Forward-Looking Sustainability Goals Guide Everyday Actions

Paula AlexanderThis post was written by Paula Alexander, director of Sustainable Business for Burt’s Bees and president of the Burt’s Bees Greater Good Foundation.

I recently joined some of the biggest players in business, including Google, Coca-Cola, Boeing and Procter & Gamble at the Corporate Eco Forum in Chicago. On the first night of the conference, at the Sixth Annual C. K. Prahalad Awards ceremony, three industry leaders were recognized for “private sector action that exemplifies the fundamental connection between sustainability, innovation and long-term business success.” One of those leaders was Kurt Kuehn, the chief financial officer of UPS Inc.

Kuehn is unique in that he is one of the first CFOs to emphasize that sustainability can be a driver of financial performance, as well as the importance of embedding sustainability cross-functionally throughout business. In his remarks he provided a compelling quote: “A well-defined goal removes the burden of the task.”

This quote had special meaning for me as I sat in the awards ceremony in Chicago, because that very morning we had released our Burt’s Bees 2012 Sustainability Report. The report shares our progress and recasts goals that we will work toward for the next seven years.

Our 2020 goals have evolved since the first time we set them in 2007, to a more whole-systems approach, from raw material source to product disposal. We identified priority areas using the B Corp assessment tool and a materiality assessment conducted as we were developing our Sustainability Report. In addition to establishing measurable, time-bound goals for 2020, we decided to also define long-term aspirations as our North Star while on our sustainability journey. We developed our goals in partnership with the Clorox Eco Office and harmonized them with the parent company where it made sense.

During the creation of our report, I had underestimated two things: how long the process of developing and aligning our 2020 sustainability goals would take, and how immediate the impact of setting the goals would be. It was important that we take the time to seek buy-in from all the functions and leaders whose work intersects with our various sustainability focus areas; in gaining buy-in our 2020 goals have become a rudder steering our strategies, planning and decision making.

Goals in Action
Since releasing our report in June, I have already seen the goals inform the strategic design principles in a packaging innovation project; feature prominently during our Wild for Bees Pollinator month promotion; and serve as the basis of our one sustainability metric innovation (OSM) tool, which has just been rolled out as a means to drive sustainability with each product innovation. And in some cases, our goals put us in a position to be the exemplar for all of Clorox, charting the course in the areas of responsible sourcing, zero waste to landfill and employee engagement.

The goals came into play again last month as we began developing our new annual Environmental Sustainability targets for the year. The targets will be placed in individual objectives of employees who can directly impact them, and in our business Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Metrics — a one-pager that guides the organization in its annual plan.

We are taking steps to ensure that all employees are aware of and are working toward the goals no matter what part of the business they are in. It’s only with every employee considering sustainability in their decisions and actions that we’ll be able to fulfill The Greater Good Business Model and realize our goals. And with clearly defined, fully vetted and completely aligned goals, employees should feel some relief from “the burden of the task.”

The Burt’s Bees 2020 goals are available as part of the 2012 Sustainability Report. If you have any thoughts for us, you can catch us at

Paula Alexander leads sustainability at Burt’s Bees and is responsible for ensuring that sustainability is prioritized in all parts of the business and decision making. She also leads the company’s volunteer The Greater Good teams and is president of The Burt’s Bees Greater Good Foundation. Alexander lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with her husband, 9-year-old son and their 110-pound Great Dane, Dharma. She is a certified yoga instructor, which helps inform her six-word life story: Type-A yogi seeking mindfulness at work.