News & Views

CHANNELS    |    Behavior Change      Leadership      Products & Design      Supply Chain      Marketing & Comms      New Metrics    |    MORE

Earthwards: Johnson & Johnson’s Drive Toward a Healthy Future

Sustainability is no longer a fleeting trend. It is becoming a standard practice of companies both large and small, across multiple industries here in the United States and around the world. The health care sector is no different. While the safety and efficacy of health and personal care products will always be paramount, people today are increasingly interested in the sustainability of the products they purchase.

This is part one in a series about Earthwards®, a Johnson & Johnson program designed to promote greener product development throughout the enterprise. You will hear from employees at J&J and its family of companies, including some of the sustainability advocates who helped build and evolve the program over the years; brand managers and R&D leaders who collaborate to design greener products; and external corporate social responsibility (CSR) experts who will provide their own unique perspectives on sustainable product development at Johnson & Johnson, including independent reporting by CSRwire's Editorial Director Aman Singh.

Keith Sutter, Senior Product Director of Sustainable Brand Marketing, introduces us to the Earthwards® process and gives us a peek into the origins of the program.

Every product has a footprint, from the raw materials sourced and energy and water used during production, to the impacts of packaging, distribution and disposal. In fact, the only way to really eliminate environmental impacts would be to stop making and using products altogether. But chances are we will continue to use products — whether it’s to shampoo and condition our hair, place a bandage on a scraped knee, take medicine when we aren’t well, or be healed with the help of a surgical device.

Every company is faced with this balancing act of making products to meet consumer needs but also addressing the inherent impacts of their products. So, what if we change the way products are made so that they have less of an environmental impact?

It was this thinking that led my colleagues to introduce the Earthwards® process at Johnson & Johnson, which was designed to foster product stewardship and sustainable product innovation throughout the enterprise, including 250 operating companies across our Consumer Products, Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices & Diagnostics sectors. We’ve made strides since the program launched in 2009, and are proud to be providing our customers more sustainable products using our robust product stewardship effort that has been externally validated.

Earthwards®: The Beginning

At Johnson & Johnson, our highest priority is the health of people and the planet. This is why we established Healthy Future 2015, our sustainability roadmap for the future that includes enterprise-wide goals to reduce our environmental impacts. We’ve had specific sustainability goals in place since the early 1990s, but our commitment to the environment dates back to our origins and our Credo:

We must maintain in good order the property we are privileged to use, protecting the environment and natural resources.

One way we strive to reduce our environmental impact is by improving the sustainable design of our products. Our first venture into greener product design was in the late '90s, when we launched a Design for the Environment program.

We had some early successes, such as eliminating more than 3,000 tons of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from our packaging from 2005-2010, but we were convinced we could go further with this and really challenge ourselves. We also recognized the realities of today’s competitive marketplace, in which sustainability can be a tie-breaker, a differentiator or a reason to believe.

We wanted to help our product development teams better understand how lifecycle thinking can result in greener products with science-based claims that help our marketing colleagues better tell our sustainability story.

In 2009, we worked with Five Winds International, a product stewardship and sustainability consultancy, to develop the Earthwards process. We created a Board of Directors, and recruited product developers and brand marketers, as well as external subject matter experts from organizations such as Practice Greenhealth and World Wildlife Fund.

To keep our process state of the art, the following year, we asked a group of product sustainability experts from government, academia, business and the NGO community to review the Earthwards process and suggest improvements to our approach. As a result, we further integrated the Earthwards process across Johnson & Johnson companies by setting a 2015 Healthy Future goal of 60 Earthwards-recognized products and integration of the process into our company wide Environment, Health and Safety standards.

The Earthwards® Process & Scorecard

Today, the Earthwards process is helping our product development teams identify and address a product’s biggest environmental impacts. We use lifecycle thinking to better understand the areas of greatest impact and guide how we should focus our efforts. In most cases, the greatest impacts associated with our products result from the customer use phase and end-of-life disposal, but depending on the product, impacts related to packaging, raw materials, distribution and waste can also be significant.

To be considered for Earthwards recognition, product teams use our proprietary scorecard to take a product through a four-step process:

  1. Satisfy prerequisites. Product teams ask a series of questions to gauge their general understanding of the product. What materials are used in this product? Where do the materials come from? What happens to a product after it’s used?
  2. Undergo screening. The product undergoes a lifecycle screening to examine impacts and quantify improvements made, and then it’s evaluated against 12 specific goals that fall into seven categories: materials used, packaging, energy reduction, waste reduction, water reduction, positive social impact or benefit, and product innovation.
  3. Identify improvements. A product must demonstrate more than a 10 percent improvement in at least three of the 12 goal areas (Five of the seven Earthwards categories have two goal areas, so it is possible for a product to achieve recognition by showing improvements in only two categories).
  4. Submit for review. Teams then submit the scorecard and improvement results to the Earthwards Board for review.

Earthwards: Looking Ahead

As we look ahead to the next phase of Earthwards, we see opportunities to continue to improve the suite of tools and resources we created for the product development and marketing teams. We’ve begun by upgrading the scorecard functionality and introducing an online scorecard to replace the spreadsheet-based tool we previously used. This will help minimize errors and ensure the availability of data and calculations.

We also developed a “claims calculator” to help translate the reductions and improvements into meaningful and relevant information for our marketing teams and customers.

It has been an exciting few years for the Earthwards team, but there’s so much more to be done around our sustainable product development. While we’re proud of how far we’ve come, this progress is just one step in our sustainability journey toward our Healthy Future goal of developing 60 Earthwards-recognized products by 2015. We are up for the challenge!

  Sign up for SB Newsletters
Get the latest personalized news, tools, and virtual media on a wide range of sustainable business topics in your inbox.

User login

Engage the community