Ethical Corporation’s annual Responsible Business Summit London, May 7-8, brought together global experts to share their experience and discuss the latest sustainability challenges faced in 2013. Here’s more from that great gathering – the highlights from the sessions we joined on Day 2:
INNOVATIVE APPROACHES TO DEVELOPING NEW SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS
In this session we learned how companies are driving sustainability into product design.
Kimberly-Clark Tom Berry – Head of Sustainability, EMEA
Kimberly-Clark make health and hygiene products, such as Kleenex, Andrex and Huggies. They operate in around 175 countries, so they have a big footprint. They essentially use wood fibre and oil to make products and, in their production, use a lot of energy and water. Also many of their products are disposable, so there’s a lot of waste associated with them.
Kimberly-Clark have a very clear sustainability strategy in which they’ve set themselves a goal – that 25% of all sales should come from environmentally innovative products. The product that Tom used as an example of this was Andrex Eco, a new toilet tissue, launched last year, made with 90% recycled fibre and 10% bamboo.
The bamboo is used because it grows in 3 years, as opposed to 60 years for wood. The product is FSC certified, has a lower carbon footprint in production and uses 100% recycled packaging – so it’s a fantastic product – but the key thing is that the marketing is focused around softness, not around its eco credentials.
Kimberly-Clark know that the core reason people don’t buy into recycled toilet rolls is that they think it’s a rubbish product and that it won’t be soft, because that has been their experience so far. So, all the way through the development, they’ve focused on making it really soft and delivering what consumers want. See the TV advert below.
Bamboo was used as a point of difference. It’s an innovation to the toilet tissue market in the UK and a reason to believe that it will be different from other recycled products. The product is also priced in line with regular toilet rolls.
Kimberly Clark sources from plantations and also from natural forests. They’ve set a target that by 2020 that they’ll reduce by half what they currently source from natural forests. It’s a massive goal and they don’t know how they’ll achieve it, but it gives the company a vision and an aim for the future. Here are some of the other sustainability goals they’ve set themselves.
They’re also looking into other alternative materials, like wheat straw and algae fibre, which is a potential by-product of the biofuel industry. They are doing this in collaboration with product suppliers and also NGOs, such as Greenpeace. If they do it right, their innovative practices could be ground breaking and set the bar for other tissue manufacturers.
Sustainability insights can also drive innovation beyond the product. For instance, even though tissue is itself water intensive in its production, 75% of the water footprint of a toilet roll comes from flushing. Kimberly Clark ran a campaign in Spain with their brand Scottex; the aim was to increase sales while at the same time saving 200 million litres of water, by giving away flush-saving devices.
Kimberly Clark Professional, which makes toilet tissue for hotels and conference centres, observed that when consumers use flat single sheets of paper, rather than a roll, they use 40% less. Also flat sheets pack much better – with rolls you have to ship 70% air – meaning dramatic savings on packaging and transport. Potentially then, the future of consumer tissues could be moving to flat sheets.
Take a look at the video below (you’ll be diverted to You Tube) to see how Kimberly Clark “Reduce Today, Respect Tomorrow”; they’re reducing consumption at every level to help lower the environmental impact.
Patagonia Vincent Stanley – Vice President Marketing
Patagonia became known in the 1990s for developing durable products with minimum social and environmental impact, when they changed from using chemically grown cotton to the use of organic cotton in all of their sportswear. They also helped to instigate the commercial use of recycled polyester in their fleeces.
One of the things that motivated them in the early days was the whole idea of Cradle to Cradle, or The Circular Economy. Their intention is to be able to take back any product they make and recycle it into something of equal value. This was easy to do with their underwear and fleeces, but with a high quality woven shirt they can only make a t-shirt, from a cashmere sweater they can make the top for a pool table – so, in the real world, the kind of recycling they want to do isn’t possible.
Vincent reminded us there’s a good reason for the 4R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle); if we really want to make an impact, we need to look at a new economy that has its basis on sensible consumer consumption.
In 2011, Patagonia took out an advert in the New York Times with an attention-grabbing headline, ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’. What they essentially explained to the customer was; here’s a great fleece jacket, one of Patagonia’s best, with 60% recycled polyester and recyclable after 15-20 years wear. But, it also generated 3x its weight in greenhouse gases in its production and the water used would meet the needs of 45 people for a day. They wanted to point out to the customer that the environmental impact of the things we produce is astonishing and nothing is sold for what it costs nature.
How does Patagonia incorporate sustainable innovation today? They primarily rely on fabric suppliers. Almost everything is developed in partnership. They’ve just started using a new material for their wetsuits, called Yulex, a rubber substitute from plant origin that’s incredibly sustainable.
Also, when Patagonia innovate, they make decisions from a moral, not a financial, standpoint. Polyester and Nylon are fabrics they use a lot. They are oil based and there are no substitutes, so they use as much recycled content as they can. In the case of wool, they’re involved in a project with The Nature Conservancy of Argentina, and Ovis XXI working with 7th generation wool-growers to improve the quality of the Patagonian pasture land.
They’re using animal husbandry practices too, which will produce a better product. That’s the “Holy Grail” for Patagonia – a better product, while at the same time improving the environment.
