Global consumer products giant Procter & Gamble announced that it has already achieved many of the environmental and sustainability goals for 2020 and has plans in place to meet those that it has not already achieved. In parallel to the announcement, the company is looking to the future with new, stretching environmental and sustainability goals for itself for 2030 under a new branded campaign called ‘Ambition 2030’ as detailed in its 2017 Citizenship Report.
We are a bit late to the party on the news with it having been announced in April, but Procter & Gamble’s complex, globally distributed manufacturing footprint makes it a great case study to see if it is realistic for diverse operations ranging from energy intensive paper manufacturing to more traditional corporate office locations sprinkled across Ohio to lotion manufacturing to achieve sustainable operations.
“Building on our progress to date, our 2030 goals seek to address two of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges: finite resources and growing consumption,” said Virginie Helias, P&G Vice President of Global Sustainability. “We know P&G alone does not have all the answers. It will take partnerships and collaboration to make meaningful progress and our brands will develop innovations to take responsible consumption to the next level.”
Let’s jump into the details. One thing about most companies is that their external goals and targets are chock full of jargon and marketing that sometimes makes it hard to see what the targets actually mean or what actually happened. I’ll do my best to translate their goals into English or, as a former manager of mine at P&G once told me, “just tell me what happened in one page, no prose.”
- Responsible Packaging: P&G’s 20 leadership brands including Always, Ariel, Dawn, Fairy, Febreze, Head & Shoulders, Pantene, Pampers, and Tide will use packaging that is 100% recyclable or reusable.
- Electricity: Purchase enough renewable electricity to power 100% of their plants. It’s important to note that this is just electricity (versus energy) as many of P&G’s plants utilize boilers or turbines that run on natural gas. Natural gas is essential in operations like papermaking where they make Charmin and Bounty, which rely heavily on natural gas boilers or cogeneration turbines to generate steam to dry the paper.
- GHG Reduction: P&G manufacturing sites will cut greenhouse gas emissions in half. Setting a GHG reduction target is a solid step towards addressing the more comprehensive picture of a facility’s carbon footprint.
- Water: Source at least 5 billion liters of water from circular sources. Its 2020 goal was to reduce freshwater use by 20% and against that, it has already achieved a 27% reduction in water usage per unit of production. The new goal is not as clear, as it is not compared to anything and the concept of ‘circular water’ is not defined without digging through several thick reports. The concept of circular sourcing of water is a blending of the circular nature of water and how it moves around the earth and the emerging concept of the circular economy. These concepts are fleshed out in the WBCSD’s Report on Circular Water Management which builds on the concept of 5Rs:
- Reduce: reduce water losses and boost water efficiency
- Reuse: reuse water, with minimal or no treatment, within and outside the fence for the same or different processes
- Recycle: recycle resources and wastewater (treated by membrane or reverse osmosis to a very high quality) within and outside the fence
- Restore: return water of a specific quality to where it was taken from
- Recover: take resources (other than water) out of wastewater and put them to use
- Society: Create partnerships that stem the flow of plastic into the world’s ocean, protect and enhance forests, expand recycling solutions for absorbent hygiene products, and protect water in priority basins around the world.
“P&G has been a leader in driving sustainable development. Their strategy is aligned with our belief that businesses will be more successful by being more sustainable. We applaud their framework Ambition 2030 which has the potential to drive significant positive global impact for shareholders, the environment and societies,” said Peter Bakker, President and CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development.
As with most businesses, P&G is looking to leverage the push for sustainability and towards its environmental goals to achieve the double bottom line of business savings and more sustainable operations. Thankfully, the technology exists to achieve most of this without too much difficult – wind, solar, water efficiency and the like. The real devil is in the details, but that’s for later. Until then, it is exciting to see P&G continuing the push towards a longer future.
Disclaimer: I worked for Procter & Gamble for 17 years and still own stock in the company. My history with the company is also why I am eager to see its progress over time as I understand how challenging the work is to make its manufacturing operations more sustainable.