Sustainable Workplace Supply Solutions

Lyreco Canada

Lyreco has a vision. The business to business office supply company wants “to be your single provider for all your workplace needs.”

With an active presence in 44 countries, Lyreco has already attracted many faithful customers. But the ambitious company – which began as a humble family business in France in 1926 – is determined to continue earning the loyalty of new customers through its commitment to service and sustainability.

The office supply market has become increasingly crowded. E-retailers have popped up everywhere, each one of them promising customers that they offer the best solutions. Differentiating one’s business from the multitude is crucial for long-term success, and Lyreco has made the decision to set itself apart by providing stellar customer service. “We still believe in the value of face to face customer service and a face to face sales proposition,” says Lyreco Canada’s President and Managing Director Brent Milburn. “So our number one investment, both globally and here in Canada, continues to be in the hiring, training, and development of our outward sales force. That puts us in a unique position to other players who have chosen to put a lot more of their investment into the technical online aspect of their business, rather than maintaining that focus on the outward sales and face to face aspect of the business.”

This doesn’t mean that Lyreco isn’t an active – and successful – participant in online retail. In fact, 56 percent of the company’s business comes through some form of ecommerce. “But our number one investment is still in our sales force,” Mr. Milburn explains. “In an environment that is becoming heavily commoditized, it gives us the opportunity to differentiate ourselves based on the professionalism that we bring to the table and the customer centric focus that we have.”

Lyreco also differentiates itself through its strong commitment to sustainability. “Sustainability carries a tremendous amount of energy and momentum for Lyreco right now,” Mr. Milburn says. “We want to take sustainability into account for all the decisions we make at all levels all the time.” In fact, the company has created an entire department devoted to the concept. The Quality, Sustainability, and Security department (QSS) has “broken sustainability down into the three guiding principles of environmental protection, social responsibility, and economic success,” Mr. Milburn explains. “For the individuals who work within this department, their entire mandate is to make sure that the business is respecting the quality, sustainability, and security aspects of the business.”

Each guiding principle within the QSS department has inspired a number of leading edge initiatives. The company’s commitment to environmental protection has led Lyreco to set a goal of recycling 90 percent of the company’s waste, reducing CO2 emissions by 20 percent, and having 25 percent of all sales represented by green products on a global level by 2017. Furthermore, the team is careful to ensure that these green products truly meet the requirements to earn that label. “One of the things that happens a lot in our industry is a term we call green washing,” Mr. Milburn reports. The problem, he says, is that because there are no official regulations regarding green labeling, “you end up with manufactures sticking green labels on things even if the product or the process that that product was manufactured in isn’t necessarily green.” As a result, Lyreco has created its own strict criteria for assessing which products can achieve green status. The criteria has been reviewed and approved by SGF, a worldwide auditing company. “We have used this criteria on a global level to self-regulate to ensure that green washing doesn’t take place,” Mr. Milburn reports. “So when we tell our customers that our product is green they can be confident that it is a green product.”

Lyreco’s commitment to social responsibility has also led the team to launch its own charity. “In 2008 we created Lyreco for Education because we found it difficult to find an organization that was effective in making sure a high percentage of donated monies were making it to the cause that we want to support, which is educating children around the world,” Mr. Milburn explains. Lyreco for Education has helped over 60,000 children in developing nations access the education they need for a better future. The majority of the charity’s work has been in Vietnam and Brazil, with a current focus on Togo. “We’ve built schools, we’ve trained teachers, we’ve improved the quality of the schooling system, and we’ve bought training materials,” Mr. Milburn reports. “Close to our heart is making sure that we are helping the leaders of tomorrow, especially in those countries that are less privileged than we are here in Canada.”

Lyreco’s strategies for economic success are governed by the desire to “build lasting customer relationships by providing solutions to their sustainability goals.” As a result, the team aims to ensure that all of its suppliers meet basic standards of socially responsible manufacturing. “We are doing audits of all suppliers that we deal with and making sure that the facilities that the products are being produced in, and that the processes being used, are socially acceptable,” Mr. Milburn explains. The audits cover products produced under Lyreco’s private label as well as outside brands. “If these suppliers don’t meet Lyreco’s standards, we will refuse to resell their products in our catalogs,” Mr. Milburn adds. “We are looking to make sure that our entire supply chain is sustainable.”

Indeed, Lyreco’s sustainability efforts are making waves throughout the industry. “We are being recognized around the world by associations within our industry,” Mr. Milburn reports. “We are quite proud of the efforts that we are making.” Most notably, Lyreco has won the Corporate Social Responsibility award at the European Office Products Awards two years in a row. In Canada, Lyreco has been recognized four years straight by the Canadian Office Products Association: in 2009, the company won the Green Award, in 2010 and 2011 it won the Community Leadership Award, and in 2012 it won the Ecofriendly Program of the Year Award.

The team is especially proud of the program that earned last year’s Ecofriendly Program of the Year Award; the innovative initiative dramatically cuts back on cardboard waste. “As you can imagine, in a business that has a very high number of transactions and orders going out every day, we have a lot of corrugated packaging that we are putting out into the community,” Mr. Milburn points out. “We’ve always put a big effort into using recycled materials, but one step better than recycling is to reuse materials.” The team came up with a leading edge – yet remarkably simple – idea to promote reuse over recycling. Each morning, countless cardboard boxes arrive in Lyreco’s distribution centres from our partners, packed with product that we’ll re-sell. The team realized that, rather than sending these boxes to the recycling bin, they could simply be reused. As a result, the team implemented a system to carefully process and sort incoming boxes by size. The used boxes are then refilled with outgoing product and a label is added to the packaging so that customers know who the product is coming from and that the box has been reused. “We have been successful in reusing a tremendous amount of material,” Mr. Milburn reports. “We have now adopted [the program] in other countries around the world.”

Lyreco’s key principles around environmental protection, social responsibility, and economic success will continue to govern the company. “Sustainability really is an area that we are trying to differentiate ourselves in right now,” Mr. Milburn points out. “It’s an area that is obviously of great importance to the consumer base.” The team will also be expanding the range of products on offer. This move comes in response to evolving market demands as workplaces increasingly cut down on paper and paper related products. “Over the past two years, we have significantly developed and enhanced various categories within our catalogue,” Mr. Milburn reports. Most notably, the team has added Personal Protection Equipment and Safety as an entirely new sales category, and Catering Hygiene has recently become Lyreco’s fastest growing sales area, both in Canada and worldwide.

Clearly, Lyreco’s product offerings have come a long way since the business first opened its doors nearly 80 years ago, and the team is determined to continue leading the way and changing with the times. “We are really exploring and looking for options to broaden our range of products and services,” Mr. Milburn adds. “We want to make sure that we are meeting the expectations of our customers and building our business outward and upward.”

December 14, 2017, 10:16 AM EST