A Meeting with P&G’s Head of Sustainability: Partnerships are the key to moving forward

Over winter break I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet with Len Sauers, the Vice President for Global Sustainability at Procter and Gamble. In addition to receiving some valuable career advice, we discussed P&G’s sustainability efforts as well as some of the environmental challenges the globe faces on a larger scale.

P&G has some ambitious sustainability efforts which can be read about here. Goals announced in the company’s long-term environmental sustainability vision include powering their plants with 100 percent renewable energy, using 100 percent renewable or recycled materials in all products and packaging, and having zero consumer or manufacturing waste going to landfills. These long-term goals are augmented with short-term 2020 targets of powering plants with 30 percent renewable energy, replacing 25 percent of petroleum-based materials with sustainably-sourced renewable materials, and reducing manufacturing waste to landfill to less than 0.5 percent of input materials, among others.

For a company of P&G’s size (nearly $84 billion in sales in 2012), undergoing such changes are not easy and will not happen overnight. However, at the same time, this size allows them to leverage their buying power to create widespread positive change, which it is doing. P&G has “Sustainability Guidelines for Suppliers” and gives preference to suppliers that meet these standards, discontinuing relationships with those that violate the company’s principles multiple times.

This brings me to my main point of this post: the importance of partnerships in this day and age. P&G, despite its vast resources, cannot do everything by itself. As Sauers explained, they do extensive work with their suppliers, consultants, and more recently, nonprofits. The company has partnerships with the World Wildlife Fund and the Forest Stewardship Council in sourcing its palm oil and wood fiber, working towards net zero deforestation by 2020. Nonprofits bring different resources and perspectives to the table and handle certain issues that companies cannot deal with by themselves. In this case, P&G provides the monetary resources while the nonprofits help the company develop strategies and provide a trusted third-party verification to validate the efforts.

By engaging with external stakeholders to get results, the Voinovich School is doing work in the Appalachian region similar to what P&G is doing on a larger scale. The School has partnered with the local nonprofit Rural Action for the Appalachian Ohio Zero Waste Initiative and is a founding partner of TechGROWTH Ohio, a group that provides entrepreneurial assistance to start-ups in the Appalachian Ohio. Both initiatives have been very beneficial for the region.

Moving back out beyond Appalachia, collaboration is key for continued progress on global issues. The world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and as a result, increasingly interdependent. This means we need to work together and cannot afford to ignore problems in other parts of the world without seeing consequences. Building bridges between the business and nonprofit sectors is proving to be one effective means of cooperation for the greater good.

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