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In this interview, we talk to Alexandra Vegas, Senior Vice President Global Oral Care, Social Impact & Sustainability Leader, at Procter & Gamble (P&G), known fondly as Alita.
Healthy Smiles, Healthy Lives, Healthy Planet is P&G’s vision, and so it should be! According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 3.6 billion people have oral disease, from cavities, gum disease, and more. Procter and Gamble, with brands like Oral-B, blend-a-med, and many others is one of the leading oral health companies across the globe, and it won’t compromise. Its products must work!
“Our purpose is to provide superior products that help improve people’s oral health in more sustainable ways, now and for generations to come,” says Alita. She adds: “We must do this while keeping our high standards of safety, quality, and raising the bar to continue improving the performance of our products.”
In other words, there is zero point having good environmental credentials, without having products that work to reduce oral disease and its consequences.
Even so, sustainability is key.
P&G committed publicly to be carbon neutral for the decade across operations by 2030, and to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across its supply chain and operations by 2040, from raw material to retailer. “We might not have all the answers on how to get there, but we are making progress and are working to define our pathway,” says Alita.
So how is P&G squaring that circle? Firstly, its products. P&G estimates that around 3.5 billion plastic manual toothbrushes are sold globally each year. Therefore, they have developed Oral-B CLIC, a manual toothbrush that, a bit like a razor, has a detachable, disposable head, and people can keep using its handle. This reduces waste by 60%, reusing 80% of the brush.
To reduce the use of virgin plastics, Oral-B has also developed a new manual toothbrush made from recycled plastic. This is revolutionary, using food grade post-consumer recycled materials (PCR) which are scarce and difficult to mold, but needed given the product ends up in a mouth.
Globally P&G Oral Care sites have sent zero manufacturing waste to landfill since 2017, purchase 100% renewable energy and pledged to increase water efficiency by 35% by 2030. Additionally, they committed to 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2030, and from 2025 onwards all toothpaste tube production will be made from recyclable plastic in Europe and North America.
One of the most intriguing, almost philosophical, aspects of the drive for sustainability is behavioural change.
“We reach billions of people every day in their homes,” enthuses Alita. “We are the world’s number one advertiser and with that we have the responsibility to use our voice as a company to raise awareness and educate consumers to come with us on this journey.”
Its survey in 2020 showed one in four people claimed to leave the tap on whilst brushing their teeth, wasting up to 16 litres of water daily! Worryingly, the same survey showed 47% of people using an electric toothbrush leave their chargers plugged in permanently, wasting unnecessary electricity. P&G donates time in its commercials showing the tap being turned off whilst brushing or unplugging the charger when not in use.
P&G is looking at sustainability holistically, has made promises going forward, and is trying to educate as well as sell high quality products.
Alita is passionate about the role of prevention. “It is the core of what we are aiming to do.” Green products, if they don’t work though, are pointless. The end goal is to drive healthy oral care habits for people and for the planet.
Healthy Smiles, Healthy Lives, Healthy Planet.