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Through its Kirei Lifestyle Plan, Kao aims to empower at least 1 billion people to live more gently and sustainably by 2030. We caught up with Kao’s Dave Muenz to hear about the company’s progress toward its goals; and how the pandemic has both impacted, but also provided opportunities for, progress on sustainability.
Initially founded in 1887, Kao
Corporation — home to personal care brands including Bioré, Curél, Jergens, John Frieda, KMS, Oribe and more — is remarkably
forward-focused. In 2019, the company launched its Kirei Lifestyle
Plan — based on the Japanese
word kirei, which means “clean, beautiful and orderly” — as part of its
broader Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) goals. Kao aims to empower at
least 1 billion people to live more gently and sustainably by 2030.
To learn more about Kao’s progress and efforts towards achieving its ambitious
sustainability goals, we connected with Dave Muenz — Kao’s executive officer
and ESG Division SVP — about the company’s progress toward its goals; and how
the pandemic has both impacted, but also provided opportunities for, progress on
Dave Muenz: We introduced the Kirei Lifestyle
about two years ago now. We identified, as part of that journey, 19 different
areas on which we needed to focus to work towards bringing this ideal to the
Recently, we've established some far-reaching decarbonization
we want to be carbon zero by 2040, and carbon negative by 2050. We've also
committed to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, and a 55 percent reduction of
our own CO2 emissions by 2030.
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We are one of the first companies in Japan to establish a Power Purchasing
(PPA) for renewable energy — something that's relatively new in Japan. This PPA
allows us to purchase renewable energy directly from the source, establishing a
long- term commitment from Kao with this renewable energy supplier. This is
important because the suppliers of renewable energy need to have stable demand
to which they can point when they go to get financing. We are making investments
in future opportunities to create more and more renewable energy possible. So,
that was a pretty big accomplishment, along our goal towards decarbonization —
both within our own operations and then encouraging operational changes
elsewhere in the system, as well.
Another area of big progress for Kao has been in supply chains. We manufacture
many materials ourselves; and some of those materials are things that can help,
from an agricultural point of view, promote better use of the land that's being
farmed. One of the key commitments inside of the Kirei Lifestyle Plan is
responsibly sourced raw materials. We recently launched a new set of ESG
promotion guidelines for our supply chain and procurement, and made a strong
commitment towards traceability.
We identify any high-risk supply chains — and employ not only our own audits,
but third-party, independent auditing of our suppliers to ensure that they're
adhering to the guidelines and principles that we have in place for fair
treatment of people and the environment. We've committed to 100 percent
by 2025. On palm
we've committed to have 100 percent traceability, all the way back to the small
palm plantation farmers, by 2025.
DM: Yes, it is a challenge to get people to reach out beyond the traditional
boundaries of the company. We put a lot of our revenue back into R&D, around
four percent of our revenue. We've always been focused on what we can do
internally to further society and further our business.
When you think about the systemic shifts that need to occur — in order to truly
tackle these issues in a meaningful way, it's far beyond the boundaries of what
Kao or any other company can do by itself. We've worked to educate people
internally about the magnitude of the change that's required. In the last couple
of years, this is gaining some momentum.
Within Japan, we're working with one of our great competitors,
Lion, to collaboratively collect and recycle thin
films. We're working with Unilever Japan on a similar initiative around
bottles. We're also working with the City of Kobe toward creating a circular
system for these thin film plastics — innovating on horizontal recycling
that allow for those films to be remade into usable pellets of material that
then can be put back into film packaging again.
I think it's really a harbinger of what we all need to do — get outside of our
comfort zone of working within our own company, and really engage in meaningful
ways with all of the other stakeholders to create a circular system.
DM: I think we all fight the pressures of the business and desire to further
our ESG efforts and commitments — and finding ways to both benefit the business,
as well as to further those initiatives. I think that's an ongoing effort, to
find that sweet spot. I'm sure that's not something that's unique to Kao; I'm
sure we all face that challenge in our companies. Closing the
means innovating solutions and products that both meet the needs of our
consumers, but also help them make sustainable changes more comfortable and
easier in their
DM: We've been engaging more and more directly with governments, both local
and national, on efforts to provide education to people around all the various
aspects of hygiene and its relationship to the virus. That's really continued
and broadened. The pandemic has also given us the opportunity to reflect more on
the environments that we've created for our employees. There's a lot of effort
throughout our company, and I'm sure most companies, about the future of work
and how to operate in an efficient manner that enables all of us to attain a
better or a more balanced lifestyle.
There’s a unique commonality between the pandemic and our pressing environmental
problems. More and more people have come to the realization that it's going to
take collective action to fight COVID and all the variants, and it's going to
take collective action to address sustainability issues.
Hopefully, we start to see people realizing that their actions mean something,
and that they need to make changes as well, on a collective basis. I think
that's probably an opportunity, coming out of the pandemic.
DM: Our commitments to meet the 1.5-degree level, versus the 2-degree level,
and our effort on renewable energy, feeds directly into the key issues that are
going to be discussed at the COP meeting.
But I think it all comes back to Kao’s role in society. We've done a lot of
thinking about that and reflected on our history. Kao was established in the
late 1880s. Purpose and societal benefit have been part of this company from our
founding; and I think by focusing back on that, we’re really driving ourselves
to, as I said, provide mechanisms and comfortable means for people to attain a
more sustainable life through our products. To provide information, enticement
or encouragement to live more sustainably, and in a gentler fashion — that's one
of the cores of our Kirei Lifestyle Plan.
Those are probably the key things that we can do as a manufacturer of consumer
products. Our products are used every day by millions of people — that's a huge
Published Oct 21, 2021 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Nithin is a freelance writer who focuses on global economic, and environmental issues with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.