ideas & concepts

What if Proctor & Gamble’s Sustainability Efforts were Circularized?

15 Jun , 2014  

A recent article on cincinnati.com highlighted some of Proctor & Gamble’s sustainability efforts and framed them with the news of significant cost-cutting:

P&G is cutting 3,000 office jobs over the next two years. It's selling its pet food business and may jettison other units. It's deep into cutting $10 billion from costs by 2016.

In the midst of all that, it's taking steps to save the planet from environmental doom.

If this article was supposed to be about true sustainability, it missed a key tenet of a stable future: livelihoods are not supposed to be at odds with saving the planet. Cutting costs and jobs is not a prerequisite for reducing environmental impact, so the implication is unfortunate.

The article does document all sorts of things P&G is doing to cut its impact and appeal to “Consumers [who] want to feel good about their consumption and the things they buy.” But most of these measures are what the Guardian recently called easy sustainability – they don’t address the fundamental changes in supply chain and consumer preference that a stable future requires.

What if they did? Obviously, P&G is willing to be a player in the new, circular economy, so we cannot simply write them off as a titanic mega-corporation slow to change. With that I give you the circularized version of the P&G sustainability efforts mentioned in the cincinnatti.com article:

Reusable diapers - the circularized version of a Charmin sustainability effort

Reusable diapers - the circularized version of a Charmin sustainability effort

P&G Version: P&G works with suppliers to recycle material or convert waste into an energy source. In Mexico, for example, waste from a Charmin plant is used to make roof tiles. A Pampers factory in the U.S. is converting diaper scraps into upholstery filling.

  • Circularized: P&G material scientists have invented absorbent and easy-to-wash baby diapers and toilet paper that are reusable and machine-washable. They have launched a series of television ads promoting reusable baby diapers and are pilot-testing reusable toilet paper on a few brave college campuses.

P&G Version:  P&G has redesigned its Venus razor and Olay skin care packaging to use more recyclable plastic. Total plastic consumption has been cut by 24 percent, the company says.

  • Circularized: P&G released its latest razor, the Forever, that features a razor cleaning and sharpening kit to maximize the razor’s lifetime. The razor can also be mailed in for repair, at $10 per repair.

P&G Version: P&G has pushed cold-water laundry detergent by Tide and other brands, promoting less

A P&G cold water detergent ad promoting behavior change at multiple levels!

A P&G cold water detergent ad promoting behavior change at multiple levels!

energy consumption by consumers. Half of laundry loads are now washed in cold water compared with 38 percent two years ago.

  • Circularized: This one is actually pretty good! The “cold water” re-brand is an easy way to influence behavior change among the product’s users.

P&G version: P&G is cutting 3,000 office jobs over the next two years.

  • Circularized: P&G has offered the option of a 25-hour work week for office workers, promising to keep benefits and career paths intact. A large percentage of workers have taken them up on the offer, offsetting their reduced income with an equal reduction in childcare, fast food, and other spending associated with a hectic 40-hour work and family life.

Except for the reusable toilet paper bit, most of these ideas are implementable and popularize-able today. Getting there requires a truthful leap beyond business-as-usual sustainability.

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2 Responses

  1. […] Mulrow is a sustainability advocate based in Chicago, and writes for the blog On The New Economy. He is a former fellow of Worldwatch […]

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