Sustainable Consumption: From an Issue to be Managed to the Core of the Business

Monday, January 3, 2011 7:24 pm GMT

Extract from P&G UK Vice President, Irwin Lee’s speech to the Confederation of British Industry on the issue of sustainable consumption:

“When I came to the UK in 2007, climate change and sustainability dominated the discussions. A year later, we were all gripped by the grim news about the economy and how we were dealing with it. Sustainability fell away from the limelight, but it didn’t go away.

Consumers today are more savvy and discerning than ever before. They want quality products and great value first and foremost --- before anything else.

When asked if they want to do their bit for the environment – if they would change their behaviour to limit the impact they have on climate change – two thirds of the UK population say yes.

But in our categories --- in our business --- they won’t pay more for this or make do with less performance. They won’t accept trade-offs.

If we sacrifice quality or value, if we make the choice instore confusing or complicated, or if the use of the product is impractical, we lose our consumers.

To bring them with us, we need to provide products that allow them to do their bit for the environment with no compromises. And we need to connect with them to show --- in a very simple way --- how we can help them to make a difference. The onus is on us to shape the future of sustainable consumption.

Small steps and incremental changes can make a huge difference when we put the force of innovation behind them and create a movement of consumers.

Let’s consider laundry. The energy needed to heat water is more than 70% of the end-to-end environmental footprint of a laundry product. The potential energy savings of everyone washing their clothes in cold water are staggering – enough to power a country the size of Ireland - but people want brilliantly clean clothes, they want them to feel soft and smell great.

We had to produce a product that could deliver this performance at low temperatures… and then convince consumers that it worked.

In 2008, we launched our breakthrough gel format into the laundry market. Ariel Excel Gel is a highly compacted detergent designed to clean brilliantly at 15ºc. As well as packaging, transport and waste improvements associated with the new concentrated format, consumers are saving money and energy on top of getting a better performing product.

Our cold washing campaign dates back to 2006 when we launched Ariel Turn to 30. More than a quarter of UK households now wash regularly at 30° or less – up from 2% when we started. This is over 58,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions prevented. But there’s a lot of work ahead to convince the remainder of the population to turn down the dial.

Consumers embrace innovations like this and place trust in brands that get it right. I’ve worked in six countries and nowhere is this truer than the UK. If we make decisions easy, if we inform and educate around the issues and what our products provide … we can bring them with us. This is benefit-driven innovation and communication.”