The ODP Corporation Demonstrates Commitment to People and Sustainability Every Day

The ODP Corporation makes a remarkable commitment to people, diverse suppliers and business customers, environmental sustainability, and communities – and it is backed by action. The in-depth programs and initiatives are all about prosperity for anyone interacting with the company.

-By Valerie Gomez

The ODP Corporation has four business units that give it remarkable opportunities to impact environmental sustainability through its company operations and supply chain and to empower its people and diverse suppliers. There is so much happening throughout The ODP Corporation it is difficult to adequately describe the massive ongoing daily effort the company puts forth toward meeting its sustainability goals. These goals are in the four areas of environment, social, governance, and prosperity, all supported by a culture of the 5Cs of Customer, Commitment, Change, Caring, and Creativity. Sharing insights are Carmen Deale, Sr. Program Manager of Supplier Diversity at The ODP Corporation and Zulema Ledesma, now the Director of Sustainability at Veyer Logistics and previously Sr. Manager of Sustainability at Office Depot. They each have responsibilities supporting ODP’s four business units. Living the culture and positively impacting the environment, people, and communities drives everything ODP does.

People, Planet, Prosperity

The ODP Corporation's operating companies are Office Depot, LLC; ODP Business Solutions, LLC; Veyer, LLC; and Varis, Inc. Briefly, Office Depot is the retail division that sells office products and computer equipment. ODP Business Solutions provides businesses with everything from workplace products and technology to solutions that help customers with their own sustainability goals through offerings such as The Green Book® and Diverse Supplier Digital Catalogs. Veyer specializes in B2B and B2C service delivery in distribution, fulfillment, transportation, global sourcing, and purchasing. Varis is focused on reimagining procurement by connecting buyers and suppliers through technology. Each unit is aligned with The ODP Corporation’s culture and environmental sustainability, people, and governance goals; supports DEI; grows supplier diversity; and contributes to communities. Since each unit has a different function, they have different opportunities to support The ODP Corporation’s 5Cs and four sustainability areas, while their combined efforts create a broader and more powerful synergistic impact.

People like Carmen and Zulema—through their inspiring enthusiasm for their work and the collective effort of all the associates (employees)—are making a measurable difference. Carmen oversees the supplier diversity program for The ODP Corporation and manages the program strategy and relationships with the supplier diversity council, business partners, and diverse and small business suppliers. She is also the lead person working with third-party diversity councils, like WBENC and NMSDC. Zulema supports all four business units within The ODP Corporation, setting the direction overall for environmental policies, defining sustainability metrics, and integrating a wide range of sustainability programs into all organizational functions. The ODP Corporation has approached its desire to care for the planet and its people by establishing four pillars of effort.

They are the environment (through eco-conscious products and greenhouse gas emissions reductions); social (through Associate Resource Groups or ARGs, employee diversity, and empowering minority entrepreneurship); governance (through supply chain audits and board diversity); and prosperity (through supplier diversity). Given ODP’s North American footprint, the company greatly impacts all four areas. Zulema describes the sustainability initiative as “a comprehensive and strategic approach that's aimed at minimizing environmental impact, but also promoting our social responsibility and honestly driving long-term economic value for shareholders and all stakeholders. And through our various sustainability programs and practices, which involve people, planet, and prosperity, we strive to achieve a more sustainable, resilient future for both the organization and the communities served.”

The supplier diversity program also impacts the four pillars. Carmen explains, “The supplier diversity program significantly impacts our diverse small business by including certified diverse and small business suppliers in our catalog. We actively support and promote the growth of these businesses. This exposure increases their visibility and provides opportunities to connect to potential customers, increasing sales and leading to business growth. Also, our diverse and small business supplier catalog is a resource for our internal sales team and external customers. It enhances the credibility and reputation of our diverse and small businesses as it showcases their business capabilities and expertise and our real commitment to diversity and inclusion. This helps them attract more customers, secure partnerships, and expand their reach in the marketplace.”

Enabling Opportunities for People and Businesses to Succeed

The ODP Business Solutions’ B2B Diverse Supplier Digital Catalog (sorted by product category) features small, minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, and LGBTQ-owned businesses. The various products are also marked as FSC, Greenguard, and Ecologo-certified products, and many others. This allows business customers to choose products that enhance their company’s diversity and sustainability programs. This is an excellent example of ODP's thoughtful approach to supporting small and diverse businesses and contributing to a more inclusive economy and resilient communities.

The ODP Corporation is a founding partner of the nonprofit initiative Elevate Together®, through a partnership with the National Urban League’s Entrepreneurship Centers and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The initiative supports Black and Hispanic small businesses with five or fewer employees through education, access to professional networks and platforms, and grants and in-kind product donations. NCR also supported Elevate Together in its founding year; since then, other companies have joined the effort. This program is set apart because very small businesses get more than a check.

