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P&G’s people-driven
approach to a

to a sustainable future

In this myGrapevine magazine exclusive interview, Chris Young, P&G’s VP of HR for Northern Europe, talks about how employees help advance the company’s values and its commitments to the environment...

Words by Liam Soutar

Sustainability is increasingly topping the agenda of Boardrooms across the globe. And companies that directly serve the public, such as consumer products brands, know the impact that a strong sustainability and purpose plan can have on their brand. In fact, a 2017 study from Cone Communications, which looked specifically at CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) found that 87% of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for a social or environmental issue they cared about, while 76% will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services after learning that it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.

What is clear from the above data is that consumers are becoming more conscious of where their products and services are coming from, and are only choosing to engage with companies that share the same values and beliefs as them. And, if organisations want to be profitable, they must listen to their customers’ concerns about company values, or lack thereof.

 

However, it is not just consumers that are choosing companies based on their sustainable and CSR practices. In fact, data has shown that there is a clear demand from employees and prospective talent for businesses to have a strong focus on sustainability and purpose. In fact, a 2022 report from PLAY titled 'Corporate climate crisis: why businesses need to support employees in making sustainable behavioural changes' gathered the thoughts of more than 1,000 UK respondents on this very subject. The study found that 68% of all staff feel that it is important that the company they work for acts sustainably. This demand for good, sustainable practices appears to be particularly important for the younger demographics, with the same study finding that one in four workers won’t work for an unsustainable business.

We can use our brands and our voice as a force for good and a force for growth to shine a light on the challenges faced by people in society

PLAY’s research also showed that sustainable behaviour could actually help employers with talent attraction and retention, with more than half of employees (54%) saying that they would be more likely to work for a company that provides resources and tools for them to become more sustainable. And amidst ‘The Great Resignation’ – the current period of mass staff turnover, where around one in four UK employees have either left their job or are considering doing so, according to a 2021 Randstad UK study – employers are increasingly under pressure to engage and retain their best people. Many firms might turn their attention to improving pay and benefits, but other aspects of business practice, such as sustainability practices and ethical pledges, are increasingly becoming a deciding factor for employees debating whether to stay with their current company or seek a new opportunity.

 

Chris Young

Vice President of HR
for Northern Europe

Ambitions for a cleaner future


With a global workforce of around 101,000 staff - 2,500 of which are based in the UK - to keep engaged (and from leaving), Procter & Gamble (P&G) should be keeping a keen eye on its employees’ desires for more sustainable practices. Fortunately, the consumer brands behemoth, which was founded by Englishman William Procter and Irishman James Gamble and is based in Cincinnati, Ohio, counts many household names with an innate aspect of environmental concern to them – whether its laundry detergent brand Ariel and its commitment to reducing household water consumption, or the likes of Gillette and Pampers focusing on reducing landfill waste and using more recycled materials.

Chris Young, P&G’s Vice President of HR for Northern Europe, speaks exclusively to myGrapevine magazine about how the firm is leading the way in these areas, by encouraging employees to “harness their personal passion” for sustainability by participating in company-led eco-initiatives and, in doing so, “willingly align themselves” to the aspirations of the Boardroom for a cleaner, greener future.

P&G channels its sustainability plans through its aptly named Ambition 2030 Project – which was launched to enable and inspire positive impact on the environment and society, while creating value for the company and its consumers. The idea was born out of previous environmental commitments from the company. In 2010, for example, the firm declared a set of goals to reduce its environmental footprint across climate, water and waste, including producing 15billion liters of clean water and 30% fewer emissions from its facilities. By 2020, P&G had achieved 14 out of its 16 goals originally set in 2010, and had made significant progress for the two goals it did not meet in entirety, according to Chris. But aside from P&G’s focus on engaging with consumers on the issue of sustainability, getting employees on board with the company’s sustainability ambitions is also a huge consideration – given the aforementioned PLAY report’s findings on the number of workers wanting their firm to have a strong sustainability plan. But how is the firm building sustainability into the workplace, and how are leaders educating employees across all levels of social and environmental sustainability?

 

Harnessing personal passion for the environment


P&G's Ambition 2030 goal seeks to address two of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges: finite resources and growing consumption. But crucial to achieving these sizeable challenges is having employees that are bought in and believe in the project, which P&G appears to do in several ways. Chris explains: “We offer employees the opportunity to harness their personal passion in environmental sustainability, be that supporting a site project on water conservation or food waste reduction, volunteering for a beach clean-up in their local community or by creating advertising campaigns to inspire small actions at home to help conserve resources and protect our planet. Company events around activities such as World Water Day and Earth Week provide employees with opportunities for reflection, discussion and learning to understand how to minimise our footprint and impact.”

This approach is backed up by general statistics which indicate a keen appetite from workers around the world to get involved in such environmental campaigns. According to a 2020 survey of more than 2,000 UK workers, conducted by Censuswide on behalf of designer and sustainability campaigner Leyla Acaroglu, 63% of employees expressed a desire to learn more “green skills” that could be put to use in the workplace. And more data has suggested that, when done well, efforts for equality, sustainability and communities can have a tremendous effect on employee contentment, as well as retaining and recruiting talent.

According to a 2021 global survey from IBM’s Institute for Business Value (IBV), 71% of employees and employment seekers say that environmentally sustainable companies are more attractive employers. More than two-thirds of respondents said they would be more likely to apply for and accept jobs with environmentally and socially responsible organisations, and nearly half would be prepared to accept a lower salary to work for such a company.

