Today is Overshoot Day, the date when, according to the Global Footprint Network, humanity’s demand for natural resources exceeds Earth’s ability to renew them in a year. As of today, just 34 weeks into 2013, we are officially in ecological overdraft.
To mark it, we’re starting an ongoing series of interviews and posts on how companies are helping bring global resource demands back in balance with the constraints of a finite planet. We’ll be talking with companies about how they are integrating sustainability into their operations and sourcing and addressing pressing environmental challenges like resource scarcity and climate change.
First in this occasional interview series is Paulette Frank, VP of Sustainability and EHS for Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies.
WWF and Johnson & Johnson have been working together for several years to expand sustainable practices in the company’s operations and supply chains. This includes their participation in WWF’s Climate Savers program, and sustainable sourcing of key agricultural ingredients such as palm oil.
Q: What role does sustainability play in determining your company’s future?
A: The mission of Johnson & Johnson is health care. We are about human health and we believe human health and environmental health are inextricably linked. We know there are going be a lot more people on the planet in the next couple of decades. So, if we are going to improve the lives of many, many more people in the future, we know we have to find new ways of doing things.
We have to think of ways of doing more with less. We have to find ways of doing more with more renewable forms of materials and energy. How do we unlock all of that value at the end of life of our products? And, instead of it being wasted, how do we recover that value and make it productive input again?
Q: Is resource scarcity an issue impacting Johnson & Johnson?
A: I think any smart business has to face the fact that resources will get progressively more constrained and think about how they are going to deliver their goods and services in the future within that constrained environment
Today with seven billion people, we are already using one and a half times the world’s resources. So what’s the world going to look like with nine billion people on the planet? And how is the planet going to pay for all the services that we have to deliver to those people, and from our point of view, health being one of them?
Q: How is Johnson & Johnson embedding sustainability into your operations and supply chain?
We work on sustainability across our entire value chain. So, it includes everything from how we source our ingredients to the ingredients we select for our formulas, to how we design packaging, to how we make the product, all the way through to how we market the products.
And we have goals in all of those areas of the value chain. As an example, around new products, we have goals to improve the sustainability of our new products and we have tools to measure that.
We have a palm oil goal for how we source those ingredients that come from palm oil. We have goals to reduce the environmental impact of our manufacturing operation. So, using more renewable energy, reducing waste. So our goals really reflect the breadth of our work across the value chain.
Q: What opportunities does a sustainability strategy present to Johnson & Johnson?
A: We touch a billion people every day through our brands. To me, that is the most exciting opportunity being in a consumer product business and knowing there’s that potential. Even if we touched a small fraction of those billion people with the sustainability message and we were able to move them in a way that resulted in an action—even a small percentage of that is a huge amount of people potentially making it difference. That is wildly exciting to me.
Q: What is the business case for sustainability at Johnson & Johnson?
A: Over the past 20-plus years that we have been setting goals and seeing progress, we’ve also realized benefits from that. We have reduced some of the cost of running the business. We have been able to grow the business at the same time as we have made really significant reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions. So we’ve also, through our experience, gained the confidence that this really does play out. We have the years of experience behind us that show that it does work.
The business case is less about “if we do sustainability” and much more about “how [we do sustainability]”, because constrained resources don’t only apply to the environment, they also apply to a business setting. We have to ask ourselves how important is the issue in the world, how important is the issue is to our business? Most importantly, we have to ask ourselves, “can we bring a unique voice?” and “can we bring a unique perspective that really makes a difference on that issue?”
Q: What advice would you give to other companies starting a sustainability journey?
A: Small wins lead to big wins. I think that sometimes, given the scale of the problems we are trying to solve and the fact that people in this space are very passionate about solving those problems, you tend to want to look for big solutions. And big solutions take a lot of time. It takes a lot of time to engage stakeholders. It takes a lot of time to get everyone on the same page to figure out what that first step is going to be. I would say to try to resist the urge to want to go big right out of the gate and, instead, take bite-size steps. Small wins lead to bigger wins.