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Kimberly-Clark Goes Full Circle on Zero Waste, Sustainable Sourcing

Words by Leon Kaye

Kimberly-Clark released its 2011 sustainability report yesterday. The paper products giant, the brands of which include Huggies, Kleenex and Kotex, set several sustainability goals for 2015 and updates its stakeholders on the company’s progress on environmental and social issues. While paper has clearly been the low-hanging fruit when it comes to environmental sustainability and yes, recycling, there still exists plenty of room for improvement across countless supply chains. And although paper products undoubtedly provide comfort and convenience, what can be flushed down the toilet or tossed in the trash bin after a single use takes decades to regrow--not to mention the enormous amounts of fuel, chemicals and water required to manufacture all those tissues, paper towels and nappies. Companies in the pulp and paper and related industries are under the microscope, and most are replying in kind.

Kimberly-Clark rolled out its 2015 goals last year. So far metrics the company has reached on water stewardship, energy efficiency, waste diversion and supply chain compliance include the following milestones:

Certified suppliers: With consumers increasingly demanding paper products that come from responsibly managed forests, Kimberly-Clark claims that goal is in the bag with 99.9 percent of paper fiber coming from certified suppliers. That goal was set in 2007 and reached 98 percent within two years.

Environmentally innovative products: Companies like HP and GE love to tout their “innovation,” and Kimberly-Clark is no exception. The company’s ecoLOGICAL portfolio accounts for 13 percent of the company’s overall net sales. Depending on what one’s definition of “innovation” is, those products include a cleansing wipe on sale in the UK, several products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and Huggies Pure and Natural diapers.

Zero Waste: Across the pond, Kimberly-Clark’s personal care division in Europe reached the company’s 2015 goal of zero waste. Environmental performance improved in Brazil, too, with a reduction of 30 metric tons of solid waste sent to landfills last year.

Diaper Composting: Recycled fashion, sustainably designed cell phones and the recycled plastic cases that contain them make environmental stewardship sexy. Diaper composting is a complete 180 degree turn from the sustainability-is-cool index, and is not too high on the public relations “wow-em” list. But to Kimberly-Clark’s credit, a partnership has been underway in New Zealand and in fact, is expanding. More locations in additional countries are under consideration and the initiative made a top 10 “poo-cycling” list for 2011. And when Kimberly-Clark brings together the sustainability journalists and mommy bloggers when the first U.S. diaper composting facility opens, whenever, if ever, that occurs, I want to be there.

Of course Kimberly-Clark’s agenda is not solely limited to environmental programs. The company is leaning on suppliers to adhere to the company’s code of conduct for corporate responsibility and human rights. And philanthropy still is strong with $32 million in donations given last year. Kimberly-Clark’s actions demonstrate that corporate social responsibility is not just about public relations gold stars and patting themselves on the back. Sustainability, in this $19 billion company’s case, makes strategic business sense in a world of diminishing, and more expensive, resources.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Image courtesy Kimberly-Clark.


Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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