Sustaining the environment, restoring idealism

A certain literary hero of mine might have called it “Fear and Loathing in San Diego.” Stranded at the airport bar for the better part of nine hours while JetBlue drove down a new part from Los Angeles International Airport for our plane’s public address system—without which Flight 188 to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport “wasn’t going nowhere,” as Lenny the flight attendant explained—I tried with Martha Stewart-like resolve to just focus on my notes from NACDS’ Pharmacy and Technology Conference and the ice at the bottom of my glass, while the crazy woman from Chicago rambled on about hurricanes. Her purple-stained lips suggested it could have been the wine talking, but she claimed to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that in that capacity, she too might soon be heading to New York.

“They say Earl could be a ‘Category 5’ by the time it hits New York,” she said. “If that were to happen, the subway tunnels would all fill with seawater and downtown would be underwater.”

Great. Nothing quite takes your mind off the status of your flight delay like a little light conversation about the potentiality for the quasi-biblical destruction of your hometown.

To cheer myself up, I read a cover story in The Atlantic about how Israel likely would attack Iran’s nuclear weapons-making capabilities by about January. To be sure, whenever I finally did get home, the world still was going to be a big, scary place. The only consolation is that you can still get a burger and a beer at 5 a.m. in New York City.

Ironically, it’s my work as the editor of Drug Store News that often shatters my cynical delusions of a world gone to hell in a bucket, restoring the idealism of my youth. Retail pharmacy and the consumer packaged goods industry’s response to events like Katrina, and more recently the earthquake in Haiti, are classic examples of good companies doing good work. Then there’s stuff like Procter & Gamble’s recent Future Friendly initiatives—the most recent of which the company unveiled during a special Sept. 2 conference call with business reporters—which demonstrates how a good company can do good while doing good work.

The overarching goal of the Future Friendly program is to make green products more user-friendly for mainstream consumers by redesigning P&G brands to save water or energy, or to reduce waste. Phase one of the program featured the launch of such products as Tide Coldwater and Cascade ActionPacs, and a considerable PR investment to educate consumers on what’s in it for them. For instance, washing laundry in cold water can cut energy usage by as much as 80% per load.

Now P&G is gearing up for a February 2011 re-launch of its powder detergent brands, including Tide and Gain, aiming to compact the size of its packaging by one-third. That will amount to savings of 28% less corrugated cardboard, or roughly 68 million sq. ft.; 6%, or 5,900, fewer trucks on the road; and 5% to 8% less fuel, or as much as 890,000 gallons of diesel. For consumers, the new packages are easier to carry and store. The products also represent brands that consumers know and understand, versus some unknown name they have never heard of—an important sell for retailers, too.

In all, P&G expected the changes to drive growth of 2% to 4% in the powder detergent category.

These kinds of efforts give a new meaning to the concept of “sustainability” because they aim to make saving the planet a sustainable effort by making it good business to do so. That, along with a good burger and a beer, can be a hell of a consolation at 5 a.m. for a journalist who’s just happy to be home.

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