In a recent conversation with Virginie Helias, VP and Chief Sustainability Officer at Procter & Gamble, we spent our time talking about how to successfully embed sustainability. Virginie shared the top five factors that she believes are critical to rooting sustainability within an organization.
Demonstrate business value creation
"Find proof to show that brands with sustainable values do well — better than others, even. When I first started in this role, I only had one P&G case study — from the Ariel brand — and so, back then, I used lots of outside case studies; e.g. Nike and Tesla. Now, we are fortunate because we have many internal P&G examples to choose from. So, as much as possible, use real case studies — even if they’re not internal to your organization. If you position sustainability not as a ‘worthy endeavor’ but as a ‘tool for creating business value,’ people will lean in and you will create momentum."
Elevate beyond the data; connect with people’s hearts
"You need the proof points to make the business case for change; but if you can also inspire people’s hearts and minds with your inputs, you can be rewarded with transformative change — at scale and speed — as your outputs. Simply ‘educating’ your employees/customers/business leaders on the rational arguments is not enough; you need to truly immerse them in the positive impact they can have — so they feel as if they, too, can make a difference. You can achieve this through storytelling if you are working with large groups, and with smaller groups you can take them away for the day (or week!) where they can learn firsthand a truly positive impact, that they themselves can make. This lodges itself in a different part of the brain to the sustainability ‘lessons’ we might be told. This living memory of a positive action remains with people when they are back in their office, and this can become a driver for real change."
Helias and TerraCycle's Tom Szaky discuss the Loop platform at SB'19 Paris on April 23. | Image credit: Omar Havana/Sustainable Brands
Virginie Helias will be speaking in more depth on these and related topics at SB Detroit ’19, on panels discussing ‘Advancing on the Brand Transformation Journey by Building Capacity and Maturity across the Organization’, and ‘An Inside Look at the Loop Reusable Packaging Scheme.’
Chasing consumer change begins with changing employee mindsets
"We all talk about creating consumer change and it’s true — at P&G, our brands touch many millions of consumers daily. But we also have 95,000 employees that we can talk to directly; and when they change, we are seeing that everything we do changes, too. So, if we can motivate our employees first on their own journeys, then we start seeing sustainability gets embedded in the products we create and the brands we develop, at every stage, without the ‘sustainability team’ even touching it. In this way, we accept and embrace that we cannot change consumers without first changing ourselves, the employees, in the company."
Helias in the 'Hot Seat' at SB'19 Paris | Image credit: Omar Havana/Sustainable Brands
Stay lean; don’t invest in a large sustainability team
"This is related to the last point, but it is important and deserves a space of its own. Many people tell me that sustainability teams are too small in their companies. We keep our team deliberately small at P&G; if you want to work without silos, don’t spend money investing in building a big silo. I regularly have people in other P&G business units reach out to me to ask to work on my team, because they care so deeply about sustainability in their personal values and they feel a connection with the work. I tell them ‘Thank you, but no, unfortunately you cannot come and work on the sustainability team — because I want you to stay exactly where you are and create change right there.’ Having sustainability represented within the business is so critical for us — it is the only way we stop the creation of a giant sustainability silo. It is the way we can ensure sustainability is truly embedded and becomes like a second nature in our business."
There is no magic spell you can cast, but small steps and hard work yield results
"I wish there was a ‘silver bullet’ secret I could share, especially for those companies who are still early in their journey, but really this advice works for wherever you are on the roadmap. Start small and build up from there. True cultural transformation does not happen all at once; it happens in small steps, every day. Don’t overthink it, either — just begin. I started in this role as just one person, with just one case study across the whole company; if I’d thought all at once about everything that needed changing, it would have been overwhelming! Sometimes you just need to start where you are, with what you have, and build from there. So, don’t be put off if you feel you are a starting from the beginning; most of humanity’s greatest achievements began as humble attempts at change."