 

Inspiring others & fostering opportunities


But it appears that P&G isn’t resting on its laurels by just offering staff the chance to get involved in its eco-projects. Chris explains that the company seeks opinions from its employees, via regular surveys, to determine how sustainability is being discussed in their business units, their understanding of the business goals and how they can help. This in turn leads to employees building sustainability thinking and practices into their everyday work, identifying projects that might be relevant for sites, supply chain, brand campaigns or partnerships within society, according to Chris. He adds: “They are encouraged to share learnings across the organisation to inspire others and foster faster re-application of technologies and opportunities. These projects are reflected in their workplans and form an integrated part of what they do – environmental sustainability isn’t a bolt on to the business, it underpins our business.”

He adds: “Our employees willingly align themselves to this aspiration as they are passionate about driving progress in environmental sustainability, sharing the same desire as the company: to protect the planet now and for generations to come.”

Highlights from HRGV Live 2022

At our recent HR Grapevine Live 2022 event, Chris Young, P&G's VP of HR for Northern Europe, talks about what makes P&G a unique place to forge a career path.

Our employees willingly align themselves to this aspiration as they are passionate about driving progress in environmental sustainability

‘We’re all about doing the right thing’


So far, so good for P&G. But while sustainability and the environment are understandably things that global businesses should throw their weight behind, they’re not the only issues that employees want their workplaces to tackle. Purposeful actions – whether it be championing equality, equity, diversity or something else – are also serious issues for any HR leader to consider. So much so, in fact, that recent data from LinkedIn found that 74% of members place a high value on finding work that delivers on a sense of purpose. Furthermore, a 2019 study from PwC found that 63% of staff felt more motivated to work if they believed their company had a clearly defined set of values. Additionally, 65% of the same respondents felt passionate about their work. And at P&G, as with their sustainability pledges, a strong sense of purpose is not just “a bolt on to the business”, it underpins it.

How P&G’s brands encourage sustainability

P&G’s brands encourage consumers to practice ‘responsible consumption’. As an example, the biggest environmental impact of laundry is related to the energy used to heat water in the washing machine in the home, P&G states. And according to the Cold Water Saves campaign, about 90% of the energy used by the washing machine during laundry goes towards heating the water. Ariel strives to lower the average temperature of doing the laundry by wanting to inspire half a billion people in Europe and beyond to adopt a more sustainable habit of washing in colder temperatures: turning from 40oC to 30oC already saves 35% of the in-use energy. All P&G brands are also focused on ensuring 100% of their packaging is recyclable or reusable by 2030.

The company aspires to be net zero across its operations and supply chain (from raw material to retailer) by 2040, with interim science-based targets established for 2030 – including purchasing 100% renewable electricity globally, cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half at P&G sites, being carbon neutral across our operations for the decade and delivering a 35% increase in water efficiency at P&G sites.

Much like its transparency over environmental issues and its work to improve them, P&G happily publishes its progress in an annual Citizenship Report, detailing progress across areas of community impact, equality and inclusion and environmental sustainability – all built on a foundation of ethics and corporate responsibility. In the company’s own words, when brands and businesses meaningfully engage in equality it leads to a better world for all. ‘Our Purpose, Values and Principles (PVPs) are the foundation of who we are’, P&G proudly states on its website. Its purpose is to improve consumers' lives in “small but meaningful ways”, and to inspire employees to make a positive contribution every day.”

 

“We're all about doing the right thing. We are committed to being ‘A Force for Growth and A Force for Good’. That's why our people and our brands do good every day,” says the company in its Community Impact report, which highlights several of the meaningful ways it has contributed to society – from supporting hygiene education and providing a simple necessity like water to areas of high poverty, or delivering essentials for families impacted by disaster (P&G lent support after more than 30 natural disasters in 2021, by donating products to charities like the American Red Cross). Such acts are strong examples of a defined sense of purpose – that being a desire to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities that P&G serves. When taking into account the aforementioned LinkedIn data, these initiatives are sure to bolster not just P&G’s consumer trust, but also their attempts to engage employees that are passionate about getting involved in such aid schemes.

And the workforce plays a huge part in making sure P&G stays true to these core values. Every year, the company surveys all employees globally – from plant technicians to the office population, and uses this employee feedback to assess what they do well as a company, and where they can improve, developing and executing action plans in response. Again, the P&G website proudly states: “We know that P&G employees believe in the personal and business value of this PVP foundation – our PVPs are consistently cited in our annual employee survey as the number one aspect of our culture that employees would not change. Our philosophy is that a reputation of trust and integrity is built over time, is earned every day and provides lasting value for our stakeholders.”

We offer employees the opportunity to harness their personal passion in environmental sustainability... to inspire small actions at home to help conserve resources and protect our planet

 

Chris paints a clear picture of P&G’s strategy, that gaining and retaining the trust of consumers and employees is key to fulfilling the company’s sustainability and purpose plans, and navigating this uncertain future. And so, as other firms ponder the question of how to help create a more sustainable future (and get staff on board in doing so), many would do well to look at how P&G has so far answered that question. From advocating employees to “harness their personal passion” and foster a shared sense of purpose, to using its array of brand powers to help people make the right choices for the planet, P&G shows its colleagues and customers alike that they can play a huge part in helping the company fulfil its ambitions. And, as Chris concludes: “We can use our brands and our voice as a force for good and a force for growth to shine a light on the challenges faced by people in society and provide meaningful programmes towards a more equally inclusive world for all, where both people and the business can thrive.”

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