A Kinko's copy shop is, by many measures, an environmental debacle. Keeping the lights on and copiers humming drains as much energy as running 23 private homes. Kinko's fells the equivalent of 10.5 square miles of forest to produce the 60,000 tons of paper and packaging materials it uses each year. The Dallas business-services firm estimates it uses 32 million sheets of paper every day.
More so than many companies, Kinko's—set to be acquired by FedEx Corp.—relies on natural resources to run its business. But Kinko's recognizes that unchecked consumption of old-growth forests and fossil fuels will, in the long run, hurt both society and its business. "Day to day, we're trying to make money and meet customer needs, but we are looking for opportunities to consider the environment," says Larry Rogero, Kinko's director of environmental affairs.
In 1997, Kinko's wrote an "environmental vision" statement and committed not to buy paper made from trees in old-growth forests. Five years later, it committed to running a "sustainable business." By Kinko's definition, that means making everyday decisions with an awareness of how they affect economic, environmental, and social value today and in the future.
Its most striking efforts focus on energy conservation. In 2002, the chain selected higher-use "hub" stores to stay open 24 hours a day, while restricting hours for less-trafficked "spoke" stores. As a result, overall energy consumption fell by 6%. The company is exploring the option of creating a "green branch" in Hollywood, California, that would include lights designed to dim when more natural light is available.
More significant, Kinko's has become one of the nation's corporate leaders in the purchase of so-called renewable energy. In 2002, it bought the equivalent of 3.2% of its energy from biomass (plant and animal waste), geothermal, solar, and wind farms. Last year, it boosted that to 10%.
Its stores don't actually use all that "green power." Kinko's purchase of wind power in Austin, for example, simply allows the local utility to buy that incremental power from a local wind power plant, so its overall power mix becomes greener. Kinko's also buys renewable energy certificates, effectively giving it credit for green power used by other customers.
In any case, the upshot is a higher power bill—as much as 12% higher than the tab for conventional power. Kinko's drive to renewable sources has meant convincing many branch managers, whose bonuses are tied to their stores' profits, that the effort is worthwhile. Rogero's pitch: "Hopefully we'll get the brand in the community and it'll be a good story to tell and people will want to come to Kinko's."
That public relations benefit is, Rogero admits, tough to quantify—but the push for environmental sustainability puts Kinko's in elite company. The World Resources Institute says that only Staples and Pitney Bowes purchase as high a proportion of their energy from renewable sources.
Renewable power is gradually becoming more price competitive, and environmentalists contend the high upfront capital costs of building wind farms and solar panels eventually will be offset by low operating costs that aren't subject to the volatile swings suffered in the oil and gas markets. In Austin, Kinko's pays Austin Power a fixed rate for wind power that's just slightly more than the price of natural gas.
Until prices come down further, Kinko's likely won't buy much more green power than it does today. The economics, it says, work only up to a point. But it would use the renovated Hollywood branch to test conservation strategies—and potentially to experiment with on-site solar power. "We're not just trying to look at this as, 'Here's this environmental thing and here's our business,' " Rogero says. "The intent is to integrate environmental practices and sustainable practices into our business."
A version of this article appeared in the March 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.