CEF Spotlight

Making Consumer Choices Easier: Learning from SC Johnson

By Christine Todd Whitman, President, Whitman Strategy Group

As a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, I am often asked what individuals can and should be doing to preserve our natural resources. My response is a reminder that individual actions have a cumulative impact—our choices do make a difference in the preservation or destruction of our environment. For instance, leaving water running while you brush your teeth wastes between five and ten gallons of water per day, depending on how long you brush and how fast the water flows. Oil deposited along our coastlines from nonpoint source pollution (such as people improperly disposing of the oil from their cars when changing it) in just eight months is equal to the amount of oil that spilled from the Exxon Valdez. More than 320 million cleaning products sold in “trigger bottles” are purchased each year by American consumers, millions of which end up in landfills. Seemingly small things like unplugging a phone charger when not in use or turning off water when it’s not needed can and do make a big impact.

wheelSC Johnson is one example of a company helping make it possible for individual consumers to make environmentally friendly choices when it comes to products they purchase. For more than two decades, SC Johnson has set environmental objectives proactively and willingly issued public sustainability progress reports. The company assesses its environmental footprint on a corporate level and identifies and invests in long-term strategies to achieve aggressive goals in reducing its footprint, while still remaining true to its core goals: continuing to produce winning products and supporting the communities in which it operates. SC Johnson is currently midway through its current five-year environmental and social strategy that supports an ongoing commitment to minimizing landfill waste, further managing footprint through greenhouse gas reduction, continuing to improve product chemistry, and creating better lives through philanthropy. (see image at right)

Corporate Case Study

As a pioneer in renewable energy (the company’s first renewable project was cogeneration, in 2004), SC Johnson evaluates a number of factors when making decisions. As a benchmark for comparison, in 2014 (working toward its 2016 environmental goals), SC Johnson continues making progress toward increasing its goal to elevate use of renewable energy globally to 33%. As part of this effort, the company installed two new 415-foot-tall wind turbines at its largest global manufacturing facility in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin.

The analysis behind this installation included economic, environmental, and logistical factors in consideration of the particular site, followed by evaluation and feasibility of the various renewable options. In this case, analysis showed that the site’s location offered unsheltered access to wind, with average wind speeds ranging between 8 and 15 miles per hour.

Another key aspect to the successful installation was securing local approval. The company focused on dedicated community engagement via town hall meetings with local boards and planning commissions and direct engagement with community members to address questions and concerns. Results, after one year, include a 6,000 metric ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the production of 8 million kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to power 700 homes annually.

This strategy brings senior leaders together from sustainability, public affairs, research, development, education, and the C-Suite to gain alignment on the path forward and secure critical buy-in for success. Every company can emulate this approach by identifying corporate values, potential strategies for change, and long-term goals—then setting metrics and reporting success against those benchmarks. Little by little, the charted course will become a reality.

SC Johnson can have perhaps its greatest cumulative impact by helping customers make sustainable choices. As any chief sustainability officer would acknowledge, behavior change is an absolutely critical part of the path to success.

Green Choices and @SCJGreenChoices, SC Johnson’s website and Twitter account, respectively, provide customers with resources and tips for recycling, saving energy, and adopting other environmentally friendly behaviors. By providing a direct conduit, SC Johnson is able to promote new green products and share helpful sustainability tips and tricks while simultaneously harnessing the power of its loyal fan base—making it easier for these influencers to share the news socially and drive greater awareness.

The company also launched several products on the Green Choices Marketplace in 2013, a website where green-minded consumers can purchase more sustainable products directly from the company, thereby reducing the environmental impact of both the company and the consumer.

Consumer Case Study

Approximately 320 million “trigger bottle” cleaning products are sold each year. But what if we could affect behavior and influence a small population to change the way they buy and consume these products?

SC Johnson determined that if just 20% of the 320 million cleaning products sold were refilled each year, it would be possible to:

-Save more than 7 million pounds of plastic—more than 50 million one-gallon milk jugs
-Avoid using 3.5 million pounds of virgin plastic—that’s about 230 adult elephants weighing 15,000 pounds each
-Avoid transporting nearly 11.5 million gallons of water—enough to fill about 17 Olympic-sized swimming pools

What’s the barrier? Consumers have a perception that cleaning products sold in trigger bottles are superior to cleaning product concentrate. SC Johnson is working against that misinformation, trying to help consumers realize that concentrates are as just as effective, use 63% less plastic than other packaging, and  result in a smaller transportation footprint over time.

Each of us must take responsibility for our actions that contribute to the preservation or destruction of our natural world for the generations to come. I applaud SC Johnson for making sustainable decisions in its manufacturing and also making it easier for each of us to make the right, green choices. 

Christine Todd Whitman is a former governor of New Jersey and EPA Administrator; she serves on the Board of Directors of S.C. Johnson.

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