works both from an environmental and from a financial perspective.apostrophe

Lockbaum points to the commitment of giant companies such as GE, Citigroup, Toyota, and BP whose environmental agendas are an indication of the movement’s permanence.

While Corporate Express’s founder had an environmental vision from the start of the company, today the company’s sustainability initiatives are more widespread and formalized. “I help people understand the need both externally and internally for doing the right thing environmentally,apostrophe says Lockbaum. “Some people see barriers to sustainability—it may be the stock price in terms of cost of the activity, it may be the consumer who says recycled paper is too expensive. We help those and others, including suppliers, see the light in terms of what we want to stand for as a company.

In-house, Corporate Express captures its recyclable and compostable waste. Information about recycling is included in employee orientation, signs around headquarters and via programs throughout the year. On Earth Day, over 130 cubic yards of compost were unloaded in the parking lot for employees’ use. The company’s supplier initiative stance supports companies who practice and encourage sustainable forestry management, and spells out Corporate Express’ desire not to purchase products derived from endangered forests; illegal wood purchases are also prohibited in contracts with paper suppliers.

“I also talk to customers about how we can get around what they perceive as a price premium for being green. I implemented a default copying initiative at headquarters and all our North American locations so that our machines default to double-sided paper. With a portion of the money saved, we buy recycled paper. I can take that example to customers and tell them about it and see the light go on about how they can do what they want from an environmental perspective and also from a business perspective.apostrophe

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) is a timely topic for many of Corporate Express’ customers. An Executive Order issued in the Clinton era requires many governmental entities to give consideration to environmentally preferable products when making purchasing decisions. When individuals are attempting to sort through claims of environmental benefit for products, Lockbaum recommends they visit the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/epp, where there is a database of manufacturers of Environmentally Preferable Products. Corporate Express marks EPP products as such in its catalog. Lockbaum also encourages customers to call their vendors and “pick their brainsapostrophe about such items. If companies want to get the most bang for the buck from sustainable buying, they had best take a look at their entire operation first. Putting all their needs together may offer the most savings. “You need to examine your product mix and internal practices in using the products,apostrophe says Lockbaum.

Ironically, this woman so dedicated to the environment lives in Weld County, Colorado, an area that does not yet have what she terms the most basic building block of sustainability--recycling. And yes, it does grate on her. “Weld County needs to enforce their law that requires them to support recycling through a portion of their county landfill tip fees,apostrophe she says. “I live on a small farm with dirt roads but at least where people have curbs, there should be mandatory curbside recycling.apostrophe In the meantime, she takes her recycling into a center in town but wonders how many do the same.

When she is not recycling, Lockbaum tends to her cat, her 50-plus-year-old house, and pursues hiking, skiing and gardening.