Johnson & Johnson Executives Discuss Building a Sustainable Brand

In 2009, as consumer demand for more sustainable products and practices grew, Johnson & Johnson launched its Earthwards program to provide a comprehensive, credible approach to sustainability marketing. "We wanted to be better able to communicate the greener attributes of our products to our customers," said Al Iannuzzi, senior director of worldwide environment, health, and safety at Johnson & Johnson.

Iannuzzi and Keith Sutter, senior product director of sustainable brand marketing, discussed the challenge of implementing a credible sustainability program across a large, diverse organization in a forum at Yale SOM on September 8. George Newman, assistant professor of organizational behavior, moderated the discussion.

The talk was the first event in the six-part Colloquium on Sustainability Marketing series. Sponsored by Dekra and jointly hosted by the Center for Customer Insights and the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, the colloquium explores the challenges of creating environmentally sustainable products, services, and brands that consumers will embrace.

The sustainability plan had to be flexible enough to work on Band-Aids and blood analyzers.

Iannuzzi said that the company wanted to avoid so-called "greenwashing"—dubious sustainability claims that are not supported by data. To that end, Earthwards includes a number of steps beyond compliance with existing regulations, including lifecycle screening to determine the long-term environmental impacts of products. Product managers applying for the designation must demonstrate that their products achieve significant improvement in at least three of the following seven areas:  materials, packaging, energy, waste, water, social impact, and innovation.

Because Johnson & Johnson's diverse product lines span three sectors—consumer products, medical devices and diagnostics, and pharmaceuticals—a broad and nimble sustainability plan was necessary. Sutter said: "It had to be flexible enough to work on Band-Aids and blood analyzers." Getting buy-in from various brand managers across sectors by demonstrating the marketing value of sustainable products was also necessary, Iannuzzi added. "You have to build a business case externally, you have to market it internally, and you have to embed it into business processes."

Sutter explained that once the Earthwards designation has been achieved, it is up to brand managers to decide whether to include messaging about Earthwards or not, and through what channels. Given the high value of "real estate" on product packaging and marketing material, he added, one internal metric for success for the Earthwards program is how often marketers choose to use the designation to differentiate their products. Scores of products now bear the Earthwards designation, with many more in the pipeline.

Visit the Yale Center for Business and the Environment website for more information on the Colloquium on Sustainability Marketing and to learn about upcoming events in the series.