Our 7-Year Journey Toward Sustainability

By Alexis Limberakis

In February, I had the privilege to accept two U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Climate Leadership Awards on Clorox’s behalf. The first was the Goal Achievement Award, recognizing our 16% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2011. The second was the Goal Setting Certificate, acknowledging our aggressive 20% greenhouse gas reduction goal between 2012 and 2020.

These awards were presented at the U.S. EPA’s annual Climate Leadership Conference in Washington, DC, an event with many inspiring conversations on the serious threat of climate change. It was an honor to be recognized among the outstanding organizations and leaders who are committed to making a difference. And it was a great opportunity for me to reflect on Clorox’s journey these past six years that I’ve been a member of the Eco Team.

I still recall my first meeting in 2009 when my new boss at the time downloaded me with the details of the company’s first-ever, year-old sustainability goals. I was delighted to learn that Clorox had developed a comprehensive strategy behind its commitment to embed sustainability into how it conducts business. But I can honestly admit now that I was not initially impressed with the 10% reduction target set for greenhouse gas emissions in our first goal period. My tendency is to think in BHAG’s – Big Hairy Audacious Goals. As time has progressed however, I have come to realize that 10% is hard to achieve.

There is also something to be said for building organizational momentum through success. I am reminded of the flywheel concept described in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great. In the analogy, a massive, 25-ton flywheel represents your company:

“Your job to get that flywheel to move as fast as possible, because momentum—mass times velocity—is what will generate superior economic results over time. Right now, the flywheel is at a standstill. To get it moving, you make a tremendous effort. You push with all your might, and finally you get the flywheel to inch forward…You keep pushing, and the flywheel begins to move a bit faster…You keep pushing steadily…With each turn, it moves faster, and then—at some point…The momentum of the heavy wheel kicks in your favor…You aren’t pushing any harder, but the flywheel is accelerating, its momentum building, its speed increasing.”

Getting our company to achieve this level of sustainability took some initial heavy pushing. When we established our first sustainability strategy in 2008, working towards reducing greenhouse gases was unfamiliar territory for our company. The concept of carbon footprints was not well understood throughout the organization. But we made real progress. We showed Clorox that we could not only meet, but could exceed our goals two years ahead of schedule, and prove the business value at the same time. This has enabled us to develop a company of believers: believers in the importance, feasibility, and value of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

Setting our new goals and getting organizational alignment to another 20% reduction in carbon was relatively straightforward in 2012. In some ways though, it will be a lot harder this time, now that the low hanging fruit have been mostly picked. But we are up for the task!

For images of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Climate Leadership Awards Conference and attendees, visit the EPA website.