Sharing sustainability success: From selling to showing

Kimberly-Clark's head of sustainability for EMEA Tom Berry explores how some of the world's most intractable development issues, such as increasing access to education and improving sanitation, require effective behaviour change programmes to create real progress.

It is clear that businesses can play a vital role in bringing about behaviour change. It is now also becoming clear that behaviour change at scale requires businesses to engage, not just through philanthropy and corporate social responsibility, but by aligning business growth to addressing these issues.

This was brought into sharp relief through my own experience of working on the Andrex and UNICEF partnership, which is funding a Community Led Total Sanitation programme in Angola that educates children and their families about the importance of sanitation. With knowledge and resources, communities are empowered to develop their own clean and safe toilets.

Angola has one of the worst sanitation problems in the world; more than seven out of 10 people living in rural areas do not have a safe, clean toilet to use. One child in five does not survive to age five and approximately one quarter of all child deaths in Angola are caused by diarrhoeal diseases – the vast majority of these caused by poor sanitation and hygiene.

In the three-year partnership, Andrex and UNICEF are aiming to raise £600,000 and impact over 180,000 lives in Angola, through an on-pack promotion in Sainsbury’s stores.

Our experience with the partnership, as well as our wider sustainability work, has taught us a number of lessons that are relevant for others looking to do the same.

Selling sustainability

While it is increasingly understood that businesses must demonstrate a commitment to sustainability or risk falling behind competitors, sustainability professionals still often face resistance and financial constraints when it comes to introducing and implementing sustainability initiatives.

At Kimberly-Clark, a big part of what has enabled us to put sustainability at the heart of the business was demonstrating that there is business value in focusing on it. This incorporates a number of different dimensions – sales, brand, corporation, and values.

Toilets and sanitation, for example, are inherently linked to our business, so we believe we have a key role to play in engaging our employees, customers and consumers to take action on the global sanitation crisis. Our desire to help resolve this global issue has led us to develop a large-scale multinational programme entitled Toilets Change Lives, of which the UK partnership between Andrex and UNICEF is one part.

In order to succeed at scale, we have had to make the business case internally, which has broadly been in three areas.

First, we needed to demonstrate from the outset that a brand-led social mission can drive incremental sales.  We were able to do this by launching the UNICEF partnership in Sainsbury’s as an exclusive in-store campaign – this gave Andrex better visibility in store with customers and drove sales to benefit Kimberly-Clark, UNICEF, and the retailer.

Secondly, we demonstrated clear alignment with our brand. Andrex is all about “elevating the standard of clean” – because feeling clean is a fundamental part of our wellbeing.  This obviously applies to our UK Andrex consumers, but also applies to helping people in Angola gain access to clean, safe toilets.

And lastly, the business case comes from linking initiatives to the core of what we want to do as a business full stop. Kimberly-Clark exists to provide people with essentials for a better life, and what could be more essential than sanitation? Tackling the issue of sanitation is critical to the countries and people who suffer without improved sanitation but it is also highly relevant for Kimberly-Clark and our individual brands.

Measuring success

Demonstrating business value is one thing, but being able to measure sustainability effectively can be difficult and the metrics in use are constantly evolving. That is why aligning the organisation’s goals with wider, external targets can be helpful.

In September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted at the United Nations General Assembly. It has become increasingly clear that the SDG agenda must and will involve a hugely diverse range of players – including crucially, a much bigger role for the private sector. The SDGs are useful framing tools for us in terms of helping set out a True-North, for what ‘good’ social or environmental impact should be in almost any area. The goals, sub-goals and metrics that sit beneath them bring a consistent way to measure impact and progress. At Kimberly-Clark, we try to align SDG measurements with each of our sustainability goals.

Once a programme is in place, managing it can be a daunting task, especially for businesses that don’t have the benefit of a large, dedicated team.

The UK Andrex partnership with UNICEF is a shared partnership – both internally and externally. Internally, we rely on our marketing teams to manage what the consumers hear and feel about the programme. There’s also a great deal of consensus building across our global, regional and country teams as well as support from the Kimberly-Clark Foundation to ensure long-term success.  Externally, UNICEF manages all programme implementation on the ground in Angola (and the other countries we are supporting), and we strive to be very clear on the measures of sustainable success.

Earlier this year, I visited Angola as part of a field trip to see the positive impact of the work, so we could engage more people (both consumers and employees) in what a great programme it is and what a difference it makes to people’s lives. My role was to observe and act as a representative for Andrex in the meetings we had with government representatives and local leaders in the villages.

I visited one village that had been declared ‘Open Defecation Free’ for a year, where I met Sabina. Sabina is 39, married with four children and lives in a village called Waleka. She told me about life before her village went through the Community Led Total Sanitation programme and her family built a toilet:

“Before we had a toilet we went outside to the bush to defecate which made me feel uncomfortable,” Sabina said. “When we went to the toilet outside I was worried about my family getting sick or being bitten by a snake.

“Defecating outside made my children sick, they were always ill. When they were ill they didn’t manage to go to school.”

Now that they have all built toilets and been declared open defecation free she feels happy and sees that there has been a reduction in illness for all of the villagers.

Showing the tangible effects is a big part of continually improving the programme. Not only does it allow the consumers we have brought into the journey to see how they are helping but also to show internally the impact we are having as a business.

The deciding factor

The key factor that ‘unlocked’ the work on sanitation, and a number of other sustainability areas for us was being able to clearly link the goals and activities we wanted to achieve with key business drivers – be that business growth, risk management, or areas like talent attraction and retention. Without a clear link, the programme at best would likely have been a short lived piece of CSR, and at worst, would not have happened at all.

The success of the Andrex programme has inspired other regions to expand Toilets Change Lives to different markets around the world. In 2016 we have developed programs in the US, Switzerland, Spain, South Africa, the Netherlands, Brazil, Bolivia and India across several lines of business.

It is critical to invest in sustainability initiatives that create shared social and financial value that make your business stronger at the same time as helping communities and the environment. By collaborating with partners and finding a strategic fit between social issue, corporate strategy and brand positioning, you can deliver emotional and powerful campaigns, that engage consumers in existing markets and help create new markets as sanitation systems are improved.

Tom Berry is head of sustainability for the EMEA region at Kimberly-Clark

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