Kimberly-Clark Takes on Toilet and Sanitation Access

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By Karel Van Der Mandele, Marketing Director, Family Care UK & Eire at Kimberly-Clark, and Tom Berry, Head of Sustainability, EMEA

In September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – that aim to build on the progress achieved under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – were adopted at the United Nations General Assembly. The MDGs were created in 2000 as global targets to reduce poverty and improve the lives of adults and children over 15 years. Progress towards the MDGs has been uneven. Some targets, like those around increasing access to improved sources of water and dramatically reducing malaria mortality rates globally, have been met. Others have not. A major target of the MDGs was to halve the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation. However, as we approach the deadline, one in three people globally – some 2.4 billion people – still do not use or have access to improved sanitation. This year the debate around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was focused on how we can find ways to tackle the root causes of poverty and find answers to the world’s most difficult questions, like how to provide adequate and equitable sanitation for all by 2030.

It has become increasingly clear that not only is a new approach needed, but that the SDG agenda must and will involve a hugely diverse range of players – including crucially, a much bigger role for the private sector. Business is after all a key driver of growth in developing countries.

Businesses play a vital role in bringing about behavior change at scale to address some of the world’s biggest development issues, not just through philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, but by aligning business growth to wider social and environmental benefits. In essence we know that while we as businesses have to focus on commercial growth, we can drive bigger growth through collaborations that drive wider benefits and in doing so will help achieve the targets of the SDGs.

At Kimberly-Clark we have been on our own journey to understand this important model of driving business growth alongside the sort of environmental and social improvements that have been championed in the SDGs. We’ve long connected sustainable business growth with sustainable sourcing of materials, for example. In our case, as one of the world’s biggest producers of essentials like tissues, feminine hygiene products and diapers, and therefore one of the biggest buyers of market pulp, we feel it is our responsibility to reduce deforestation. And we do that by working with others. So, for example, we have a long-standing commitment to a 100 percent certified fiber supply, and have a preference for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified sourcing. In 2012, we made a public commitment to halving our impact on natural forests by the year 2025 through increased research and commercialization of alternative fibers and other sustainable sources. In fact, major environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, have recognized us as a leader for responsible fibre sourcing and forest protection.

In recent years we have looked at how we as a business can help in other areas, including this critical issue of sanitation, which has proved so difficult to address. We are founder members of the Toilet Board Coalition which brings together private sector companies and NGOs, organizations with wildly different areas of expertise, to make a greater impact. And because sanitation is inherently linked to our business, we believe we have a key role to play in engaging our employees, customers and consumers to take action. Our desire to help resolve this global issue has led us to develop a large-scale multi-national program titled Toilets Change Lives. Our Andrex brand partners with Unicef to support programs educating children and their families about the importance of sanitation in Africa. The partnership, now in its second year, has already raised £250,000 through an on-pack promotion in store at Sainsbury’s, and is helping 60,000 people gain better access to sanitation, reducing the spread of diseases that can be fatal to children and their families.

These partnerships not only raise vital funds but also help break taboos around talking about sanitation. Making the issue part of a public conversation is critical to getting it on government agendas and finding solutions, which will differ from community to community. This is one area where business – and particularly a business involved in the daily essential of going to the toilet – can really help. The more we can link our tackling of the issue of sanitation to our growth as a business, the more we can do to help. The sustainable support for programs that help society is just as important to the long term health of our business, as the sustainable sourcing of materials like fiber.

Tackling the issue of sanitation is critical to the countries and people who suffer without improved sanitation as has been recognised in the SDGs. But it is also highly relevant for Kimberly-Clark and our individual brands. Kimberly-Clark exists to provide people with essentials for a better life, and what could be more essential than sanitation? We have found a way to link our brand promise with sanitation programs, through a social mission that campaigns to bring safe sanitation to all. This is about us as a personal care brand that truly cares about the wellbeing of people and is prepared to address this issue worldwide.

In fact, the success of the Andrex program has inspired other regions to expand Toilets Change Lives to different markets around the world. In 2016 and beyond, we will develop more programs in the U.S., South Africa, Switzerland, the Netherlands and India across several lines of business.

By collaborating with partners and finding a strategic fit between social issue, corporate strategy and brand positioning, we can deliver emotional and powerful campaigns, that engage consumers in our existing markets and help create new markets as sanitation systems are improved. This is what we mean by sustainable business. We are proud of where we are today and we remain committed to doing our part in addressing the issue of sanitation as the Sustainable Development Goals come into play early next year.

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