In 2010 Patagonia collaborated with Walmart to develop the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, with a vision to create a global apparel and footwear industry that avoids environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people associated with its activities. Now, with around 80 members, it’s responsible for over a third of the footwear sold all over the world. They consider that if a third of the industry is leading it will be hard for the remaining not to follow.
Through the coalition they created The Higg Index 1.0, which is a free self-assessment tool for factories and brands to measure their energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. It’s also something that companies can use to make decisions on which fabrics and processes to use when designing products.
Vincent believes that in a few years time a customer will be able to take a cell phone to a hangtag and get the same kind of information that they can now get on food labels. Right now customers have no idea what the environmental value of their clothes is. If you have knowledge you make better decisions – you share that experience – and that starts to make a difference in the world. Patagonia sees this as key.
Amcor David Clark – Vice President, Safety, Environment & Sustainability
Amcor make packaging for most of the major consumer brands. Packaging plays an important part in the way that food is produced, distributed and consumed. More than a third of food that’s being produced is wasted and half of that waste comes from spoilage.
One of the innovations that Amcor is using to protect food, and at the same time lower the environmental impact of packaging, is the use of bio-materials.
Amcor look at the full lifecycle of the products they’re developing; the materials used; how they’re manufactured; the transportation; how consumers use the pack; refrigeration; cooking methods; and – at the end of its life – avoidance of landfill through recycling or composting.
David showed us a bag for holding carrots, made from plant-based resources, with a small footprint. It had holes to allow the right amount of air to move in and out of the bag, keeping the carrots fresher for longer than would be possible without packaging. A lot of resources are used in the production of food and the most important thing we can do is to protect that food from becoming waste. At the end of its life the bag is compostable, so it returns to the earth in a ‘closed-loop’ system.
Amcor are able to measure the impact of their packs with a tool called ASSET. By doing this they can tell their customers the exact impact their packs have, compared to others.
Today bio-plastics are still a little more expensive than the plastics they’re replacing. They’re currently used for products aimed at environmentally aware consumers, who are prepared to pay extra, but the goal is to move to mass consumption. The general consumer will not pay more, but they expect brands to be developing more sustainable products.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (CSR) AND LEARNING
Recent research by Ethical Corporation shows that more than half of CSR executives have masters-equivalent degrees, over half of which are sustainability-related. This session debated whether this gives companies the capabilities to manage the sustainability challenges and what gaps have been identified?
University of Manchester Dr David North – Executive Director of the Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI) (Former UK Corporate Affairs Director for Tesco plc)
The SCI (Sustainable Consumption Institute) was established by The University of Manchester to research sustainability issues and target some of the most challenging problems posed by climate change. They bring together industry, academics, scientists and researchers to look at ways to help households, businesses and governments move to more sustainable living.
David North says there’s a gap in what businesses need and what we currently have regarding sustainability. His recent move to head up a university research institute has given him an understanding of the knowledge he was lacking when he was leading sustainability initiatives at Tesco.
Current research (by EABIS) shows that three quarters of businesses would benefit from customised in-company training, rather than academic research. That got David thinking as to whether that really is the gap between what companies have and what they need – and how academics can fill that gap.
Businesses have worked with academia for a long time. The whole question of how we balance resources against economic development and wellbeing can be traced back to academic thinkers – such as John Stuart Mill (1806 –73). If you want to look at the origins of the greenhouse effect and its impact on climate change you can go back to the scholar John Tyndall (1820 – 93).
So, what’s the main influence on sustainability thinking today? We know that consumers account for two thirds of carbon emissions; we know that shifting consumer behaviour to less resource intensive consumption is something that would make a massive difference to sustainability; we also know that it’s incredibly hard to do – but what we don’t see is much business/academic collaboration on challenges like this.
David observed, looking around at The Responsible Business Summit, that there was strong business to business communication, but little academic involvement – and he asked himself why? He came up with 2 reasons:
- Sustainability is a messy subject – it’s incredibly broad – If you’re not sure on the question it’s difficult to collaborate.
- Even when the question is clear, modern businesses have less of a tradition of working with academia and don’t tend to consider what might be gained from collaborating with others.
We’re not cracking the issue of sustainability. Currently, most indicators show that we’re going in the wrong direction. The key for David is for business to renew its relationship with academia through executive learning. The way to do this is for companies to find a university that’s working in the areas of sustainability that suit them and have a discussion. But they should be armed with the question, not what they think the answer is.
The Academy of Business in Society (EABIS) Simon Pickard – Director General
EABIS was founded in 2001 with the support of leading Business Schools in Europe, in partnership with IBM, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Shell. The companies challenged the schools to rethink their mission, because courses were only partially addressing the business need for innovative sustainability leaders.
The Academy’s concerns are the planet’s finite resources, poverty, inequality and the erosion of community – and they believe that business has a leading role to play in addressing these challenges.
Last year they were challenged to assess what they’d actually achieved in the past 10 years. They interviewed around 100 CEOs and found that only 17% said that their primary source of research and new learning was from academia. The positive message was; 70% said that in the next 10 years they would benefit from closer collaborations.
However, subjects such as brand value, sustainability innovation, macrotrends, etc. are pretty much invisible in mainstream university programs. They also found that Deans are not embracing sustainability in their own talent development – few schools are engaged in faculty training programs to address this. EABIS aims to transform the relationship between business leaders and academics and build the network to deliver global learning and action.
See here for the projects EABIS are involved in.