Marketing and Comms
From Band-Aids to Blood Analyzers:
J&J's Nimble Approach to Marketing Sustainability

How do you ensure that your company’s marketing department doesn’t get too carried away in communicating the sustainability benefits of products?

In 2009, Johnson & Johnson launched its’ EARTHWARDS® program to provide a credible and life cycle based approach to and control for sustainability marketing. The program was also created in response to growing consumer demand for more sustainable products and practices “We wanted to be better able to communicate the greener attributes of our products to our customers,” said Al Iannuzzi, senior director of worldwide environment, health, and safety at Johnson & Johnson, and author of the book Green Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands.

Iannuzzi and Keith Sutter, senior product director of sustainable brand marketing, discussed the challenge of implementing a sustainability program across a large, diverse organization in a forum at Yale School of Management on September 8, 2013. George Newman, assistant professor of organizational behavior, moderated the discussion.

Iannuzzi said that the company wanted to avoid “greenwashing” — dubious sustainability claims that are not supported by data. To that end, Earthwards includes a number of steps beyond compliance with existing regulations, including lifecycle screening to determine the long-term environmental impacts of products. Product managers apply for the designation, demonstrating that their products achieve significant improvement in at least three of the following seven goal areas: materials, packaging, energy, waste, water, social and innovation.

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Because Johnson & Johnson’s diverse product lines span three sectors — consumer products, medical devices and diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals — a broad and nimble sustainability plan was necessary. Sutter said: “It had to be flexible enough to work on Band-Aids and blood analyzers.” Getting buy-in from various brand managers across sectors by demonstrating the marketing value of sustainable products was also necessary, Iannuzzi added. “You have to build a business case externally, you have to market it internally, and you have to embed it into business processes.”

Sutter explained that once the EARTHWARDS designation has been achieved, it is still up to the specific brand managers to decide whether to include messaging about Earthwards or not, and through what channels. Given the valuable “real estate” on product packaging and marketing material, an internal metric for success for the Earthwards program is how often the marketers choose to use Earthwards to differentiate their products. Regardless of how extensively the designation itself is publicized, with scores of products now designated and many more in the pipeline, Johnson & Johnson see the design production and sales of more sustainable products as a critical component of its future growth.

Building on Iannuzzi and Sutter’s “behind the scenes” view on marketing greener products in a large, diversified company, the Sustainable Marketing Colloquium will continue exploring how to meaningfully connect with consumers and buyers on the sustainability aspects of their products. The goal of the Colloquium is to help the next generation of marketing professionals beat these longstanding challenges that environmentally preferable products face and bring greater sustainability to the marketplace

The next talk will be on Monday, December 9th at 11:45am EST. It features Yalmaz Siddiqui from Office Depot and Michael Murphy from Dell who will discuss “Nudging Big Buyers Towards Greener Products.” Click here for more information on the series.

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