Sustainability at Scale: Q&A With P&G Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard


Marc Pritchard - Chief Brand Officer, P&G at Sustainable Brands '18 in Vancouver

“What if P&G products were made in a way that recycles waste, water, and energy? We’re on it, with 85% of our production plants sending zero manufacturing waste to landfill and finding uses for 5 million tons of trash.” That was just part of the good news that Procter & Gamble’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard, brought to Sustainable Brands 2018 in Vancouver.

At the annual conference, Pritchard (above) outlined the multitude of ways in which the world’s biggest consumer goods company is taking bold steps on sustainability to transform its operations, rethink its brands, drive innovation, form new partnerships, make a positive impact across its footprint, and lead by example in its drive to be “a force for a good and a force for growth.”

Ahead of the conference, Pritchard outlined how business paradigms must evolve in order to put people and the planet first. That means thinking differently about growth—growing the market vs. focusing on market share—and traditional brand building, as Pritchard stated:

We are working on reinventing brand building as we know it. The world is in a state of massive disruption—changing consumers, use of data and digital technology, development in AI, just to name a few. So, the best way to handle these disruptive forces is to lead disruption. That’s why we’re rethinking media, advertising, our agency partners, and our roles as marketers. We are reimagining and re-engineering across the entire marketing ecosystem to lead the way into the future, because in many ways, it’s already here.

As part of its new Ambition 2030 sustainability plan, P&G has pledged to make all its packaging fully recyclable or reusable by that year. It also plans to power its manufacturing facilities with 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and by 2020 send none (as in zero percent) of its consumer and manufacturing waste to landfills—all part of the ambitious goals that it details in its latest corporate sustainability report.

In his keynote address at SB’18, Pritchard also outlined how the company is advancing sustainability through learning from and working with partners, such as participating in #BrandsForGood, a new coalition committed to unleashing the advertising power of brands to make sustainable lifestyles desirable among consumers. It’s a significant commitment by the world’s biggest advertiser, which spends more than $7 billion annually to drive more than $65 billion in sales.

P&G Tide Purclean 2018 Environmental Leader award - top product of the year

P&G’s portfolio of 65 brands use water and energy to manufacture, transport and consume, Pritchard noted at SB’18, a process that traditionally generates unwanted waste. “If we could reduce, renew and recycle that water, energy and waste, it would be good for people, good for the planet and save billions of dollars to invest in innovation—which is good for business,” he commented.

The aha moment? “We realized that although we were committed to environmental sustainability and had some important efforts underway, it wasn’t yet built into our everyday business,” he said. “So we did a rigorous assessment, set goals and asked each business president for strategies and action plans.”

P&G Head & Shoulders ocean beach plastic shampoo bottle

That challenge to P&G’s brand leaders has spurred innovations such as the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made from ocean or beach plastic, as P&G introduced with its Head & Shoulders brand and has extended to its Herbal Essences shampoo and its Fairy dish detergent brands.

It’s also bringing sustainability-driven innovation to its flagship Tide brand. High performing surfactants in development could mean even better cold-water cleaning—and reduced household energy usage by encouraging eco-friendly consumer habits.

P&G Ambition 2030 Sustainability Goals

As noted on World Oceans Day on June 8, P&G’s new environmental sustainability goals impact its brands, supply chain, employees and society at large. The Ambition 2030 new sustainability framework includes two specific packaging goals: that 100% of packaging will be recyclable or reusable and that it will find solutions so that no P&G packaging will find its way to the world’s oceans. At the local level, that includes converting 25% of its shampoo bottles in Europe to post-consumer recycled plastic, a move that could prevent 2,600 tons of plastic annually (equivalent to 17 blue whales) from becoming ocean waste.

P&G is also launching new products or updating existing products with plant-based ingredients, such as Gain Botanicals and Downy Nature Blends. In another proof point that it’s making a difference, its Tide Purclean laundry detergent was named 2018 product of the year by Environmental Leader for being plant-based, dye-free and made from 100% renewable electricity while being “just as powerful as regular Tide.”

We spoke with Marc Pritchard and Virginie Helias, P&G’s VP of Global Sustainability, while in Vancouver about the evolution of the company’s sustainable goals and the message they brought to SB ’18.

How is P&G evolving its sustainability goals with Ambition 2030?

Marc Pritchard - Procter & Gamble Chief Brand OfficerPritchard (right): Sustainability has been important to our company for many years. You may know that we set some 2020 goals, many of which are almost complete. The way we think about it is that by building in those social responsibility and environmental sustainability in how we do business, P&G can be a force for good and a force for growth. That force for good can be not just good in terms of the benefits we provide consumers, but good in terms of benefits it provides for the world. Also, when done well, sustainability is a force for growth because what we have found is that many of the things we do from a social and environmental standpoint can actually grow the markets. When you do it well, you can innovate and markets can grow, which lifts all boats. So that’s the way we think about it.

