Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business
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Semrau cleans up at SC Johnson

June 2014

Kelly Semrau, senior vp- global corporate affairs, communication and sustainability, at SC Johnson, tells Ethical Performance about the household cleaning giant’s approach to CR and sustainability


What does sustainability mean to you?
For me, sustainability is about the positive choices that we all make; whether businesses or individuals, large or small scale. These choices set the course for the future of our planet, and I believe we have an obligation to make the planet a better place not just for us, but future generations. It’s not going to be easy, with the planet nearing 9 billion people who all have a growing dependence on energy. But I’ve also seen the impact that awareness and education can have in helping people to make green choices. And I’m optimistic that these green choices help make the impossible become possible.

 How did you get interested in the field?
My appreciation of sustainability issues started from a very young age. I grew up on a farm in Illinois and I think my awareness of sustainability was embedded in me during those early days. Today, our family farm is still managed by my brother, and I’m inspired by the sustainable changes he has made, such as changing the hog operation to become organic.

What are the most interesting innovations in sustainability that we’re seeing at SCJ right now?
Some of the most effective initiatives we’re doing at SC Johnson aren’t driven by big investments but by making smart choices in how we approach what we do every day. Our approach to how we develop our products is a perfect example. While some companies offer a green line of products, we take a different approach.
 We use an internal classification system called Greenlist™ that we developed in 2001. Greenlist™ lets us classify the ingredients and packaging we use in our products, and to continuously strive to improve them. We’ve rated all of our ingredients and hold ourselves accountable to improve our overall Greenlist™ scores year over year. Since 2001, we’ve increased the percentage of our “Better or Best” ingredients from 18 to 44 percent. And to reinvigorate our efforts, we recently rolled out a new Greenlist™ training program for our scientists to help them make even greater progress.

What’s the biggest challenge you’re faced with?
As a consumer packaged goods company, the area that I truly believe is the biggest challenge we face is consumer behaviour. Take concentrates, for example. American consumers buy 320 million cleaning products in trigger bottles each year, and millions of them end up in landfills. By comparison, concentrates use less packaging and can help reduce waste compared to buying a new trigger bottle. But consumers are reluctant to make the switch so retailers won’t stock them.
To learn more, in 2011, we piloted a Windex® concentrate product on our US website, and in 2012, we extended the offer to five of our leading home cleaning brands. We used an open sourcing concept to learn more about consumer preferences, and with the second wave of cleaners, we applied a great deal of the feedback we received, like making sure the packaging is recyclable. We haven’t cracked the code yet, but we continue to press on and are doing what we can to learn more so that we can ultimately get these products on store shelves.

What are some of your short-term goals?
We believe that to make progress, you’ve got to set goals. For more than 20 years, we have set environmental goals every five years and reported the results. Our current five-year plan includes goals like using more renewable energy, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing landfill waste and developing innovative products made with better ingredients, less packaging and that use fewer resources. We’re well on our way with our progress, and our employees are a big part of progress, bringing enthusiasm and commitment to innovative solutions. So far we have reduced our global manufacturing waste by 62 percent and eight of our manufacturing sites have achieved zero waste going to landfill. We’ve also increased our use of renewable energy to 30 percent.

And long term?
SC Johnson believes that every place should be a better place because we are there. We also believe that to make progress, you have to set goals. We will continue to set goals every five years and hold ourselves accountable to reaching them. And because we’re privately held, we have the benefit of thinking long term, versus focusing on the next quarter’s earnings, and making choices that we believe in and that will help lead to a sustainable future.

What sustainability statistics at SCJ are you most proud of?
Today, nearly 30% of our global energy use comes from clean energy, with sources like wind energy, biomass and cogeneration playing an ever increasing role in powering our global operations. I’m incredibly proud of the results we’ve made around our energy usage, but I also think it is important that we not rest on our laurels and continue to look for the next improvement we can make.

If you could influence one major thing in sustainable business practice, what would it be?
Energy consumption is a major issue for businesses; in terms of bottom line as well as the environment, so I think this is an area where companies could achieve some high impact results. We’ve been creative in our renewable energy usage, using methane gas from a local landfill for cogeneration and burning waste products like rice husks as a form of biofuel. We regularly share these experiences to help other companies gain a better understanding of innovative options. It takes some creativity and commitment, but it can be done. The more companies that move in this direction, the more overall progress that can be made.

SC Johnson | Global | People

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