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Procter & Gamble sustainability tips, insights

Tony Burns, associate director, sustainability, for P&G’s Global Package and Device Development (GPDD) group, says the company has learned several important lessons during its corporate sustainability journey.

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“One of the key challenges that we have faced is how to simplify the incredibly complex topic of sustainable packaging. There are three critical themes that I have used to get us, and our external partners, beyond information paralysis and drive action:”

Sustainability is a journey, not a destination. “Everyone is at a different place on this journey, but you need to start somewhere, and starting the journey is the important action.”

Sustainability is not separate work; it needs to be part of everything you do. “Sustainability needs to be integrated into the overall Business Strategy. It is not sufficient to be a stand-alone strategy. You need to make sure that your critical business metrics are being met. Do what is right for your consumers/customers, but do it in the most sustainable manner possible.”

Accept no trade-offs. “Extensive consumer research has shown that shoppers are not willing to accept a trade-off. So we need to make sure to meet the needs of consumers, customers, company, and communities.” Burns also addresses the following sustainability-related subjects:

Polyvinyl chloride. “PVC has some excellent properties for certain applications. Some have raised questions about its overall environmental profile, therefore, alternative packaging can be considered where applicable.”

Biopolymers. “Biopolymers are becoming increasingly important in the sustainability equation. There are two critical benefits for this class of materials: A significant impact on the CO2(e) of the material due to bio-based material feedstocks, and a reduction in the dependency on petroleum feedstocks that continue to pose a challenge for both long-term supply and economic forecasting. However, these materials are not the silver bullet that some would like them to be. There are a few key areas that we need to consider as we use biopolymers:

“First, we should carefully look at the broad sustainability impact of these materials, especially on the sustainable sourcing of the feedstocks. Second, keep in mind that the performance profiles of the existing commercialized resins are somewhat limited and cannot be readily switched out with existing polymers without extensive qualifications. And finally, it’s important to review the entire life cycle of these materials and understand their impact from sourcing through end-of-life considerations. There is active R&D investment in this technology and it is expected that existing and new biopolymer materials will become more widely utilized as capacity comes on line and the total life cycles are better understood.”

Standardization. “One of the key challenges that the industry faces as a whole is the absence of an easy, standardized method for evaluating performance. This subject is so complex that the answer to virtually all sustainability questions is... ‘It depends.’ Developing industry standards and adopting common measurement tools will be a huge leap forward.”

P&G’s global impact. Does being a global company help or hinder P&G’s efforts in sustainable packaging? “Our breadth and scale provides us with an advantage as we can look at the issue much more broadly, find potential solutions, and target them to the best potential applications. And because we touch three billion consumers each day, these changes can make a meaningful impact. Overall, by incorporating sustainability into all P&G products, packaging and operations, the company can make a meaningful, significant impact.”

Economic factors. Will sustainable packaging efforts lose priority given the economy’s downturn? “No, I believe it will continue to be a critical business priority for companies like P&G that have a deep, long-term commitment to sustainability. Even in tough economic times, the consumer still wants to live a more sustainable life. We will continue to help her do that, while also getting the performance she wants and the price she needs. Sustainable business practices are good for us, the consumer, and shareholder in the long term.” 

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