Our Ambition 2030 goals really focus on inspiring a positive impact across the entire value chain, and ultimately for consumers that we serve around the world. And we focus on brands and how they can inspire responsible consumption; our supply chain which is increasingly renewing the way in which we manufacture and recycle and reduce waste; partnerships that really help us work with others in order to be able to create a collaborative effort to improve society; and really getting our employees fully equipped to engage and make a difference.

How are you engaging customers around sustainability?

Pritchard: Our brands are used by 5 billion people every day, and they reach those people and are used by people and are consumed by people, and they do great things for people. They improve their lives for the better. But they use water and energy to manufacture, transport and consume, and after using them they can generate waste. So if we can get people to use our products and make it easy for them to responsibly consume, then we have a benefit.

If you think about it, these are brands and products, that while people use them every day, they don’t tend to really think about them all that much, other than when they are using them. And more and more, people are telling us that they want to reduce waste, they want to reduce the amount of water they use and they want to reduce the amount of energy they use, but they’re not clear how. So if they can use our products, then that’ll make a difference.

One of the best examples that we like to provide is, ‘What if a laundry detergent could help save energy?’ And it turns out, 80% of the energy consumption in your washing machine comes from heating the water. So we’ve designed a formula that can deliver clean clothes in cold wash conditions so the energy usage is much lower.

So if you switch to a cold wash for a year, that is enough energy to power your cellphone for the rest of your life. Just by using the product in cold water, it helps you responsibly consume. So that’s the way we like to think about it. And we keep trying to find ways in which we can engage our consumers/customers and help them understand that just by using it and using it in this way, you can have a positive impact on the environment.

How much of a factor is sustainability to consumers when it comes to purchasing and brand loyalty?

Pritchard: One of the things that P&G focuses on is really understanding what the consumers we serve what and need. And we’ve heard over the years, an increasing desire for sustainable products.

Virginie Helias - P&G VP of SustainabilityHelias (right): We surveyed about 3,000 people across the world and asked them: “When you buy a product across one of our 10 product categories that we serve, what are the key considerations that come to mind?” Number 1 is saving money; the monetary value is the number 1 consideration. The 2nd one is “buying products that are better for my health and well-being.” And the 3rd one is “products that help me limit the harmful waste that I’m producing buying a product.” The 4th one is limiting the water consumption when they use our product. And the 5th one is limiting the energy consumption. So you can see, right after money and health, you have environmental sustainability consideration.

Pritchard: What’s interesting is that people have said they want these things for quite some time, but what they’ve had to do in the past is make a trade-off. So in other words, they could find a product that could either reduce waste, water, energy or a natural ingredients product, but they had to make a trade-off in terms of the performance. What I just described to you is the energy example with Tide, which is the performance of Tide at colder water, which saves energy.

I’ll give you a really good example—dishwashers. Our Cascade dishwashing detergent developed a formula (Cascade Platinum) that can clean food that has even been stuck on for 24 hours. Now you ask why that matters? Well, you can skip the pre-wash. And I don’t know about you, but many of us, almost all of us, pre-wash our dishes before we put them in the dishwasher. So if you got everybody in the United States to skip the pre-wash, you could save 150 billion gallons of water every year. So that’s a good way to use a superior performing product and then save water at the same time.

Dawn is another dishwashing detergent example. Most people use Dawn to hand wash their dishes, and it doesn’t take much to clean dishes, just about a drop. Since Dawn works twice as well as other products, that means you use fewer bottles. That reduces plastic waste—about 2,600 tons of plastic waste. So that’s a lot of plastic waste that is being addressed by using a product that works better.

Another area that we have been pushing is natural products. The question we ask is, “What if we could make products that perform as well as our current products but use plant-based ingredients?” So we designed Tide purclean, with 65% of the ingredients being plant-based ingredients, and we designed Pampers Pure, which is made out of premium cotton. We’re increasingly making products that are plant-based, but formulating and developing them so there is no trade-off versus the existing product.

While P&G is leading in terms of using recycled beach plastic in packaging, it’s a story that isn’t commonly known. Will you do more to communicate to consumers at the point of decision-making, on your packaging or as customers are in the store, to highlight successes like this?

Pritchard: Virginie runs workshops with brands and agencies to help them see how you can communicate in such a way that defines the benefit of the product when done in a way that is sustainable (and) that you can have a positive impact, and how just by using the product it’s really responsible consumption, back to the example of washing with cold water. We’re working with big retailers like Walmart to create big events that the retailers can get behind. Walmart is very much in tune with the environment and what they need to do, so that helps us build our business with them.

