HP Leads a Corporate Transition to Equity
Words by Kate Zerrenner
HP, Inc. is on a mission to become "the world’s most sustainable and just technology company.” To that end, the multinational computer, 3D printing and printing company based in Palo Alto, California, recently announced some of the technology industry’s most comprehensive goals that further cement its leadership in this space, centered on climate action, human rights and digital equity.
Making corporate climate action meaningful
About a fifth of the world’s largest companies have set a net zero carbon emissions goal, and such commitments doubled in the first nine months of 2020 alone. With that increase came an uptick in concerns about corporate greenwashing — that is, setting a goal that looks good on paper but will not fundamentally address the climate crisis.
Recognizing these concerns, HP began by setting interim goals in its own operations. “We need to take care of our own house first,” Ellen Jackowski, chief sustainability and social impact officer at HP, told TriplePundit. While aiming for net zero emissions across its value chain by 2040, HP plans to reach carbon neutrality and zero waste in its operations by 2025, requiring direct investment in suppliers that can help reach that goal.
The company made clear that the priority had to be reducing absolute emissions, not reaching net zero through a reliance on carbon offsets. But that requires heavy lifting and a shift in the way the company does business, Jackowski said. “Achieving absolute emissions reductions is aligned with HP’s overall corporate strategy to move away from a transactional business model to an emphasis on services,” she told TriplePundit. The company is rethinking printing and computing, for example, to shift to print- and compute-as-a-service rather than selling individual printers and PCs. It’s also looking to increase the reuse of PCs, gaming equipment and printers, which aligns with the company’s goal to reach 75 percent circularity for its products and packaging by 2030.
Transparency is important, too. 2021 marks HP’s 20th year of releasing its Sustainable Impact Report, and Jackowski noted that the company has become more precise about how it measures metrics, raising the bar for themselves and the industry overall.
Given HP’s broader focus on equity and justice, leadership wanted to ensure its climate goals were inclusive — a vital step for any corporation, given what we know about how climate change exacerbates poverty and inequality around the world.
For example, the company entered into a multi-year partnership with the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund to restore, protect, and transition to sustainable management more than 200,000 acres of forest in Brazil and China. As part of this work in Brazil, HP is collaborating with WWF and International Paper to restore 250 acres of forestland in the Mogi Guaçu River basin, together with local forest restoration organization Copaiba. Founded in 1999 by teenage sisters Flávia and Ana Paula Balderi, the all-women organization takes a human-centered approach, connecting one-on-one with rural landowners to plant seedlings that create protective buffers for springs and rivers, give wildlife more space to roam, and provide a host of benefits to landowners including improved water quality and quantity, increased pollinator populations, and more shade to protect livestock. It’s this connection — people with people, people with land, land with life — that creates a virtuous cycle of sustainable impact, HP says.
HP is contributing $11 million to support WWF’s efforts to restore part of Brazil’s threatened Atlantic Forest and improve the management of state-owned and private forest plantations in China, which isn’t a random number: As one of the top printing companies, HP has prioritized sustainable forestry for its own paper, but also recognizes that consumers use paper from a variety of brands. Leadership arrived at the $11 million figure “as a result of the equation of the amount of non-HP paper used in HP printers,” Jackowski explained. “That money goes toward forest restoration, protection and responsible management as well as improving the wellbeing of the local and indigenous communities in Brazil and China.”
In the U.S., the company has invested directly in projects on a smaller scale that can end up having a huge impact. For example, HP now sources some of its plastic from Homeboy Electronics Recycling in Los Angeles, which breaks down end-of-life electronics and is staffed by formerly incarcerated people who are transitioning back into their communities, a relationship that began after a recommendation from an HP employee. This project “helped educate us about the needs of the community members and their employers,” Jackowski said. “Solutions and ideas exist everywhere. We have the ability to take things to scale with what we learn. With a one of the IT industry’s largest supply chains, when we learn something new from our partners, we can have a significant impact."
Taking a stand for human rights — at home and around the world
Human rights is another highly ambitious focus of HP’s new goals, and the underlying targets fit perfectly within HP’s wheelhouse: to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in the tech industry. Again, the company started internally by aiming to achieve 50/50 gender equality in HP leadership by 2030, maintain 90 percent or higher rating on internal inclusion for all HP employee demographics, and meet or exceed labor market levels for racial and ethnic minorities by 2030, among other goals.
Such efforts are important, as the tech world has a persistent gender gap: Only 16 percent of leaders in the tech industry are women, dropping to 10 percent at the executive level. From the gender norms of traditional education systems, to a lack of relatable role models, to the “bro culture” at many tech firms, the industry faces an uphill battle. This is amplified for women of color.
Building a pipeline of talent and creating an inclusive work environment requires years of investment. Luckily, HP is not new to the table, though there is still hard work ahead. The company has over 30 percent women in leadership roles, and it’s a founding member of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) Business Deans Roundtable, which hosts an annual HBCU Business Challenge to attract Black and African-American students to careers in tech. Dozens of people have been hired to work at HP out of the program, a necessary step to increase the current 7 percent participation of African Americans in the tech sector overall.
Programs such as these are cornerstones of the HP Racial Equality and Social Justice Task Force, established earlier this year, which looks both inward and outward to help create a more equitable tech workforce.
Ensuring digital equity
The digital divide did not get the urgent attention it deserved before COVID-19, but as the evidence mounts of more children from communities of color and low-income communities falling behind academically, it can no longer be ignored. Beyond education, the digital divide affects access to healthcare and economic opportunity, especially as both have moved to a more digital model during the pandemic.
To help bridge the digital divide, HP today announced its Partnership and Technology for Humanity (PATH) initiative with the aim to enable digital equity for 150 million people by 2030. HP PATH is an accelerator that will fund programs and support partnerships to ensure HP continues to listen to and learn from community partners, creating a more accountable and transparent system.
HP PATH will address inequities at home in the U.S. as well as abroad, with particular attention to women and girls, people with disabilities, communities of color, and other marginalized communities. It will interface with programs like HP LIFE, a free business and IT skills training program from the HP Foundation.
HP LIFE offers more than 30 courses in eight languages, including Effective Business Websites, Success Mindset and Design Thinking, for students and entrepreneurs. Launched in 2012, the platform has reached over a million people worldwide. Those numbers shot up 210 percent in 2020 due in large part to increased outreach during the pandemic, Jackowski said. About 60 percent of HP LIFE learners are women looking to improve their IT and business skills.
“Partnerships have helped us amplify our reach,” Jackowski told TriplePundit. “Partners like U.N. Women and Girl Rising help us bring new, inclusive content and curriculums and expand our programs to reach a greater number of women and other traditionally underserved populations.”
Three pillars, one path toward equity and justice
The three pillars of HP’s expanded goals are inextricably linked, and equity is the linchpin. The company says it took a broad look at the gaps in the social and environmental justice space and asked: “Where can we have the most significant impact?” Jackowski said. “What is our footprint? What is the biggest driver of our footprint? Addressing these issues requires a true transformation of our company — we won’t meet any of these goals without changing how we do business.”
When asked why she does this work and why HP is committed to these goals, she replied: “We see what’s ahead. The science is clear on the environmental and social side, and we have a responsibility to deliver results. It’s not about one story or one product innovation. It’s about taking goals and turning them into real, tangible actions and measurable impact.”
It will require heavy lifting from every corner of society to adequately address the social and environmental inequities we face. Shifting business models is like turning a battleship, but being a leader means stepping up to do it.
Image courtesy of HP