Sustainability Interview with Peggy Ward from Kimberly-Clark

Nov 29, 2011 10:00 AM ET

Development Crossing Exclusive Interviews - CSR and Sustainability

As part of Development Crossing's ongoing interview series, Peggy Ward, Director of the Enterprise Sustainability Strategy Team at Kimberly-Clark (K-C) Corporation, recently shared some of her thoughts with the network.

1. Can you provide a brief overview of your role and how it relates to CSR and Sustainability?

I am the Director of the Enterprise Sustainability Strategy Team at Kimberly-Clark (K-C) Corporation.  I lead global advancement of the company’s sustainability strategy.  This position places emphasis on developing, implementing and communicating K-C’s sustainability strategy and related plans to internal and external stakeholders

2. What are the top 3 challenges facing you as a CSR/Sustainability executive over the next 12-18 months? Why?

  1. Continue gaining support from within our businesses as to how sustainability can contribute to their objectives.  We continually strive to demonstrate how sustainability can help them advance their objectives.

  2. Competition for resources such as capital expenditures or investments in the business to pursue sustainability efforts.

  3. Long-term sustainability strategy development such as 2030 and beyond.  As a publicly held company, having a 5-year plan is long term, but sustainability needs to go well beyond a 5-year time horizon to be successful.

3. Given the emergence of CSR/Sustainability as a strategic imperative over the last decade, how do you see it continuing to evolve in the future?

Sustainability and CSR used to be viewed by companies as compliance oriented in response to regulation ---sprinkled with the ideology of doing good in the communities where they operated. I believe the positive shift we’ve seen in the past decade will continue and even escalate with companies viewing sustainability as a business imperative rather than a defensive move. 

The world’s population just topped 7 billion, and will continue to grow in the next decade. The economic status of the world’s population is also growing to be more middle class creating more disposable income that leads to new emerging markets for companies.

While this is good for the social end, it creates even more demand on the planet’s natural resources which are finite.  Just look at how commodity prices continue to escalate which increases input costs for companies. Some companies are beginning to look at alternative sources—more sustainable solutions—that can contribute to a better world and the bottom line.

4. What recent CSR/Sustainability initiative or project are you most proud of and why? How have you measured its success?

Stakeholder engagement both with non-governmental organizations and with our own employees.

  1. We resolved in August 2009 a campaign held against K-C by Greenpeace.  Since then, we have been working with Greenpeace to further our fiber procurement policy, share our sustainability direction and work with them on forestry issues.  What is truly fascinating is how we are working together now to reach our common goals.  As we continue to meet and build the trust amongst ourselves, we are beginning to see how each side has viewed certain aspects of our original debate.  We are now comfortable to express to each side that we either misunderstood certain aspects or that we saw it in a completely different way.  These ‘a-ha’ moments are truly eye opening in a good way and have allowed us to work together in a very productive manner.

  2. Additionally, we created a program called Small Steps for our employees to demonstrate that more dramatic changes such as installing solar panels or purchasing only eco-friendly materials aren’t the only way to make a positive impact on the environment. All it takes to make a difference are a few small behavioral changes such as turning off your computer at night or taking shorter showers.  Employees simply choose an option from a list on our internal Sustainability Matters web site or they can commit to something different and click an “other” box and explain what they’re doing.  Once they’ve committed, they receive a special e-mail signature (see my e-mail signature) that let’s everyone know that they are part of a movement dedicated to shaping a healthier world.  This is a simple way to take a small step for sustainability today and help transform tomorrow.  As of November 15, 2011, we have over 11,600 employees signed up worldwide!

5. If you had one piece of advice to give companies beginning their journey in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, what would it be?

It all comes down to taking a holistic approach (the triple bottom line) and making a business case for sustainability—it must support your business and its objectives. While the majority of companies see sustainability and CSR as ways to” do the right thing” the leading companies are those who make sustainability and integral part of the business and its operations. They view it as a strategic imperative, not just something they need to do or have to do. When competition increases for internal resources, those who can demonstrate business value receive the needed funding and resources.

In making a business case for sustainability, you will need to:

  • Measure everything you do to prove value to the business (for internal buy in) in addition to providing value to the betterment of the world

  • Include the businesses on your team. A sustainability team isn’t the “end all be all” for the company, you need to leverage resources from within the business. For example at K-C, we have Sustainability business leaders imbedded in business. They have dotted line back to our Sustainability team. These people are at the table when key decisions are made about operations, our products etc.

  • Gain support from C-suite and board of directors either by reporting structure or by keeping them informed of the work.

6. Any additional thoughts?

  • Involve anyone with a passion in sustainability to participate in the company’s efforts.  It doesn’t matter their level of function base.  Passion and interest trumps all.

  • Be relentless in pursuing sustainability efforts, but also have thick skin. 

  • Be sure to have the facts.  Just saying ’it’s the right thing to do’ won’t get you the support and resources you will need to get things done.


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