We just recently released a video with the inventor of Pampers Pure, Sara Giovanni, who had twins and wanted a product using natural ingredients. And so being the inventor of Pampers Pur, she was super excited about that. We made it a video and are pushing it out on social media. So sustainability has given us a lot of other creative ways to engage people.

Chrissy Teigen also talked about it too, which was great, and it’s given us some really new avenues to creativity. In the social sustainability area, we’ve been doing this quite a bit on gender equality. Always Like A Girl and Ariel Share The Load are great examples of creativity that we’ve been able to push as we’ve promoted gender equality, and now we’re seeing increasing examples on the environmental sustainability end.

Helias When it comes to ocean plastic pollution, another story we are telling is about the first recyclable shampoo bottle made with plastic collected from the beaches, not just in the U.S. but we started in Europe. It’s a wonderful story—we even changed the iconic color of Head & Shoulders into grey, because it’s mixed from plastics from the beaches.

To the point of storytelling, it was the best way to signal to people that P&G has a mission to fight ocean plastic pollution, and they can help by recycling their own bottles, so there is an opportunity for people to contribute. And for P&G, we are able to make an impact at scale. So for the ocean plastic bottle, we also committed that 90% of all the shampoo bottles that we sell in Europe will include 25% post-consumer recycled plastic by the end of this year. This is a very important number and shows the impact that P&G is having.

Some brands are very vocal about sustainability while others don’t want to be seen as ‘greenwashing’ and so they quietly change their processes and benchmarks. Where does P&G fall in that equation, and are you where you think you should be?

Pritchard: I would agree with you that, increasingly, people want to know what are the brands’ values and beliefs (the people behind the brand) and what can they do to do well. The important point is that they still want performance. If you just say you have something that’s green but it doesn’t work, then that doesn’t fly.

Virginie’s example of the beach plastic is a good one; literally taking beach plastic, recycling it, putting it into a bottle and then selling it—and it performs, and all these other products we’ve talked about deliver. That’s what gives a company like a P&G the ability to use its voice and promoting environmental sustainability.

They expect the performance of Tide, they expect the performance of Head and Shoulders, Pampers. So when you put the name on that, then they want that. And it’s a delight that when they do that, they’re also doing something good for the planet.

Is there a clear charge to P&G’s brands to innovate and try to move the needle on sustainability?

Pritchard: Our CEO declared sustainability a priority for our company. We build it into how we do business and as part of that, it is built into our strategies. In fact, we review our strategies on our 10 core categories every year. And part of that strategy has a very explicit statement of choices being made on environmental sustainability and what we’re doing to innovate and to actually build it into our business. What’s great about it is that it does open doors for plant-based ingredients, for recycling and new business models.

Another example is landfill waste—something as yucky as a used diaper and figuring out how we can turn that into a valuable resource. We have a joint venture with an Italy partner named Fater, and they have a technology that lets you take a product like Pampers and pull out the unusable waste, clean it and put it into the soil and the take the usable material, fully clean it and convert it into bottle caps and textiles and other types of things. So that becomes another way of building our business.

It’s also important to mention our supply chain, which is one of the biggest sources of investment that we make in our company because we have to supply 5 billion people on the planet with these products every day. Building a sustainable supply chain is really important and a big source of our footprint. We now have 85% of our manufacturing plants around the world send zero manufacturing waste to landfills. So what they’ve done is they’ve been able to figure out how to take what would be waste and what could be trash that goes in our landfill and turn it into beneficial uses. And by the way, it also saves money.

We’ve got a wind farm in Texas that creates renewable electricity for our fabric and homecare plants in the US and Canada. And we’re trying to get all of our North American business by 2020 and worldwide by 2030. We’ve got plants in China and Brazil that do circular water recycling. So they can recycle the water and save, each of them 15 million gallons of water a year. So these are ways in which we’re creating a supply chain that basically is good for the planet.

P&G Sustainable Brands 2018 in Vancouver

What are your thoughts on the role of government versus private enterprise in the sustainability space?

Pritchard: What I would say is that P&G is one company. We have brands and a lot of things that we’re doing, and we’re pushing ourselves to get as much done as possible in order to have an impact, but what really matters is the fact that we have many partners. We ship to 100,000 retailers, so we consider them partners in terms of how we create sustainability. We have 40,000 suppliers that we work with, so they’re partners. We have thousands of NGOs and of course, governments around the world that are part of helping and facilitate these things to happen.

So it’s really public and private partnerships that enable the greatest impact to have here. Without that, I think our progress would not be as good—and with it, that’s what’s going to allow us to really accelerate. And increasingly, more and more collaboration is happening. I’ll mention a couple of them: The UK Plastics Pact, 40 companies are driving the circular economy on plastic; and the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, which has 100 companies focused on renewable energy. Companies will compete on the basis of innovation and creativity, but we’re united on using our brands and companies as a force for good and force for growth.

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