Solid Waste & Recycling

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When Less is More

As Canadians continue to grow in their environmental awareness, Procter & Gamble (P&G) has introduced a new opportunity for consumers. Starting in April, 2008, P&G will offer its entire li...


As Canadians continue to grow in their environmental awareness, Procter & Gamble (P&G) has introduced a new opportunity for consumers. Starting in April, 2008, P&G will offer its entire liquid laundry detergent line in a 2X concentrated formula. This is a hard conversion, meaning that the old formula won’t be offered for sale — not even on the store shelves of the “bulk” aisles. From Victoria, B.C. to St. John’s, Newfoundland, all Tide, Gain, Cheer and Era liquid laundry detergent will be available only in a new 2X concentrated formula.

For P&G, the reason for the switch is simple. The company wants to make the environment a focus for the performance of its products and packaging. The marketers, however, are anxious. Laundry products are the flagship of the P&G product line in Canada. They know that they must succeed.

To this end, the company is reaching out to environmental and consumer stakeholders in a variety of ways. I’m one of six members of an expert advisory panel convened by P&G. Our role is to review the company’s plans for liquid laundry concentration and provide feedback and guidance, based on our respective areas of expertise.

With a shift of this magnitude, the key is to get consumers to think of the environment when they buy laundry products. P&G’s hook: P&G liquid laundry detergents will reduce solid waste, water usage and energy costs without sacrificing performance. The compacted formulas and smaller bottles make differences across the entire supply chain, including reduced fuel consumption and warehouse space usage, as well as a 22 to 43 per cent reduction in the amount of packaging (depending on the bottle size). Further, the new formulas also use up to 42 per cent less water than before while still offering the same number of loads. These translate into savings for consumers, municipalities and, most importantly, the environment.

One of the barriers faced by “greener” products has been the perception they’re more expensive. On that front, P&G has no plans to charge more for the concentrated laundry products despite the fact that they haven’t increased in price for the past few years (even with considerable commodity price increases and R&D investments). As a bonus, they’re improving the performance of the product to help in its acceptance: it won’t just be smaller; it will be better!

Despite today’s consumer interest in environmental protection, the decision to switch wasn’t taken lightly. P&G, known for its commitment to extensive background research, has painstakingly researched, tested, and yes, even did a bit of soul searching (particularly by those accountable for performance) before moving ahead. The spectre of past performances also weighed heavily on the minds of company officials. They remember all too well the consumer “green wave” of the early 1990s that never really materialized.

During this period, the packaging industry made substantial gains by thin-walling packaging materials and changing from heavier containers like glass to lighter materials like plastic. Shipping was also impacted, changing to lighter materials and reusable containers. While extensive market research claimed otherwise, consumers never really changed their habits. When offered “environmentally-friendly” packaging over the old standards, consumers chose familiar products over new packages. Many green products never really caught on or did poorly on the store shelves. Some companies that invested in “greener” packaging lost market share.

P&G has its own laundry example from this time. The Ultra line of powdered P&G laundry detergents was first introduced in the early 1990s. While some consumers switched to the Ultra products, competitors marketed the original formula in the larger packaging as “better” than the smaller Ultra. While the larger size looked like more, it didn’t provide any more than before, other than more packaging and shelf space.

P&G’s latest research indicates that the consumers will be skeptical of the smaller package’s ability to provide the same value as the old formula. Armed with this knowledge, P&G plans a different outcome this time. And, this time it’s personal. Tim Penner, president, P&G Canada, has staked his company’s reputation on this initiative. He knows that the time to act on environmental protection is now. Penner believes that the key to success is the attention that will be placed on consumer education; a sentiment echoed by myself and my colleagues on the expert advisory panel.

“We now understand that with the right education and communication around 2X concentrated products — especially in-store — our consumer will welcome this change,” says Penner. “The time for compaction within the laundry category is now, and compaction is the right thing to do for the environment, consumers and retailers.”

So P&G is poised to launch its new product line and is anticipating a “green wave” marked this time with success. But while P&G may be anxious, for Canadians the next step is urgent. Our planet needs some help. While we have been using the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra for a long time, we often forget how we can actually achieve it. With the help of initiatives like this one form P&G, the decision is made easier, and without any sacrifice.

Barry Friesen is director, waste management services, Niagara Region, Ontario. Contact Barry at barry.friesen@regional.niagara.on.ca


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