Procter & Gamble has unveiled a new -- and aggressive -- sustainability strategy. The company is vowing to reduce packaging by 20%, replace 25% of petroleum-based products with sustainably sourced materials, and get consumers so inspired that cold water accounts for 70% of washing machine loads -- all within 10 years.
"We are dedicated to reaching five billion consumers over the next five years," CEO Bob McDonald said in the company's webcast, "or one billion more than we reach today. It does us no good to grow our business today at the expense of tomorrow."
Many of the Cincinnati-based company's goals, developed in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, cover manufacturing and production issues -- like truck transportation reduction, powering plants with renewable energy, such as solar and wind, and switching to plastics derived from sugar cane in some of its cosmetics packaging -- that are largely invisible to consumers.
Others involve initiatives that are likely to make consumers feel better about P&G brands. For instance, the company introduced its first-ever cause-related campaign for Pantene last week, called "Healthy Hair for Healthy Water," which will help save an estimated 2,500 lives by providing half a billion liters of clean drinking water in the developing world.
But those that require people to actually do something differently are much more complex. "It is going to be very difficult to get consumers to switch to cold-water washing," Jacquelyn A. Ottman, author of The New Rules of Green Marketing, due out this fall, tells Marketing Daily. "We are obsessed with cleanliness, and P&G is the company that got us to believe we wanted laundry that was whiter than white, and that you need hot water to get things really clean."
P&G believes that due to the recession, people are thinking harder about how to do more for less money, and that by using products like Tide Coldwater, introduced back in 2005, "they get excellent cleaning, and a cost savings by not having to pay for heating that water," Len Sauers, VP/global sustainability, said in the webcast. "This is a good time to be talking about sustainability."
Ottman is skeptical. "Tide Coldwater certainly isn't the Toyota Prius of the laundry category," she says. "And while theoretically, the government could get involved -- mandating that only cold-water washing machines be sold in the future, for example -- without massive intervention, most consumers will only be comfortable with hot water.
"If P&G really wanted to put its money where its mouth is, they'd formulate regular Tide so that it worked in cold water as well as hot."