Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Dr. Peggy Ward: I am Director of Sustainability Strategy at Kimberly-Clark Corporation (the maker of Kleenex, Cottonelle, Scott, Viva, Huggies, Pull-Ups, Depend, Poise, Kotex…). I lead development, implementation and tracking of our global sustainability goals and our stakeholder engagement in this area. I like to think of myself as a key part of our corporate conscience.
I’ve been at K-C 15 years! And doing some form of sustainability for nearly 9 years, even before Walmart became active in this space.
Prior to that, I have worked in competitive intelligence, consumer tissue, and lead K-C’s environmentally sustainable technology team.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
PW: K-C is celebrating its 141st year in existence this year. We were founded on the principles of quality, service and dealing fairly with whomever we interact. We first developed five-year global environmental goals in 1995 that we called Vision 2000, and are now on our fourth generation of such goals with our most comprehensive set called Sustainability 2015 which address all three pillars of sustainability built on a framework that we call People, Planet and Products.
We started tackling our most material issues early on – fiber procurement, energy and water-use efficiency and trying to remove waste from our manufacturing processes. We continue to push ourselves in these areas, but now look beyond K-C’s walls to our consumers and try to innovate around water replenishment and post-consumer waste. We are looking deeper into and across our value chain and engaging our employees and brands more than ever in this area.
We also created an external Sustainability Advisory Board which provides K-C with counsel and guidance on our strategy. They have access to our Chairman and CEO and his direct reports, and interact with individuals throughout the organization. It’s a very collaborative group and provides an additional external viewpoint to our sustainability efforts.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
PW: Early on for me in graduate school, I had a fellow research team member, Janine Chupa, who really challenged me to think about the environment. She would ask me to help her set up recycling programs in our chemistry building and find ways to reuse our waste from our laboratory or better ways to dispose of the materials to be more environmentally friendly. She helped educate me and make me think that way all the time.
The two of us also set up a mentoring program for women entering our chemistry graduate school program at the University of Pennsylvania. We had noticed that half of the women who started ended up leaving before getting their intended Ph.D. We paired incoming women students with more senior women grad students so that they’d have someone to talk to. As a result, in the three years we ran the program, only 2 women left before getting their Ph.D. That just cemented for me how important mentoring truly can be.
My current motto on how I like to work in sustainability is: give me someone who cares and who dares and I can get anything done.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
PW: I have two pieces of advice that easily come to mind. The first is from my grandfather who said that you should always run TO a job and not FROM one. That is something I have tried to follow and believe I have done a pretty good job by working in sustainability.
The second is actually from Oprah who has often commented that everyone just wants to be heard. I try to make sure I really listen to people, and acknowledge what they’re saying. Doesn’t matter if I agree or not, but you can’t engage with others unless they feel heard.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
PW: On the professional side, in April we re-launched our Small Steps employee engagement program. Previously, we had over 13,000 employees who had signed up for a Small Step. With our revamped program, we are focusing on acts of green, kindness and wellness. After the re-launch, we now have over 3,600 employees engaged who have so far completed nearly 15,000 acts in total. The acts of green amount to date to greenhouse gases saved that is the equivalent of removing over 200 cars off the road or planting over 1100 trees. The electricity saved is equivalent to powering 161 houses for an entire year, and the water saved can fill 13,000 bathtubs! Our employees have volunteered over 5,300 hours so far and over 2,300 nutrition and fitness acts. Amazing to see how all the little things we all can do add up to one big impact.
On the personal side, I was fortunate to be able to travel last summer with Dr. Thomas Lovejoy and nine other professionals in sustainability from around the world to the Amazon Rainforest. We journeyed 41 km into the heart of the rainforest to Camp 41, Dr. Lovejoy’s research camp. By living there for 4 days, we learned about the constant climate and amazing specialization that has occurred. We saw monkeys, birds and the Harpy Eagle, world’s largest raptor and king predator of the Amazon rainforest whose wing span is 6 feet across. Most importantly, we learned that we are at a tipping point where a threshold for the Amazon to maintain itself is being reached. Currently about 81 percent of the Amazon remains. Studies have predicted that there is a 20 percent threshold where the Amazon will not be able to regenerate.
Aside from all that I learned about the ecosystem that is the Amazon rainforest, I also learned that I can do these sorts of trips that may seem hard (sleeping in a hammock, walking hours through the rainforest, eating food I’m not familiar with) but are so worth it in the end to push yourself and take in all that is in front of you.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
PW: I would make proactively tackling sustainability-related challenges/risks and opportunities the norm rather than sitting in the wings waiting for others to act. All too often, companies in the Consumer Packaged Goods and B2B space take a wait-and-see stance, letting others test the waters or react and mitigate the damage. As Jeffrey Hollender, the former CEO of Seventh Generation and current member of the K-C Sustainability Advisory Board, has expressed, “We need to take, as a business, the position and setting objectives of doing more good for society rather than doing less bad.”
3p: Describe your perfect day.
PW: I’d be lying if I said that sleeping in wasn’t at the top of my list!
This might not all fit in a single day, but any perfect day would involve spending day with my husband and my two girls, ages 11 and just-turned 7, quilting at some point – because I don’t get much time to do that, and lounging by a pool on a coastline somewhere and having frozen drinks, taking a nice relaxing run, reading some from one of the books piled up next to my bed and spending time with my friends telling stories and laughing over some good Thai food and drinks.