Talk about big players making big changes; CVS Health’s SVP of CSR and Philanthropy, Eileen Howard Boone; BASF’s Sustainability Manager, Denise Peterson; and Panera Bread’s Director of Public Relations, Jonathan Yohannan had a lot to share on their remarkable pivots this past year.
Tim Greiner, Managing Director of Pure Strategies, moderated and set the stage for this discussion by sharing some of his company’s findings from a recent survey of 100 companies. They wanted to know what drives product sustainability leaders. Pure Strategies learned the following:
- By and large, the biggest drivers last year were internal drivers, CEO visions and corporate commitments
- However, now there’s a pivot to external drivers such as customers, stakeholders and research initiatives
- More companies are also reporting benefits from sustainability work
Boone then recapped CVS Health’s — formerly CVS Caremark — decision to eliminate tobacco from all stores. “Our pivot begins and ends with our purpose,” Boone said. “Helping people on their path to better health.” Boone reinforced Greiner’s research in adding that stakeholders were the most important ingredients in really “making the messaging sing.”
Greiner added that after CVS’ announcement, his family became regular pharmaceutical customers. Boone acknowledged this as a wider trend and that the pivot has led to more personal connections with consumers, as almost everyone has had negative encounters with the effects of tobacco.
Yohannan followed by discussing Panera Bread’s decision to eliminate all artificial additives, colors and sweeteners in their food by 2016.
“We believe consumers should know what’s in their food and where it comes from,” Yohannan said. “We want to use ingredients that you can find your home pantry.”
Publishing their “No No List” was a big risk, he added, but they relied on science from EWG, NRDC and the Union of Concerned Scientists to examine their recipes and make changes. A short video showed Panera customers in L.A. trying to pronounce some of the five-syllable ingredients on the list, reemphasizing the importance of customer engagement. Yohannan also pointed out that engaging their 80,000 associates was equally critical: “If they don’t get it, then it’s just a marketing campaign.”
“There are a lot of other brands out there leading the way on transparency and disclosure and hopefully we can be followers,” Yohannan said. “We’re still trying to learn more about palm oil, more about packaging — there are a lot of issues tied up with food.”
Finally, Peterson spoke on BASF’s pivot to “Making Chemistry” rather than just chemicals. “Chemistry is the lab, it’s the creation process, it’s the chemistry that we build with our customers, our employees and our communities — these are the drivers,” said Peterson.
Peterson discussed the challenges of being handed “lofty, aspirational goals” from the top and figuring out how to execute them. The process took over three years as the company assessed over 60,000 products and their uses. Peterson’s division, the $6 billion Care Chemicals division that makes the chemical components in shampoo and diapers, was the first to pilot the assessment. The process involved three tiers of examination:
- the regulatory team,
- then the marketing team, which looked at consumer drivers and trends and those will impact BASF in the future and
- finally the technology team, which thought about how to benchmark across the field: “is there something that’s better out there or is this the leading solution?”
The company also had the process third-party certified and audited so BASF could feel comfortable talking about its findings openly.
As a global company, BASF had some challenges in tailoring its approach to different needs in different regions. For example, in some regions GMOs are popular and seen as innovation drivers, where other regions refuse to touch them. BASF’s solution was to take a holistic approach, which Peterson considers very robust: “If your approach is flexible and holistic in nature, you can adjust your approach based on the market. We’re responding to a quickly changing market.”