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3P Interview with P&G Water Hero: Dr. Greg Allgood

Bob Siegel headshotWords by RP Siegel
Leadership & Transparency
Greg Allgood is the Director of P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program. Based on the many good things they’ve accomplished, he just might live up to his name. Since this is the week that P&G’s special edition GIVE HEALTH brandSAVER coupon booklet is being launched, from which proceeds will go towards the expansion of this effort, it seemed like an opportune time to catch up with him 3p: So, Dr. Allgood, can you tell me a little bit about P&G’s safe water program? Greg Allgood: P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water program is a non-profit effort within Proctor & Gamble. The effort has two primary objectives:
  • raise awareness of the global clean drinking water crisis
  • help address the problem by providing a water purification product
What is the product and how is it being used? The product is our PUR water treatment packets and we provide them to NGO’s and other aid organizations at cost, which provides unlimited scalability The product was developed in conjunction with US CDC back in 2004. To date we have provided some 300 million packets, which is equivalent to 3 billion liters of clean water. 3p: How do those numbers work out? What is the conversion? GA: Each packets treats 10 liters of H2O. Each person needs 2 liters per day to survive. So one packet will sustain one person for five days or a family of five for a day. 3p: So what is in these packets? GA: It’s like a very effective mini-treatment plant in a packet. Even if the source is extremely contaminated, the resulting quality is comparable to what we drink here in the US. But they were made to be used where the need is greatest. Most people don’t know that 4000 children die every day from unsafe drinking water, which is more than HIV, AIDS, and malaria combined at a time when proven, scalable, cost-effective interventions are available. 3p: So what does this have to do with the coupons? The brand-SAVER program is designed to both raise awareness and provide funds for this effort. So, P&G provides discount coupons for their products, and every coupon that is redeemed results in one day’s supply of drinking water given to an individual in need. There is no cap. This is a breakeven effort, so P&G will make as many packets as they can with the funding that comes in. Five billion coupons are being made available. Generally only a small percentage of what is made available is redeemed. But every brandSAVER booklet will contain over $100 in coupons, so it’s a good deal all the way around. 3p: Have you run this before? GA: Last time we ran it, the following week saw the largest sales in P&G’s history. Sounds impressive. So tell me more about these packets. Can they clean really dirty water? GA: The packets can be added to muddy water and it will turn it crystal clear. Pour one packet into 10 liters (2.5 gallons), then stir for five minutes. It’s like magic. It contains iron sulfite which works like a dirt magnet, it pulls all the particles together including worms and parasites. As the dirt and iron particles clump together, they get heavy enough to sink to the bottom. It’s quite impressive (see video). It also contains a disinfectant that kills the bacteria and viruses that cause cholera, and dysentery and typhoid fever. After it settles out, you decant it through a clean cloth, and then let it sit while the disinfectant finishes working. It’s also very effective at removing arsenic.   So how did this program develop? It took a while for this program to evolve to the point where it is today, P&G tried doing the outreach themselves. People liked the product but the effort it took to find and connect with those in need was difficult. Then we tried selling it as another commercial brand, but found that those who need it most couldn’t afford it. Then they began working with partners (we now have over 100, including World Vision, PSI, USAID, CDC, The Red Cross, CARE, Save the Children). That was effective but limited by what these organizations could afford. Even with P&G providing the packets at cost, we were only reaching a small fraction of those who desperately needed clean water and had no other viable alternatives to obtain it. That’s when we started the brandSAVER coupon program which increased the funding dramatically enabling a much higher production. We are now shipping over 100 million packets a year. 3p: So your job is to make sure that once people start cashing these coupons in, that P&G will have people to give the coupons to? GA:That’s basically right, yes. 3p: Where are these packets produced? GA: The packets, which cost ten cents each to produce (a penny per liter) are currently made in Pakistan. A second plant in Singapore is under construction. 3p: This is truly great, but I’m just wondering, from a sustainability perspective, wouldn’t the next step be to make some kind of permanent water treatment available to these people? GA: In many places, absolutely. But other people are good at that. We support that and we advocate for groups that do that like Global Water Challenge. But what we uniquely have are these PUR packets and that’s what we’re going to focus on. From the big picture perspective, we’re hoping they’re not needed at some point, we’re hoping that everybody will have pipe treated water, just like we have. But that’s not going to be a reality any time soon, and in some cases, maybe never. Take the Maasai in Tanzania, who I just recently visited. They are a very highly dispersed nomadic people. Building a multi-million dollar stationary treatment plant for them just wouldn’t make any sense. The underground water is too high in fluoride to make drilling wells practical. All they can do is collect rainwater, which is what they do. But they share the water with their cattle and it is extremely contaminated. They were seeing very high rates of illness and death until we brought in the PUR packets. 3p: Is the product used in the US? GA: It is used by backpackers and also in emergency relief efforts. It is available here, mostly online. 3p: How do you make money on this product, is it through the coupons and sales of other products? GA: We never make a profit on this product. We do it to save lives, because it’s important and we also do it for employee motivation. We just took a group of employees to see our work in Malawi and believe me, they will be ambassadors for P&G for the rest of their lives. It’s very visible, our folks tell us it’s the most widely read thing on our website. We don’t make any profit on PUR and if we do, any margins we make go back into the developing world. 3p: Was that a difficult sell internally, getting management to approve a product that would not make money by design? GA: It was. Both (former CEO) John Pepper, who was my mentor at the time and A.G. Lafley (then CEO), got it right away. But there were a number of middle managers who opposed it and it took a while for the idea to become accepted and implemented. We are now starting to leverage the appeal of this effort, through our brandSAVER program and hopefully the company will also benefit in that way. 3p: Thank you. Note: On Sunday, June 5, a special edition of the P&G GIVE HEALTH brandSAVER coupon booklet will be distributed in newspapers across the country, with discounts for P&G brands.  For each brandSAVER coupon redeemed, one day of clean drinking water will be donated to people in developing countries through the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program – so consumers can save money AND give back. *** RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water.  Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own. Follow RP Siegel on Twitter