Carmen explains, “Businesses get technical assistance with workshops, training, boot camps, and one-on-one counseling.” Zulema adds, “They get access to a network of other businesses and mentoring, so somebody with more experience can help them navigate many of the challenges that small businesses have. How do you manage accounting? How do you navigate the financial situation? How do you put up a website?” The Supplier Diversity Program supports the Elevate Together micro-niche businesses through mentoring, and sponsorship with Supplier Gateway Enhanced Digital (EDC) certification.

Established in 2018, the Associate Resource Groups (ARGs) are voluntary associate-led groups that foster empowering education, champion entrepreneurship, and strengthen communities through various volunteer and philanthropic initiatives. The 10 ARGs are critical in supporting and advancing The ODP Corporation's diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and sustainability efforts. Zulema explains, “We do a lot externally with supplier diversity and community investments, but we also want to ensure all associates feel included and have a safe workplace. The people in affinity groups are our allies and give people opportunities to learn from other cultures, learn new perspectives, and grow personally and professionally.” The ARGs are important to ODP’s culture.

The ODP Corporation’s #depotdifference initiative is a philanthropic investment supported by associates across the company. The associate volunteers in the various ARGs drive programs that benefit their communities. Zulema gives the example of the Start Proud!® program. “Every year, a student backpack bundling program gives away school supplies at assemblies (pep rallies) at Title I schools. It also celebrates teachers by giving them extra supplies and some money that they can use for their classrooms. We do other events like food drives, too.”

Going Green and Greener

The Greener Purchasing Program helps ODP Business Solutions customers reduce their environmental footprint, while reducing costs and increasing efficiency. However, ODP elevated its own sustainability internally. The Waste Diversion and EcoChallenge initiatives are good examples. “They are a true testament to the culture we created here at The ODP Corporation. These are the two initiatives everyone in our company can get behind,” says Zulema. “A few years ago, we realized our waste diversion rating was lower than we would like it to be. So, over the past three years, we increased our waste diversion, meaning we diverted more waste from the landfill, by either recycling, donating, or repurposing. In 2022, we achieved a 69% waste diversion rate.” The ODP Corporation has set a goal of achieving zero waste in 30% of its distribution centers by 2025. This gives associates throughout the company the ability to help drive sustainability across all four business units.

The Earth Month EcoChallenge is another engagement program focused on the collective impact of individual actions to reduce emissions. Held throughout Earth Month, employees participate in activities such as saving water, increasing sustainability learning, eating meatless or vegan meals, walking more, meditating and partnering with government agencies and sustainability programs. For example, 52 volunteers partnered with the City of Boca Raton and the Youth Environmental Alliance to remove and replace invasive species on the Southern Florida coastline with native species. “There are many different ways that science has identified and proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the way we change behaviors,” says Zulema. “It is a fun way for associates to get engaged and understand how every small change makes a big impact. We have various teams in the corporation that are part of this friendly competition, but we also compete against customers, suppliers, peers, and competitors.”

The ODP Business Solutions division developed the GreenerOffice™ Rating System to rate products in a “shade of green” based on their level of green attributes. There are three categories: light green, mid green and dark green. The green attribute categories include saving resources, using safer chemicals, and saving energy. There are also green eco-labels like BPI Certified Compostables, AP Non-Toxic, Energy Star, and Green Seal. ODP Business Solutions customers can shop for various products to support their specific sustainability interests.

Helping Diverse Suppliers Succeed Helps The ODP Corporation Succeed

The supplier diversity team also plays an enormous role in supporting the ODP culture of DEI and belonging. As mentioned, the team partners with various diversity councils, like WBENC and the NMSDC. The partnerships are leveraged for sponsorships for supplier development so suppliers can scale their businesses. Carmen explains, “We teach diverse suppliers how to present when they get in front of corporate America. They get the tools needed to develop and enhance their one-page capability statement. We also partner with WBENC to develop the supplier’s 90-second pitch. We participate in collegiate accelerator programs designed for entrepreneurs under 30 or just coming out of college.” There is clearly both a robust educational piece to diverse supplier education, and a solid effort to deliver what suppliers need for success. Empowering suppliers works both ways. They become a better partner with ODP, and ODP becomes a better partner with suppliers.

People are the Biggest Asset

The ODP Corporation empowers its people in many ways. Zulema says, “ARGs get professional development opportunities, and we also offer employees training, webinars, and Human Resources-led programs. Anyone can join an ARG and become a committee lead. That gives people the opportunity to engage directly with the CEO and other executives, where they can showcase their capabilities, passions, and ideas. The exposure is invaluable for career and personal growth.” The ARGs support ODP's 5Cs of customer, caring, commitment, change, and creativity.

Defining ODP is the crossover of principles. For example, there are 10 ARGs. The most recent one added in March 2022 was the SustainABILITY ARG. This ARG is focused on empowering people to think and act in a way that is more conscious of the environment, communities and 5C culture.

