Women in CSR: Victoria Wood, Reckitt Benckiser

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.

Victoria_03TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.

Victoria Wood: I’m the Global Sustainability Manager at Reckitt Benckiser (RB). My role involves working on a wide range of sustainability topics, including managing RB’s responsible sourcing and production programme and our global tree planting programme (we’re at nearly six million trees to date). I’ve been working on sustainability issues for eight years and joined RB 18 months ago.

3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?

VW: Last year, we met our challenging target (set in 2007) of reducing our products’ total carbon footprint – from raw materials to use and disposal – by 20 percent per dose by 2020. This was eight years ahead of schedule and a great achievement, but we knew we could do more. So, as RB redefined its vision and purpose, we took the opportunity to review the key sustainability risks and opportunities facing RB and, in particular, where we could make a meaningful difference.

In September 2012, following this review, we were excited to launch our new sustainability strategy, called “betterbusiness.” The new strategy works on two levels – managing our sustainability risks but also maximizing any opportunities – in particular to embed sustainability into our product development process. It includes three new challenging 2020 sustainability goals and one big ambition:

  • One-third net revenue to be from more sustainable products;
  • One-third less water impact;
  • One-third further reduction in our carbon footprint; and
  • Partnering with Save the Children to stop diarrhea being the world’s biggest killer of children.

Since the launch, we’ve rolled out the strategy globally and embedded the new goals into the different parts of the business. That means working with all of our key functions – for example, with our manufacturing teams on reducing waste to landfill to meet our zero landfill goal, with our marketing teams to explore the value of sustainability for our consumers, with our R&D teams to assess each and every product innovation versus sustainability criteria, and with our finance teams to embed our net revenue goal into the way they operate.

3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.

VW: My school geography teacher had a massive impact on my sustainability journey. I remember the lesson when we first studied anthropogenic climate change and environmental impacts. I was shocked and from then on knew that I wanted to do what I could through my career to make a positive impact on the environment. This has stayed with me ever since and it reminds me that simple facts have the ability to cut through the noise and really affect people. So that’s why, when developing our sustainability communications, we kept it simple. We focus on our big three goals for our global communications. And we focus communications on our other policies and programmes where it makes sense. For example, we talk to our procurement teams in relation to our new natural raw materials sourcing policy and compliance programme. This is working well and keeps each part of the business focused on where we can make a difference.

3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?

VW: The best advice I’ve received is actually a quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” We are a small team at RB but we really punch above our weight – this quote reminds me of what I can achieve.

3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?

VW: Refreshing and re-launching RB’s responsible sourcing programme is something I’m really proud of. I developed a new policy and standard, working with our procurement leadership team and RB’s company leadership. To ensure that our supply chain understood our new requirements, I prepared a new guide for suppliers and am now rolling out the global compliance monitoring programme. We still have a lot more to do, but we’ve come a long way compared to this time last year.

3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?

VW: Across the whole industry, I would want environmental and social sustainability considerations to be more deeply embedded into day-to-day decision making. This is something we have been working on at RB for a long time and our new Sustainable Innovation Calculator is helping to raise the profile of the topic – but there’s always more that can be done. All of our new product innovations are being assessed, using the calculator, for their performance against carbon, water, packaging and ingredient sustainability criteria. We have set strict criteria for whether an innovation is ‘more sustainable’ and a challenging goal for one-third of net revenue to come from more sustainable innovations.

vw_trees_may_13_23p: Describe your perfect day.

VW: I’ve just come back from British Columbia reviewing our tree planting programme – our little trees (although some are not so little now – the oldest ones are taller than me!) are growing against the backdrop of the Rockies and it’s a really beautiful and peaceful place to be.

So my perfect day would involve going for a long walk across our new forests with my family, then spending some time relaxing and painting. I’d finish up with a great meal and going to see one of my favourite bands play live. I guess that is quite a lot to fit into one day!

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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