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Exclusive interview

Sustainability without trade-offs is the goal for P&G – Part 1

By Katie Bird , 24-Aug-2010
Last updated the 08-Sep-2010 at 13:22 GMT

Sustainability is undoubtedly today’s business buzzword and consumer facing industries such as the cosmetics and personal care sector are particularly implicated. But, although consumers are increasingly aware of the concept, are they prepared to make sacrifices to achieve it? P&G, the world’s largest fast moving consumer goods company, says no.

CosmeticsDesign.com USA spoke to Jenny Rushmore, global sustainability leader for P&G beauty and grooming, about the challenges posed and opportunities presented by the pursuit of sustainable operations.

According to Rushmore, P&G works on the principle that sustainability must not represent trade offs in terms of price or product quality for the consumer. Neither, of course, can it be too costly for the corporation - as Rushmore points out, if a product makes a loss it will be discontinued, because it is unsustainable for the company.

“Consumers might say they are willing to accept products that are slightly more expensive, or that don’t perform quite as well, but when you run the tests you find it isn’t true. The majority of consumers are not prepared to accept trade offs for sustainability,” she told CosmeticsDesign.com USA.

Of course there is a minority of consumers who will accept variations in product efficacy and price, but for Rushmore these remain niche consumers purchasing niche brands, not P&G products.

Packaging reductions

So, the key is to find ways of making operations more sustainable without tradeoffs to the consumer, Rushmore explained, which for packaging means the aesthetics must not be jeopardised.

“The appearance really matters a lot in this industry, some cosmetics, consumers buy because of the packaging almost as much as the product,” she said.

Therefore, reducing the packaging used in each product, or making it more lightweight, is a good ‘invisible’ change, according to Rushmore.

Using a computer modelling system that simulates the pressures placed on plastic packaging during filling, distribution and consumer use and suggests the minimum material that needs to be used, P&G has saved about 2,200 tonnes of plastic per year, she explained.

“We have applied this to our Pantene packaging in Asia and have reduced materials by over 10 percent, saving over 750 tonnes per year,” she said.

In addition, the company recently announced plans to use a bioresin sourced from sugarcane for the packaging of a number of its leading brands.

Another tool that can be used to help identify problem areas is life cycle assessment analysis.

“LCA looks at the life cycle of a product from sourcing, whether it is an agricultural product or a chemical one, through manufacturing, transportation and disposal. It looks at all the different impacts including carbon dioxide,” she explained.

“By doing that you get the profile of the product and you can see straight away what the impacts are and what you need to tackle. It’s a way of focusing on what is meaningful.”

P&G also uses the LCA to identify where savings can be made in manufacturing operations and formulation, which will be investigated in Part 2 of this Exclusive Interview to be published next week.

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