Making the Pledge: SC Johnson charts sustainability over time

On the 50th anniversary of SC Johnson's Europlant factory, the group's senior director for manufacturing in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Clint Filipowicz, discusses how sustainable business practices have developed to now underpin the company.

At SC Johnson, we have seen the benefits of embracing sustainability; it has become a principal factor in setting our long-term company goals and influencing the business decisions we make. But it’s not just a strategy – it’s what we do every day, throughout all our operations, from sourcing better ingredients for our products and supporting the communities we work in, to finding solutions to the operational challenges that more sustainable practices often bring.

Beyond our overarching sustainability goals – which we set every five years to drive and measure our progress – the sustainability initiatives we champion need to be practical, achievable and valuable on a daily basis. This means everyone at SC Johnson – from the manufacturing floor to the boardroom – strives to identify new areas where we can cut waste and innovate throughout our operations.

Waste does not simply refer to rubbish or inefficient energy use; it’s reducing or preventing any unnecessary facet of our business including time, money, materials or energy. Reducing this waste is not only beneficial for the environment’s finite or limited resources but it also frees up resources within the business and encourages innovation throughout our operations. This approach, coupled with investment in larger measures such as wind turbines, ensures our business continues to grow efficiently and sustainably.

From the factory floor

We have found that to develop a truly sustainable business, our larger scale sustainability initiatives should be complemented by smaller bottom-up programmes. It is often the members of our team, who are physically closest to the manufacturing and other operations and understand the technology and mechanics involved, who drive innovation and more sustainable ways of working.

One recent example is an employee-led initiative that came from SC Johnson staff working on the Mr Muscle production line at our European manufacturing hub, Europlant, located just outside of Amsterdam. The team on the manufacturing floor wanted to reduce the amount of plastic used in the packaging of Mr Muscle, but the lighter bottles proved to be unstable on the production line and impractical to fill. The team’s observations and knowledge of the processes meant they were able to solve the problem of bottles falling over by designing a reusable puck with pockets to hold the lighter bottles in place as they moved across the line. This simple innovation had a big impact, resulting in a 25% reduction in the amount of plastic used in the production of Mr Muscle – saving materials, time, and money and creating a better product.

Working with suppliers to develop better solutions is also a key aspect of reducing our impact on the environment and also strengthens our relationships. For example, we worked closely with our primary European supplier of aerosol cans to re-locate their manufacturing facility within the grounds of the Europlant site. This supplier co-location eliminates the environmental impact of transporting materials and increases efficiency. In this particular case, we have managed to further reduce our supply chain emissions as the goods and raw materials are moved between the warehouse and our factory by an electric train, which is today powered by the electricity produced by an onsite wind turbine. This also enables us to easily send packaging back to the supplier to be reused over again. This programme has been instrumental in Europlant achieving zero landfill waste status since 2003.

Long-term thinking

Investing in large-scale sustainability measures often requires a company to focus on the long-term business benefits, rather than short-term goals and financials. We are fortunate that, as a privately-owned, family company, we have the encouragement and flexibility to make decisions for the long term which will benefit future generations.

The pride of Europlant is undoubtedly our 80-metre wind turbine that was erected in the summer of 2009. The turbine generates on average 10 million kWh a year, providing 52% of the facility’s power and saving around €500k a year on its energy bills. Last month alone, this turbine produced more energy than the site used. While the design, planning and installation of this wind turbine was a sizable upfront investment, we anticipate this will balance out within the next couple of years. This wind turbine is an example of a low-maintenance technology that will happily operate for over 20 years.

This year is the 50th anniversary of our Europlant site, originally founded in 1964. The first product produced on site was Pledge, which we still make today, but now uses compressed air rather than LPGs in the aerosols. While we are proud of the efficiencies and improvements we have made to date, we are fully aware that sustainability is a way of working rather than a finite goal and there is always more that needs to be done.

There is no room for complacency in our industry and in order for SC Johnson to be relevant in the future, we must continue to evolve at the same pace we have managed to do so over the last 128 years. From what we have achieved to date, we have learnt that integrating sustainability into the heart of our business is key to this evolution and the only way our business will flourish in the future.

SC Johnson’s top five tips for sustainable business

  • Engage People and Listen: The practical experience and in-depth knowledge of employees working at the heart of the company is crucial in identifying possible improvements and efficiencies that could be made to how your organisation operates. Make sure you encourage employees to share suggestions and think creatively. 
  • Make small changes: Always remember that no change is too small and even the simplest idea can have a big impact. 
  • Combine corporate with community: Your organisation is part of the local community as are your employees, so it is important to maintain and build relationships in the surrounding area. There is much to be gained by bringing your corporate sustainability to life in partnership with the local community – here at Europlant we have found this to be mutually rewarding through initiatives such as our tree planting program, where we plant a hectares of trees in and around the site each year. 
  • Use technology as a facilitator, not a cure-all: There’s unlikely to be a single renewable or other technology that will solve all your problems. The key is to choose the technology that makes sense for your business based on a 360-degree evaluation of energy requirements and a variety of local economic, environmental and logistical factors. At SC Johnson, our investment in new technologies has differed in each market, whether it be using rice husk biomass as an energy source in Indonesia or installing a wind turbines at Europlant. 
  • Look outside: There are big gains to be made between organisations as well as within them, particularly in your supply chain and the companies you do business with every day. Partner with them to find ways to work that are smarter and/or more efficient. 

Clint Filipowicz is SC Johnson’s senior director for manufacturing in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

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