5 Minutes With… Guillaume Lebert from P&G
“All our liquid laundry bottles in Europe are made with 25% recycled plastic, all our fabric conditioner bottle in Europe are made with 50% recycled plastic.”
Ariel, Oral-B, Gillette, Always and Fairy are big global brands. Not many people may know this, but US-headquartered multinational consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble (P&G) owns these brands. The company has recently set sustainability goals as part of its Ambition 2030 project. The 2030 strategy builds on previous commitments set to be achieved by 2030. In it, P&G pledged to make all of its packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030.
Here, Liz Gyekye, senior content manager at Bio-Based World News catches up with Guillaume Lebert, sustainability senior scientist at P&G.
Liz Gyekye (LG): Welcome to 5 Minutes With. Can you begin with a description about P&G and what it is the company does?
Guillaume Lebert (GL): P&G is more than 180 years old. We have our headquarters in the US. Today, we operate in more than 70 countries. Our products are sold in more than 180 countries. Globally, we are one of the most trusted and known brands. We have brands such as Ariel, Gillette, Fairy, Head and Shoulders, and Olay. Our portfolio is quite big, and a lot of people are using our produce every day. We want to provide circular packaging and superior quality products that deliver amazing delight consumers every day.
LG: Before working at P&G, what did you do?
GL: I have now worked at P&G for 15 years. After university, I graduated with a masters in science and chemistry in Paris. During my studies, I did my internship with P&G. This was successful, as P&G sent me a contract at the end of the internship. I joined P&G in July 2004, where I worked for its European market laundry detergent division. After three years of this, I went to the fabric conditioner division. In this arm, I was taking care of all the developing countries. This meant me looking after the Lenor/Downy brands, for instance. This was when I started to delve into sustainability much more closely.
Looking at the developing markets, access to water was a big issue and a big constraint. We worked on a project to tackle this constraint. A lot of developing countries still wash their clothes by hand rather than via the washing machine. Each time someone wanted to wash their clothes by hand, rinsing the detergent out properly was always a pain. This was because it needed to be rinsed out in clean water to ensure the detergent was rinsed out properly. At P&G, we developed a product that allowed the consumer to rinse out the detergent completely in one rinse. This helped save time, was more convenient and delivered water consumption savings. This applied to countries in Latin America, some countries in Africa and Southeast Asia. At this point, I realised how my work started to have a meaningful impact on the planet. I did that for a couple of years.
I then moved to the developed region group. Here, I realised that we could make a difference for clothes protection. Sometimes you feel that your clothes have been worn out if they have been washed too many times, and some people feel that they are not great to wear anymore. At P&G, we developed a formulation that enabled our consumers to have better clothes protection. We have been able to prolong the life of your clothes. This is where you can wear them more frequently or wash them more frequently while keeping the style of your fashion for longer.
All in all, I spent a total of ten years working in fabric conditioner category. This also helped me to shape the work we started in North America on clothes and fabric protection, which has been quite successful. This helps our company to promote sustainability in a meaningful way to our consumers.
More than one year ago, I moved back to fabric care in Europe. Here, we make sure that we drive the sustainability agenda.
LG: What’s been the biggest challenge for the company?
GL: Every sustainability option you see in front of you is not necessarily a silver bullet to solve all sustainability problems. Each time we look at the solution we need to look at the lifecycle analysis and the environmental footprint of that solution. We need to make sure that we are doing the right thing and also helping our suppliers to do the right thing. We have to make sure that the one we choose has a positive impact on the planet. I wish it was a black and white issue, but it is not. Sustainability is not an easy story to communicate to the consumer. If you only have 30 seconds of a TV advert, it is difficult to get your message across. We really need to find a proper channel to communicate this to the consumer. We need to find the relevant partner to help with promoting the sustainability agenda in order to help educate the consumer and help them consider responsible consumption.
LG: What is coming up next for your company?
GL: There will be a lot of focus on education. We need to educate the consumer that they know it is important. You will see us being a lot more vocal about it. We are also looking at how can we increase bio-based material in our products. Packaging will be a part of this to drive our 2030 goals on recyclability. We want to ensure that no plastic packaging find its way to the ocean. All our liquid laundry bottles in Europe are made with 25% recycled plastic, all our fabric conditioner bottle in Europe are made with 50% recycled plastic. We want to make sure that we put a lot of recycled content in our packaging to create a circular economy.
Full circularity means reaching 100% recycled plastic content. However, with today’s methods you always get some issues with contamination with the product that it came with before. There are some solutions being developed by the recycling industry that we are partnering with to enable this future packaging circularity objective.
LG: What is your favourite sustainable/bio-based product?
GL: Materials that have the right certification like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil or the RSB certification are extremely important for us. We are doing this and so we have to expect the same from our supplier. So, all these companies that are coming to us with all these fantastic plant-based materials. This is doing the right thing.