By Kelly M. Semrau, Chief Sustainability Officer at SC Johnson
Rather than any one event – a presidential election, the Olympic Games or the latest dance craze – the “mega-weather” of last year defined 2012. It will surely help shape this year, too. Drought, wildfires, earthquakes and hurricanes (Hurricane Sandy alone wrought $62 billion in damages and the deaths of at least 125 Americans) are putting environmental issues atop local, national and global agendas. Yet, with the persistent pressure of economic challenges, leaders have little resources or willpower to tackle environmental issues head on. We can’t wait.
In his inaugural address, President Obama asserted: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” This declaration preceded the convening of world leaders from government, business and other sectors at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. On their agenda was greening economic growth to meet the basic needs of our planet’s 9 billion people. At the forum, SAP – the software corporation – announced plans toinvest $6.6 million in sustainability and entrepreneurship. This year, many others in the private sector will do their part by championing strategies that concern three key sectors: corporate support for renewable energy, finding greener ways of doing business and evolving consumer behavior.
First, renewable energy offers a viable alternative to traditional power sources. However, 82 percent of our nation’s energy emanates from fossil fuels and only 9 percent comes from renewable sources. This portends tremendous opportunity for growth. Solar and wind power, the fastest-growing renewable source, deliver the best chance to shrink environmental footprints. Consider what it promises for the largest global manufacturing facility at SC Johnson. This year, the facility will be powered by clean energy virtually all the time, reflecting the installation of 415-foot Vensys wind turbines. The turbines will generate eight million kilowatt hours of electricity, which will help eliminate 6,000 metric tons of carbon emissions in 2013 alone. Brands like Windex®, Glade®, and OFF!® will show wind energy no longer is just a potential source, but it’s now a smart way to do business. We are proud to be in the company of other leading corporations who are saying yes to renewables, particularly solar. Wal-Mart, for example, is now using more solar power than any other U.S. company. Last April, Wal-Mart announced six solar projects in Colorado – the company’s 100thsolar power installation in the U.S. – which will avoid producing more than 5 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year. This is great work toward the company’s goal of being supplied by 100 percent renewable energy.
Additionally, innovative green approaches to doing business must extend beyond the production line and also center on waste reduction – the next generation is already calling for it. Look no further than a group of grade-school students who are petitioning Crayola to create a program that would allow consumers to recycle the millions of markers sold each year. Over 87,000 people agree with them. Our own research shows that 75 percent of American consumers today say they feel good when they take steps to help the environment.
Consumer Behavior Change
Products will continue to evolve this year in tandem with changing consumer behavior. At SC Johnson, we recently expanded our U.S. “mini” line of concentrated cleaners, taking a step toward achieving our near-term goal to build on the 2011 Windex® Mini concentrated refill pilot program. The company will continue to work toward our 2016 goals of reducing packaging across product lines by 5 percent and increasing post-consumer recycled content across product packaging by 30 percent. We stand in good company with others; for example, Dell packages their products using bamboo instead of cardboard and recycles 98 percent of its nonhazardous by-products. In the long-term, these efforts are aimed at reducing the 1,600 pounds of garbage an average American produces each year.
Research to understand what drives this type of behavior change will continue in earnest by the SC Johnson Sustainable Behavior Change Program. These commitments, coupled with the company’s community partnerships, are directed toward the company’s goal of being landfill neutral by the end of 2016. If achieved, that would eliminate or divert more than 480 million pounds of waste from U.S. landfills. And that’s more than the total waste footprint from SC Johnson in the U.S.
It’s impossible, of course, to foreshadow what lies ahead in 2013. But one thing is certain. Corporations’ business strategies will give greater emphasis to renewable energy, to identifying greener ways of doing business and to working with evolving consumer behaviors. Ultimately, the desire to leave the world in better shape for our children drives our company – and many others – to spotlight sustainability. It’s a goal to which every company and everyone can aspire.
Kelly M. Semrau is Chief Sustainability Officer at SC Johnson.