Kimberly-Clark new sustainability strategy

10 August 2020

Kimberly-Clark announced its new 2030 sustainability strategy that will address key social and environmental challenges of the next decade and improve the lives and wellbeing of one billion people in communities around the world. Clio Boura, R&D EMEA Packaging Development Team Leader for Kimberly-Clark spoke with Packaging Today about this ambitious program and its goals.

How long has it taken to develop this sustainability strategy?

In 2015, Kimberly-Clark debuted our Sustainability 2022 strategy, which was the framework to drive programs and initiatives that protect our planet and build stronger communities as we headed toward our 150th anniversary.

We’ve made strong progress against these goals, but as the world is rapidly changing, we now must do more if we want to have a real impact on people and the planet.

Developing strategies at Kimberly-Clark is always a cross-functional and collaborative effort and consists of both global and regional stakeholder input. The development of the 2030 ambition really started to come together over the past 6 months, but we have been identifying opportunities, speaking with our consumers and analysing the external landscape for shifts or changes in peer activity for well over a year to pull it all together.

Our direct environmental and social impacts are only a part of the full lifecycle impacts of our products, so in developing our new 2030 goals and ambitions we considered the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) against our entire value chain to better understand risks and opportunities and determine where we can drive positive change.

· What are the key goals and timelines?

Kimberly-Clark is committed to doing our part in what we truly believe will be a decisive decade for sustainability. We are building a sustainable business by committing to bold action designed to improve lives with the smallest possible environmental footprint.

We know our consumers are concerned about the impact our products have on the environment, and we are concerned too. That’s why we focus on the areas where we believe we can make the biggest difference – climate, forests, water, ingredients and plastics.

We have five new key commitments by 2030:

o Advance the well-being of 1 billion people

o Reduce our plastics footprint by 50%

o Reduce our direct emissions by 50% and value chain emissions by 20%

o Reduce our natural forest footprint by 50%

o Reduce our water footprint by 50% in water-stressed regions

· How big of an impact has coronavirus had on the timing or achievement of your sustainability goals?

The pandemic has reminded us of why the essential products we make every day are so important all over the world, and we have a responsibility to make and deliver our products in

the most sustainable way. The pandemic has had the world’s attention, but sustainability remains a critical urgency among our consumers, peers, stakeholders and even our employees!

Practically, the crisis has had an impact on some of our planned trials and initiatives, due to limited availability of resources and materials for instance. We’ve had to delay some launches by weeks or months, but it has not affected our overall timeline – and even less our ambitions.

· How important is the role of packaging in this strategy? How much of sustainability can be achieved via packaging?

Packaging plays a critical role in our sustainability journey as every product Kimberly-Clark sells, comes in a package. Waste has no place in business – or in tomorrow’s circular economy. We aspire to be at the forefront of the transition to a circular economy by reducing waste, improving waste-handling systems and innovating new ways of giving consumers the product they need.

We’re energised by our commitment to reduce our plastics footprint by 50% by 2030. In our EMEA region, we joined the WRAP UK Plastics Pact in 2018 – a collaborative effort between industry, NGOs and government to tackle the problem of plastic waste and create a circular economy. This then inspired Kimberly-Clark’s global 2025 commitments to use an average of 20% recycled content across all plastic packaging and to make 100% of its packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable.

In EMEA, we are working on many packaging-related sustainability innovations. We’ve recently reduced virgin plastic by 30% in our Andrex packaging in the UK and our plastic-free Andrex Washlets were the first major UK brand to receive Water UK’s ‘Fine to Flush’ certification. And our Huggies ‘Tiniest Footprint’ campaign to completely phase out plastic from our baby wipes by 2025 is a global first for Kimberly-Clark.

· What proportion of K-C materials are hard to recycle in their current condition?

In EMEA, over 90% of our packaging is recyclable or recycle-ready packaging. From a global perspective, Kimberly-Clark has approximately 80% of its packaging materials recyclable, reusable or compostable, which means our gap is about 20% to achieve our 100% goal by 2025. Multi-layered flexible packaging materials is the biggest opportunity for us going forward.

· How will you phase out plastics? What will you replace them with?

We look at three main innovation pathways: transitioning multi-layered films to mono layer materials; reducing or eliminating plastic packaging; or identifying sustainably sourced alternatives. It’s really about looking at our products from every angle and challenging the way we are used to doing things. For instance, we recently removed the plastic baffles used in the opening of our Kleenex boxes in the UK, which were used to improve tissue dispensing but also made the recycling of the cartons more difficult because they could not be easily separated from our cartons. It sounds simple but this alone eliminated 82 tonnes of plastic from the UK&I market.

· What strategy do you see as more important: making your materials more resource efficient and recyclable, or for waste materials to have better infrastructure to be able to repurpose materials at end of life?

The strategy needs to be a combination of the two. In EMEA, Kimberly-Clark is working on getting all our packaging to be recyclable by 2022, whilst also working with organisations such as WRAP and the UK Plastics Pact, Ceflex, WWF and the Trash Free Seas Alliance of Ocean Conservancy to drive a circular economy for packaging materials.

· Can nonwovens and other materials within KC portfolio be mono material? What changes need to be made to packaging to help it become more sustainable? Are we able to do them today, or will some things need to be developed/perfected (and what would they be?)

We’re approaching changes to our packaging in four different ways:

o Design packaging with recyclable, renewable or reusable materials

o Drive breakthrough innovation through stakeholder engagement and strategic partnerships

o Reduce or eliminate multi-layered packaging materials or blends of polymers

o Implement recycled content to help enable more circular solutions

Some changes will take more time as any material that comes into direct contact with our products is subject to our strict safety standards and rigorous testing. Our ambition and our commitment to our consumers is very high! Obviously however, we cannot compromise on safety as we change the composition of our packaging materials, for instance by increasing the amount of recycled content. That’s why changes to the outer packaging are easier to implement.

Any additional points or information about the strategy/ findings it is based on/ hopes for how soon it can be achieved that you would like to shine a spotlight on.

We’re focused on our commitment to achieve 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2025 – or sooner if we can!

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