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10 Things I've Learned About Making a Big Company a Green Giant

<p>Procter &amp; Gamble's VP of global sustainability shares some of the lessons he's learned while bringing sustainability to a company as large as P&amp;G.</p>

As vice president of global sustainability at Procter & Gamble, I've been lucky enough to work with NGOs, thought leaders and P&G employees throughout the world to implement sustainability initiatives across our vast organization. These experiences have shaped how I view sustainable innovation at P&G and how, as an organization, we can continue to improve our environmental performance. Here are some of the learnings I've picked up along the way.  

1. Sustainability must be viewed within the organization as a business opportunity, not an issue to be managed. Each initiative must make a meaningful impact on the company's environmental footprint and make business sense. From a business perspective, this is how a commitment to sustainability can be truly sustainable over the long term.  

2. Senior management must be committed. This crucial element sets the tone for the entire organization and shows business partners, external stakeholders and employees that company leadership views sustainability as an important enabler of growing the business. For example, at P&G, the executive sponsor of the sustainability program is our CEO Bob McDonald.  


3. Sustainability is part of the rhythm of the business, not separate work. At P&G, sustainability touches everything in the company, including product distribution, packaging, materials selection, office efficiency, manufacturing plant operations and R&D. We bring tremendous innovation resources to every part of our business, and sustainability is no exception.  

4. In order to make credible and meaningful improvements in sustainability, they must be grounded in good science. We manage innovation with discipline, using science-based, rigorous tools such as life cycle assessment (LCA). These tools aid in identifying sustainability opportunities at every touch point along the path of our products, from discovery through disposal to potential reuse. Some improvements are obvious product changes to the consumer. Others, such as innovations in our manufacturing operations, are not visible, yet they can deliver substantial sustainability improvements. 

5. Initially focus efforts where you can make the most meaningful impact and generate the biggest results. Due to the size and scale of P&G, we chose to focus early efforts in the places where we could make the biggest improvements as quickly as possible. We evaluated how P&G could improve its environmental performance in the biggest markets, with the biggest brands and in the company's biggest product categories, and immediately set to work on making those changes. As these areas were addressed, we moved on to other opportunities within the business.

6. Employees are the greatest source of sustainable innovation. The best opportunities for improving the environmental profile of an organization are going to come from ideas employees develop. Often times these employees are much closer to the day-to-day mechanics, and shortcomings, of existing procedures, and they are among the first to recognize opportunities. Due to this, sustainability is embedded into P&G's core principles and values, helping to inspire and guide the actions of all 135,000 employees and lead to sustainability innovations in every facet of our company's business.  

7. Consumers won't accept a trade-offs in product performance or value. In order to make a meaningful difference in sustainability, the consumer must actually buy the environmentally beneficial product you are selling. The vast majority of consumers (around 70 percent) we call the “sustainable mainstream;” they want choices that have improvements in their environmental profile. But they will only alter purchasing decisions when they can have the performance they require and the value they need. By meeting the needs of this largest segment of consumers, we can deliver the greatest positive impact.

8. Consumer education can play a key role. P&G recognizes its responsibility as a market leader to develop sustainable innovations for its leading global brands and to educate the public to positively impact consumer behavior. Some P&G product innovations require education efforts to show consumers how they can lead a more sustainable lifestyle through changes to their household habits. For example, in the U.S., P&G recently launched the Future Friendly program, which is specifically designed to provide practical resource conservation advice and branded products featuring clear benefits in water savings, energy savings and waste reduction. In Europe, P&G led the “Turn to 30” campaign to highlight the energy saving benefits of washing laundry in cold water.

9. Collaboration with external organizations, NGOs and partners is necessary to advance a sustainability agenda. We work with a number of external stakeholders to identify needs and to create new opportunities and solutions for some of the world's toughest sustainability challenges. Companies like P&G need support from NGOs and other relevant third party organizations to advance sustainability causes and communicate with the public at large in a credible, authentic manner. 

10. Although innovation is key to driving new sustainable product executions, it can also be an enabler to solving social sustainability issues. More than one billion people in the developing world do not have access to clean drinking water and, as a result, thousands of children die every day. Working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, P&G developed a water purifying technology that can quickly turn 10 liters of dirty, potentially deadly water into clean, drinkable water. Through this innovation, P&G has been able to deliver billions of liters of safe drinking water to those in need and save thousands of lives.

Len Sauers is vice president for global sustainability at P&G. A 23-year veteran of P&G, he has experience in human safety, regulatory affairs, and environmental science. He also leads the company's human and environmental safety, regulatory affairs and corporate biotechnology organizations worldwide. 

Skyscraper - CC license by Flickr user Jakob Montrasio



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