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Virginie Helias
Chief Sustainability Officer
Procter & Gamble

06 September 2022

What is your core vision for Procter & Gamble within sustainability, after watching the landscape change in the past few years?

At P&G, we have embedded sustainability in how we do business, and we are stepping up as a force for growth and good, by reducing our footprint across our business, developing products and programs that deliver irresistible superiority in a sustainable way, and building partnerships to address the challenges we all face today. 83% of our carbon footprint results from consumers using our products, but we plan to drastically reduce this impact through innovation and education. The Cold Wash Campaign that won the Green Lion sustainability award aims to encourage people to wash their clothes at lower temperatures using our Tide and Ariel products which are very effective even in Quick & Cold cycles at 30°C.

Since 2015, we have avoided 15 million tons of carbon through cold water washing, our target being to double the impact with an additional 30 million tons by 2030, which is ten times more than our yearly emissions in all our plants globally. Although we are able to meet our net zero goal by 2040 in supply chain and operations, the biggest impact is still at the consumer level.

In which way is innovation helping you achieve all the net zero goals you have on your to-do list in the following years?

Innovation is the lifeblood of P&G and is present across all our sectors. When it comes to product innovation the focus is to decarbonize all the materials that we use, as well as employ as many products that are effective in torture test situations, as possible. For example, the 50 Liter Home Program, made in collaboration with washing machine manufacturers, other companies and organizations, will enable people to use ten times less water by using our products. The system innovation decreases our use of virgin petroleum plastic by 50% and replaces it with recycled materials - which, unfortunately, are not sufficient today to meet the demand in terms of quantity and quality. There is a lack of feedstock due to low recycling rates and the output material being of very low quality. To address this, we spearheaded Holy Grail, a technology that uses invisible digital watermarks embedded in the packaging to facilitate a more accurate sorting of materials, thus helping the development of the circular economy. Another innovation example is PureCycle: polypropylene is very difficult to use as part of the circular economy, so it ends up being downcycled, but our scientists found a way to purify it. Following the principles of collaboration and innovation that I mentioned before, we licensed this technology and now share it with our peers in the industry. 

Last but not least, we greatly value collaboration and have created the first P&G product supply innovation center focused on sustainability. The most difficult thing in marketing is to change consumer habits so our mantra is to make sustainability irresistible and the Cascade dishwasher brand with its "Do It Every Night" campaign is the best example to date. Contrary to popular belief, using dishwashers saves water and energy, a full load of dishes uses four gallons of water which would translate into two minutes of a running faucet. 

Which is the biggest challenge that you are facing at the moment for the green transition?

The biggest challenge changes every other month. One year ago, it would have been getting the business case across to show there is a way to become both sustainable and profitable. Now that we passed that stage and it is a given that sustainability is the only way to have a thriving business in the long run, the cost element represents major headwinds. With the price of materials increasing, we need to make sure we are building sustainability into our innovation and brands to deliver irresistibly superior user experiences that are also sustainable – delivering superior value to consumers. We have also included sustainability metrics in our financial analyses as a means to help accelerate the investment in the green transition. Supply resilience, digital savviness, and employee value equation are also pain points that we need to take into consideration, but probably the biggest opportunity for the next few years is how to make a sustainable lifestyle desirable and accessible. This is where delivering irresistibly superior products that are sustainable will play such a big role.

 

Although we have been trying to educate consumers for years, there still is a considerable intention to action gap of about 50%, which means that only half of people who claim they want to live sustainably are actually taking action to do so.

 

Does P&G make any kind of outreach for other companies to follow into your footsteps regarding educating the public?

Outreach is part of our philosophy and we have been doing it for many years. We are regularly holding supplier summits. We have created the Product Supply Innovation Center (Kronberg, Germany) to leverage the local ecosystem and share our learnings with the broader industry.  We share best practices with our suppliers to help them reduce their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emission reduction goals – which incidentally reduce our own scope 3 emissions.

When it comes to Scope 3 emissions and meeting your net zero targets for 2040, how much of it boils down to carbon credits versus actual intrinsic changes?

Our priority is to reduce our own carbon footprint as much as possible and we actually managed to cut down operation emissions by 56%, which is more than we planned. We are also advancing natural climate solutions to balance any remaining emissions from our operations that cannot be eliminated. Partnership is key. For Natural Climate Solutions, we work with nature conservation teams and always make sure the projects we undertake are measurable in the long term while also protecting, restoring and improving ecosystems. The time to act is now and sustainability can only be achieved through innovation and collaboration.

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