From an issue to be managed - to the heart of the business

Dr. Peter White, P&G Global Sustainability Director

Addressing sustainability is in the long term self-interest of business and – because much of environmental sustainability is about reducing waste and increasing efficiency – also has direct short-term benefit too.

Business cannot succeed in a society that fails, so it is in the long-term interest of business to build economically strong, healthy and vibrant societies; and such a society is dependent on businesses for growth and prosperity. Sustainability should be viewed as an opportunity for all - through a mutually-assured self-interest.

For any business to become more sustainable, it needs to understand where its major impacts occur, and where it has the biggest opportunity for improvements. This should be done over the full life cycle of the products or services that the company provides, and may lead to unexpected results. Some 10 years ago, P&G used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to complete an energy footprint for the company. The result showed that most energy use was not associated with manufacturing plants, but with heating water in consumers’ homes to wash clothes. This led to a programme of product innovation to develop detergents that work effectively at low temperature – initially at 30°C with Ariel CoolClean and then as low as 15°C with Ariel Excel Gel. The opportunities from cold water washing are significant, since in the UK it can save 40-50 per cent of the energy per wash. If everyone in the USA were to wash clothes in cold water it would save about 3 per cent of their total domestic energy consumption, and deliver over 6 per cent of their original Kyoto commitment for greenhouse gas reductions.

Technological innovation is vital, but only part of the story. Unless consumers adopt new technologies, and change behaviour accordingly, sustainability benefits may not be delivered. Developing a detergent that cleans brilliantly at low temperature is of no benefit unless consumers actually select low temperature wash programs – hence the importance of campaigns like Ariel Turn-to-30 and Future Friendly, aimed at changing consumer behaviour. Consumer studies from around the world show remarkably similar results about how consumers choose and use products. In Europe, the USA and Japan, only around 15 per cent of consumers (the ‘green niche’) will accept a compromise in terms of performance or value for the sake of a more environmentally sustainable product. At the other end of the spectrum, around 15 per cent of consumers are too concerned with basic living to consider sustainability attributes. In the middle, however, there is a large ‘sustainable mainstream’ (about 70 per cent of consumers) that will buy a more sustainable product, or adopt more sustainable behaviour, so long as they are not asked to make any trade-offs in performance or value. This is the opportunity for manufacturers like P&G to make a massive difference.

Companies can also contribute to the sustainability of the cities and towns where they operate though improvements in the environmental performance of their operations. In particular, major businesses can set up networks in their supply chain to convert previous waste materials into resources – the concept of Industrial Ecology. Although in 2008, P&G already converted 96 per cent of all materials entering P&G plants into packed product (with half of the remaining material recycled), the company set up a specific global programme to reduce solid waste going to disposal. By identifying all of the waste materials, and searching for alternative future uses, it has been possible to reduce the waste per unit of production by an additional 50 per cent in just three years. The solutions have been varied and creative: waste vegetable oil from producing Pringles in Belgium is now sold for conversion into biodiesel; waste from paper plants in Mexico is used to make low-cost roofing tiles for local construction; skin cream waste in China is used to condition leather. These projects benefit local businesses, cut costs for P&G and improve overall environmental efficiency.

Social responsibility is often the first area mentioned for corporate involvement in sustainability. Companies, large and small, and their employees, are important parts of the communities in which they operate. Many do this by supporting education or the arts, and through the ‘volunteering’ efforts of their employees. P&G’s programme, entitled Live, Learn and Thrive, aims to reach 300 million children worldwide through a range of partners and projects in order to promote health, education and skills for life. Business can also play a broader role by applying its core strengths – innovation, scale and consumer insight – to address large sustainability challenges, including those encapsulated in the UN Millennium Development Goals. For example, over a billion people do not have access to clean drinking water, and deaths from water-borne diseases exceed those from HIV Aids and Malaria combined. By using a simple, cheap and robust technology developed in Newcastle upon Tyne, it has been possible for P&G and its partners to provide point-of-use water purification for both disaster relief and longer term sustainable water supply. Currently in over 60 countries, this programme (Children’s Safe Drinking Water) has delivered over 3 billion litres of clean, safe water since 2004.

Ultimately, businesses which deliver the most valuable sustainability initiatives are those that look at what their company does, as well as how it does it. The ‘how’ is important – aiming to be more efficient and responsible across a company’s operations – but by interrogating the ‘what,’ you can leverage the value delivered to society through the products and services your company provides, and the value delivered to your company in return.

By taking a broad approach to sustainability, companies can introduce sustainability programmes with a three-fold impact - beneficial to the environment, beneficial to society, and beneficial to themselves, now and in the future.

For more information about P&G’s sustainability efforts on improvements that will make the most meaningful impact we can, follow us on Twitter or contact us through the P&G corporate press office.

Dr. Peter White
P&G Global Sustainability Director

Our long-term product end-points

  • Using 100% renewable or recycled materials for all products and packaging
  • Having zero consumer waste go to landfills
  • Designing products to delight consumers while maximizing the conservation of resources

Our long-term operational end-points

  • Powering our plants with 100% renewable energy
  • Emitting no fossil-based CO2 or toxic emissions
  • Delivering effluent water quality that is as good as or better than influent water quality with no contribution to water scarcity
  • Having zero manufacturing waste go to landfills

Live, Learn and Thrive

  • Live, Learn and Thrive has improved life for more than 300 million children globally
  • Save a life an hour by 2020 through Children’s Safe Drinking Water programme – providing 2 billion litres of clean drinking water every year
  • Every second of every day, two children benefit from Live, Learn and Thrive
  • More than 100 programmes taking place in over 60 countries every day

Images (Click to enlarge)

Videos (Click to watch)