The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed Procter & Gamble’s commitment to sustainability.
Even as it ships more toilet paper than ever before, the manufacturer continues sourcing 100% of the pulp for Charmin from third-party-certified sustainable sources and, more broadly, continues working toward its “Ambition 2030” sustainability goals, most recently adding another climate commitment – to be carbon neutral for the decade.
“We haven’t slowed down, we haven’t stopped, we didn’t delay any work. If anything, we’ve ramped up and we’re getting ready to hit certain goals,” says James McCall, a 23-year P&G veteran who has been leading global supply chain sustainability for the last seven years. McCall has helped the function move beyond a conservation mindset to become a coordinated effort toward building a more circular supply chain; this summer, all of the company’s 100-plus sites across the world reached 100% zero-waste-to-landfill status.
Engaging and educating consumers around responsible consumption is also a big part of the job, as the consumer use phase plays a big role in overall product sustainability. That’s the purpose of the “Sustainability at Home” video series the manufacturer launched in response to the unprecedented lifestyle changes consumers are adjusting to today. Housed on YouTube, the “Sustainability at Home” videos depict P&G employees in their homes sharing small changes consumers can make to reduce water and energy usage as well as improve recycling.
Not your typical brand campaign, the video series is intended to help people see how they can personally make a difference by shrinking their carbon footprint at home. Yet many brands are still showcased throughout. One of the videos, for example, shows Tide and Downy in P&G’s “eco-box,” which reduces the amount of plastic used in a typical detergent or softener bottle by 60% and resolves e-commerce related leakage issues. Originally designed for Tide, P&G was fortuitously expanding the successful eco-box design to Gain and Downy just as the pandemic revved up.
“It worked out perfectly because we know consumers were ordering online more because they didn’t want to – or couldn’t – go to stores, so we saw a need to provide more sustainable choices online,” says Rotha Braunt, a 15-year P&G veteran who for the last four years has overseen sustainability and wellness communications across North America fabric and home care brands.
In April, the eco-box design also made its brick-and-mortar debut with the launch of NBD at Target. The wellness brand employs the packaging form for its detergent and fabric softener line.
“We actually design sustainability into our products so people don’t have to make that choice of, ‘Do I want a product that cleans or do I want a product that’s sustainable?’ We call this concept ‘irresistible sustainability,’” Braunt says.
This summer, P&G is testing another sustainable packaging innovation with the launch (in May) of all-paper, plastic-free deodorant tubes for “cedar and salt” Old Spice and “rose + geranium” Secret across 500 Walmart stores.
“Our first package design did not pass a key recyclability test because the glue used to affix the label was affecting the quality of the recycled paper pulp. … We quickly went back to the drawing board to find another label glue that doesn’t impede recycling, and this is what we are using now,” says Anitra Marsh, associate director of global sustainability and brand communications at P&G beauty. “We [previously] conducted a very small test online only with [the Native brand] but nothing at the size and scale of this in-store.”
The manufacturer is testing various sales models as part of what is internally referred to as the “lean innovation approach,” from direct-to-consumer to retailer-specific. The latter provides a key touchpoint that allows P&G to educate shoppers at the point of purchase about the role they play in sustainability initiatives.
“In general, as we launch sustainable products we’ll often partner with a retailer,” McCall says. “Sometimes it’s based off of the supply and what we have available, but a lot of times it’s also about that consumer engagement.”
At Walmart, the Secret and Old Spice paper tubes are merchandised on a custom sidekick. The display communicates P&G’s goal of “Protecting You & Our Planet” and lists several stats explaining the benefits of the new packaging while assuring shoppers about continued product efficacy. Digital and social media activity supports, according to Marsh.