In a keynote conversation at SB’21 San Diego, two leading execs in their respective industries — Katie Decker and Nancy Mahon — discussed how their sustainability strategies have been embedded within their businesses, as well as differences and similarities between the companies’ approaches.
One year ago, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health announced its Healthy Lives Mission — a 10-year, $800 million pledge to improve the sustainability and impact of its products and brands.
At SB’21 San Diego, in a keynote entitled, ‘Driving Organizational Change in Support of Sustainability’, Katie Decker — Global President of Essential Health and Sustainability at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health — explained how the mission has been embedded within the business.
The session also featured Nancy Mahon, SVP of Global Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability at The Estée Lauder Companies. Here we distill the conversation to learn from the experiences, differences and similarities between the companies’ approaches.
How did Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health’s Healthy Lives Mission start?
KD: Johnson & Johnson has been running as a business for over 130 years and had environmental goals for more than 40 years. We asked: “What do we need to do to remain relevant and drive this change across our organization so we can start operating differently? What is it that unites all Johnson & Johnson people?”
The answer is a passion for health. Everything we do is in service of positively changing the trajectory of health for humanity. While that’s a broad and ambitious goal, the effect is tremendously clarifying. Social impact and environmental sustainability have clear and proven connections to human health, which has helped focus our priorities and give extra meaning to our work in enhancing the sustainability of our products and practices. You can’t have healthy people without a healthy planet for them to live, work and thrive. This led to creating the Healthy Lives Mission.
How do you drive organizational change and support for your sustainability mission?
KD: Our Healthy Lives Mission has three pillars: Healthy people, healthy planet and empowered employees. This third pillar was the key to it becoming a movement within the company. While we had senior management who really bought it, the way to get the movement going within our culture was through activating at grassroots level. We started with a network of 200 Healthy Lives Champions all around the world in different markets and different functions, and trained them on the science and healthcare aspects — including the health impacts of climate change and the impacts of plastics on the environment. That is the groundswell that has really propelled this forward.
NM: In order for me to integrate into the business, I have to have enormous empathy and understanding for the people in each piece of the value chain. The secret to getting stuff done is to focus on empathy, on understanding, and on where you can drive value. Consider how you show up and how you drive value, which will be very different for the HR department versus R&D. So, partner, empathize, and then really understand the levers of change in your organization. For our organization, we are very strategy-focused. So, we needed to have a very clear strategy that everybody accepts. And lastly, you need to focus and prioritize.
L-R: Nancy Mahon and Katie Decker talk with moderator Angelica Beard on October 20 at SB'21 San Diego | Image credit: Sustainable Brands
How do you bring people along to achieve your goals?
KD: We recognise the need to connect hearts and minds. If you can connect the logical side of data and information with the emotional side, and bring those two things together, it becomes easier for everybody to find something that they can get on board with. “You can’t have healthy people without a healthy planet” became a rallying cry and you hear that played back.
It’s also about breaking it down. These are big lofty goals. We needed to pick a focus so we started with eight Leadership Brands – which include some of the most iconic and far-reaching brands like Aveeno®, Listerine® and Neutrogena® — where we knew that even small changes could make significant impact.
We decided if we start here with these teams and figure out how they can embed this into their strategy, then we will have examples and it will set the example for the rest of the company. Secondly, we worked out a series of micro goals for 2022 and 2023; because if someone can achieve the 2022 goal, then they know they are on the path to where we need to be in 2025 or 2030.
NM: Five years ago, we set 11 targets in nine key areas and now we’re adding more targets. The areas where we see increasing opportunity are in climate and responsible sourcing. You’ve got to do the math of the people who are going to own it. We have goals for our packaging that each brand President owns; we check in on a quarterly basis and our team reports to the Board of Directors. It’s important to sustain and build our teams, so we build career tracks and rewarding opportunities for sustainability and social impact practitioners in our companies.
How did publicly talking about your commitment help?
KD: One of the most effective things we did was making a public commitment that we would invest $800m over the next 10 years in the Healthy Lives Mission. Being vocal about our goals and progress not only helped win the hearts and minds of our leadership and employees; it also generated more opportunities to impact change. When we started our supercharged sustainability journey, we truthfully knew that we could make ourselves better partners to some suppliers by sharing our position and goals on sustainability publicly. Once we started educating our most important stakeholders and telling our story, it helped them see that we’re serious about these changes and it made us a more attractive partner.
How have partnerships been instrumental in moving your journey forward?
KD: We know the type of change we want to see can’t be accomplished alone. It takes a village filled with trusted suppliers, industry partners, consumers, employees and many more — all committed to a shared vision of a better world. As part of this journey, we joined the Consumer Goods Forum’s Plastic Waste Coalition of Action; and through it, we have worked with like-minded companies to develop and endorse new, global industry design rules for sustainable packaging. I’ve also loved how our teams have been able to collaborate with one of our North America suppliers, like the Menasha Corporation, in 2021 to remove a projected 60 tons of plastic and reduce nearly 1,000 sq ft. miles of corrugated cardboard. Both are two examples from this year alone that prove what we can accomplish by directing the best minds and resources toward the same goal.
NM: Our framework is called Beauty Inspired, Values Driven; and we focus on women consumers. We have recently made a large commitment to a group called Co-Impact, which has launched a gender venture capital fund. Our interest is in how you can raise the living standards and educational outcomes for women and girls across the world. We’re clear on the intersectionality between climate justice and gender justice. Through our net-zero and RE100 work, we worked with NextEra Energy Resources to launch a wind farm in Oklahoma that covered over half of our electrical footprint. We invested in the Massachusetts Tri-City Forest Project for offsets. We use the company’s social impact work to fuel the business actions. As we double down on blockchain within our supply chain, we are also focusing on partnering with BSR to provide education and literacy training within our suppliers’ facilities. Don’t overlook important very close partners.