The company has earned numerous awards, including America’s Top Corporations for WBEs by WBENC, LGBTQ Business Equality Excellence Award by BEQ, and 50 Best Companies for Latinas to Work for in the U.S. by LATINA Style Magazine, and The ODP Corporation was recognized as a DEI Champion of the Year by the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for its Elevate Together initiative. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation gave ODP a Perfect Score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index.

Carmen Deale was named one of TOP 25 Women in Power Impacting Diversity by DiversityPlus Magazine. Carmen has also been nominated for Advocate of the Year by two different councils: the Florida State Supplier Minority Development Council (FSMSDC) and the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council (GMSDC). “Our environmental sustainability program earned the Safer Choice Partner of the Year Award by the EPA,” added Zulema. “This was huge because it was a collaboration effort that included the merchandising, sourcing, and environmental sustainability departments. We worked together to truly address a lot of our customer concerns when it comes to chemical management safety.” The sustainability program also earned the HP Partner of the Year Award from Hewlett Packard, and that also took a coordinated effort of people across functions.

Associates from all business units strengthen local communities, too, through volunteerism. Through its company-wide Day of Service and Season of Service initiatives, employees clocked 4,500 total service hours in 2022. One recent project this year was the continuation of a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club of America that revitalized 16 clubhouses in 15 markets.

Reorienting the Supply Chain

Like many companies, The ODP Corporation is reorienting its supply chain to meet the current trend to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. It is a strategic shift that Carmen sees as an opportunity to support diverse supplier growth and their ability to bring innovation to The ODP Corporation. She explains, “ODP is actively identifying and partnering with diverse suppliers with innovation and competitive capabilities. Through our program, the Supplier Diversity team provides support and resources to help diverse suppliers enhance their innovation capabilities. This includes training, mentoring, and collaboration opportunities.” By empowering contracts, marketing, access, and promotion, continuous evaluation, and computing improvements, The ODP Corporation consistently evaluates the performance and impact of diverse suppliers, by identifying areas of improvement and offering feedback. “The feedback loops help diverse suppliers enhance their innovation processes, product service quality, and overall business performance.” The reorientation of the supply chain is also seen as a source of opportunities to strengthen ESG. The financial incentive drives company-wide involvement.

Prosperity For All

The overriding goal is prosperity for associates, business customers and communities and a healthy environment. The best way to understand the significant impact of associates like Carmen and Zulema on those they work with is to read the words of one of the minority suppliers. Carlos Y. Quinones is the Founder and President of Display America, Inc., a company specializing in trade show marketing and exhibiting and how businesses use interactive technologies.

The ODP Corporation's impact on our business has been remarkable. The impact extends beyond sales and visibility. Through the guidance and mentorship of their supplier diversity program, I've had the privilege of receiving insights from experienced professionals who understand the intricacies of supplier relationships. Their mentorship has been invaluable in shaping my business strategy, offering practical advice on optimizing operations and pricing strategies, and aligning my offerings with the demands of the market.

Furthermore, ODP's efforts to connect me with other divisions within their organization have expanded my horizons. This interdepartmental collaboration has led to cross-promotion opportunities and the potential to diversify my product offerings. By tapping into different divisions, I've accessed new customer segments and explored avenues for innovation. Working closely with Office Depot has also been a learning experience in navigating the corporate procurement process. Gaining insight into their procurement procedures, negotiation techniques, and compliance standards has been instrumental in refining my own business practices. This knowledge has not only enabled smoother interactions with ODP but also equipped me to engage with other large corporations more effectively.

In essence, Office Depot's support goes beyond a transactional relationship; it's a dynamic partnership that enhances my business strategy, exposes me to new opportunities within their organization, and imparts valuable lessons about corporate-level procurement and collaboration.

These are powerful, inspiring words. Carlos was also asked if he has advice for other diverse suppliers interested in working with The ODP Corporation.

For suppliers seeking to engage with ODP, I would recommend several key strategies. Firstly, effective communication is paramount. Clearly articulate how your products or services align with ODP's goals and values, showcasing the unique benefits you bring to the table. Demonstrating your commitment to innovation, service and quality can greatly resonate with their mission. Secondly, customization is key. Tailor your offerings to meet the specific needs and preferences of ODP. This might involve adapting your products, pricing, or delivery processes to align with their requirements.

Lastly, establishing meaningful relationships with key stakeholders within the organization, such as those in procurement, supplier diversity, and marketing, can open doors to valuable insights and opportunities. Engage with these teams proactively to understand their needs, align your offerings accordingly, and showcase the value you can bring to their operations. Additionally, staying connected with upcoming events and business activities of ODP can provide avenues to demonstrate your commitment and stay top-of-mind. This approach not only fosters trust and rapport but also positions you as a strategic partner who is invested in the long-term success of the organization.

The ODP Corporation shows its commitment to people, environmental sustainability, supplier diversity and community prosperity every day. This company sets the bar high for commitment backed by action.