In conversation with Reckitt Benckiser’s Dave Challis

This week Reckitt Benckiser's Dave Challis tells edie why water, supply chains and revenue growth are top priorities for the the global health and hygiene consumer products company.

What area will you be focusing on next in terms of sustainability?

We launched our new sustainability strategy last year so I’m focused on helping the business understand the new goals and to put plans in place to meet them. One of our new goals is to increase the net revenue from more sustainable products to 1/3 by 2020. It’s a massive goal and the sustainability team is working closely with our finance colleagues to put the measurement system in place. And we’re working with our product development teams to make sure we have a pipeline full of more sustainable products.

What are the major changes you see happening in your industry?

From a sustainability perspective, we’re seeing a big increase in the importance of supply chain responsibility topics. That’s why we revamped our social compliance programme and natural raw material sourcing programme late last year at the same time as setting our new product and manufacturing targets.

What are the challenges for someone in your position?

For me it’s trying to get the right balance between the long and the short term. It would be easy to focus on the day-to-day issues as there’s so much going on both in RB and in the sustainability industry in general. But a key part of my role is taking a longer view of the topics to make sure we’re always focused on the right things and using our time and resources wisely.

What motivates you?

I’m motivated by the people I work with and our overall purpose as a company to provide innovative solutions for healthier lives and happier homes – our sustainability programme is key to supporting this. RB people are bright and extremely driven so it’s an exciting place to work. I feel very fortunate that I am excited to go to work each morning.

What’s the most exciting part of your job?

The most exciting thing for me is the breadth of sustainability – working on the full lifecycle of our products from raw materials through manufacturing and when people use our products. We also have a great global R&D community in RB and it’s fantastic to discuss the sustainability challenges and opportunities at the very start of a product’s life – when there’s still time to make it better.

What green innovation do you think can revolutionise the economy?

I don’t think any single idea will revolutionise the economy, or our lives. We need continuous innovation in order to meet our goals – both breakthrough innovation and incremental innovation. At RB we’re focused on both of these – the big and the small.

What’s the big focus in 2013 for the environment?

Our new strategy highlights water as a major focus area for RB over the next few years. And our water impact study showed where the key areas to focus on are – like handwashing in India. But we’ve also set new goals in other environmental topics, like energy, GHG emissions and waste. Our zero manufacturing waste to landfill 2020 goal is ambitious but we’ve already achieved a lot and many of our sites are completely landfill-free. So we’re going to share ideas across our factories and develop some new ones to help meet our goals. And we’re continuing with our tree planting programme – we’ve planted six million trees so far, to effectively offset our manufacturing carbon emissions.

What tips or advice would you give to newly appointed sustainability professionals?

Get as broad experience in the full range of sustainability topics that you can – and develop (at least) one deep dive specialism too. And never underestimate the impact of good communications – both formal and informal.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I have two – one at RB and one before. I felt incredibly proud when, at a previous company, we launched the world’s first Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) branded tissue products. Now when I go to the supermarket I see almost all of the tissue products are FSC. It was a real challenge to understand and influence our supply chain – but the end result, with no major costs for the company, was brilliant. And at RB, I’m proud of our new sustainability strategy, called betterbusiness, which we launched last year. The new focus areas, particularly on sustainable product innovation, have got everyone in the business excited about how they can contribute. I’m looking forward to seeing the results!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I like to get involved in everything – so the best advice I’ve received is don’t try to do everything all at once – pick the hardest, most important thing and focus solely on that first….until it’s complete. Then on to the next. Easier said than done but it’s great advice.

What’s your top tip for employee engagement?

Ask people what they are interested in and design a simple, focused programme that responds to it and also achieves your communications goals – it’s easy to forget that not everyone talks about sustainability all-day everyday and has a slightly different take on things to us sustainability geeks!

What do you say to the climate change sceptics?

I ask them if they think being efficient and saving money is a bad thing. Everyone I’ve met with agrees with increasing efficiency and so I’m fine if someone is sceptical about climate science as long as we continue to become more efficient and reduce our impact along the way.

Books or kindle?

I prefer reading real books when relaxing at home.

Dave Challis is Reckitt Benckiser’s director of global sustainability, environment, health and safety

Read last week’s ‘In conversation with AkzoNobel’s Chris Cook’

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie