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Boosting Employee Engagement While Confronting COVID-19

For this year’s View from the Top feature we checked in on Colgate-Palmolive.

Pablo Silva Freire
Pablo Silva Freire

Pat Reynolds, VP Editor EmeritusPat Reynolds, VP Editor EmeritusI’d hoped to visit them in person at what looks to be a mighty impressive Global Technology Campus in Piscataway, N.J. But as we all know, this past year was not very conducive to anything being done in person—from interviews to trade shows to seeing my granddaughters in Germany. Still, thanks to the wonders of Google Meet, I was able to have some incredibly fruitful conversations with the good folks at Colgate, the gist of which you can read here.

That story focuses primarily on packaging innovations aimed at helping a nearly $16 billion Consumer Packaged Goods company minimize its carbon footprint. Few would disagree that the firm has made some meaningful strides in 2020. But this was also a year when Colgate showed up big time in the planet’s response to COVID-19. How? By donating 25 million bars of soap to support the World Health Organization’s #SafeHands Challenge.

“The WHO is promoting hand-washing as one of the ways to slow the spread of the pandemic, and we’re committed to supporting a healthier future for all,” says Colgate Director of Corporate Communications Tom DiPiazza. “So we called on five of our plants on three continents to start producing these bars of soap as fast as we could. Then we worked with UNICEF, CARE, and Save the Children to get it delivered where it was needed.”

Go here to see what OpX has to say on the subject of employee engagement.

“We went at it fast and furious,” says Jose Luis Molinar, Global Packaging Director Personal & Home Care. “It came out of our production sites in Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, South Africa, and Turkey. Within 45 days we were ready to begin shipping.”

Mind you, these bars didn’t fly under any of the established Colgate brands such as Irish Spring or Palmolive Classic or Softsoap. Original art had to be created, including hand-washing instructions that appear on the back of the paper wrap or paperboard carton.

Chief Technology Officer Patricia Verduin confirms the “fast and furious” aspect of the initiative. “I think it was five senior people in a room who said ‘Let’s do this.’ Then we had to execute on a design, line up the packaging materials, schedule the packaging lines, and work with our supply chain experts to make it happen.”

One relatively unintended but certainly beneficial consequence of the project was that it brought with it a truly meaningful boost in employee engagement. “You have to remember,” says Verduin, “when these packages of soap came out, the true impact of the pandemic was just being recognized. It was a very stressful time. So our employees were able to feel good about contributing, feel good that the company they worked for was doing the right thing.”

One of those employees was Pablo Silva Freire, who is shown beside the ACMA wrapping machine he operates in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Thanks, Pablo. Your contribution, and Colgate’s more broadly, is the kind of thing we’ll remember in a year most of us would just as soon forget. - Pat Reynolds

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