Mr. Clean, Meet Mr. Green

Brandweek_logo_jpegBrandweek talks to the VP of Sustainability at P&G about their green product efforts and how they relate to the wider world of green marketing.

Posted May 20, 2008
By Todd Wasserman, Brandweek

While everyone at this point is probably aware of
Wal-Mart’s efforts to build a more sustainable, green business model,
Procter & Gamble’s initiatives are a bit more under-the-radar.
Still, the company’s goal is no less impressive. By 2012, P&G plans
to cut its carbon footprint by as much as 40%, in part by cutting the
size of its packaging. Perhaps the most visible manifestation of the
program is the compaction of P&G’s liquid laundry detergents, which
are now half the size they were two years ago and do the same number of
washloads. Len Sauers, vp-sustainability at P&G, corresponded with
Brandweek editor Todd Wasserman via e-mail. Here are some excerpts:

P_g_jpegBrandweek: Where does green-ness fall on most consumers’
hierarchy of product needs? Are they willing to pay extra for something
with green credentials? If so, how much extra? I’ve read that only
5-10% of consumers will buy a product chiefly because they’re
eco-friendly. Do you expect that number to rise?
Len Sauers: Consumer research has shown that there is a very
small niche of consumers (~5-10%), who are willing to accept some
trade-off (e.g. higher cost, lesser performance) in order to purchase a
product that claims environmental benefits. The vast majority of
consumers (~50-75%) feel environmental issues are important, but are
not willing to accept such trade-offs. However they will choose a
product that claims environmental benefits if it meets all their other
needs: performance, value, cost, etc. The rest of consumers seem
indifferent to these issues at this time. It is hard to judge how these
numbers will change into the future. They have remained relatively
constant over the past couple of years, even with increased public
attention paid to these issues.

BW: You probably loathe to comment on a competitor, but what are
your thoughts about the approach taken by Clorox with the Green Works
line? Would P&G consider a "green" line like that? Conversely, why
has P&G’s approach so far been to pitch eco-friendly products like
Cold Water Tide with greenness as a selling point rather than say "Tide
LS: We do not comment on competitors. To your other question,
P&G believes we can make the greatest contribution to environmental
sustainability by developing ‘sustainable innovation products.’ These
are products for which there has been a meaningful improvement in the
environmental profile of the product relative to current products, but
for which there are no trade-offs. The consumer gets it all—all the
performance and value she expects and an ability to be environmentally
sustainable. In this way, we are able to bring sustainability to the
mainstream consumer.

An example of one such product is Tide Cold Water.
With this product, consumers see the same performance in cold water as
they do in hot/warm water. There are no trade-offs. However if everyone
in the U.S. switched from hot/warm water to cold water for machine
laundering, we would eliminate up to 34 million tons of carbon dioxide
from being released. This is nearly 8% of the U.S.’ Kyoto target. A
product like this shows the great value of bringing sustainability to
the vast majority of consumers.

Another example is the compaction of liquid laundry
detergents in the U.S. Moving the entire U.S. market to concentrated
liquid laundry detergents will eliminate 140 million pounds of
materials from being used and transported. P&G has set a goal of
developing and marketing at least $20 billion in sustainable innovation
products in the next five years.

BW: Has it been difficult and/or expensive to comply with
Wal-Mart’s new eco-friendly packaging mandates? Are you surprised that
Wal-Mart has gone this route?
LS: Wal-Mart’s approach of minimizing nonvalue added packaging,
while demanding the same level of package performance, is very
consistent with P&G’s ‘No Trade-Offs’ approach to packaging
sustainability. Overall, the costs have been relatively neutral; in
fact, there have been several instances where we have both reduced
costs and provided a more sustainable package to the consumer.

BW: Do you believe P&G has taken a thought leadership role on the area of eco-awareness? If so, why?
LS: Our goal is to bring sustainability in a meaningful way to
the mainstream consumer. That is how one can make the biggest

BW: How far along is P&G in its goal to reduce its carbon footprint 40% by 2012?
LS: Over the past five years, we have reduced by 30% per unit of
production our CO2 emissions, energy/water consumption and disposed
solid waste. We have set a goal of reducing an additional 10% over the
next five years, leading to total reductions over the decade of at
least 40%. We are well on our way to achieving this goal.

BW: I’ve read that the impact of cloth and disposable diapers is
roughly the same if you take into account energy expenditures to clean
cloth diapers. Does that jibe with what you’ve heard? Is that something
P&G makes public?
LS: The U.K. Environment Agency has recently published a Life Cycle Assessment,
which reviews the environmental impacts of both reusable and disposable
diapers. The study confirms that there is little-to-no difference in
terms of overall environmental impacts between disposable and reusable
diapers. The study has already been made public.

BW: Which company outside of P&G do you think has done a good job going green?
LS: I am impressed with the programs at General Electric and
Wal-Mart. Like P&G, both of these companies see sustainability as
both a responsibility and business opportunity. They have also
integrated sustainability into the rhythm of their business. I have
particularly appreciated Wal-Mart’s leadership in moving the liquid
laundry detergent market to compacted products.

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