Increasing Consumer Recycling Rates with Johnson & Johnson's Paulette Frank

This episode originally aired on January 22, 2014 on Green is Good Radio.

Today on GreenIsGood: Johnson & Johnson's new Care to Recycle initiative aims to help its customers recycle better and easier.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have today Paulette Frank. She’s the Vice President of Sustainability for Johnson & Johnson family of consumer companies. Welcome to Green is Good, Paulette.

PAULETTE FRANK: Oh, thank you. It’s so nice to be here with you today. Thank you so much for that.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s so nice to have you and it’s so nice to have Johnson & Johnson in the house and to talk about all the great things you’re doing over there with that great and iconic brand but before we get to talking about Johnson & Johnson & all the great things you’re doing over there, Paulette, the listeners want to know the Paulette Frank story. How did you even come to this position of Vice President of Sustainability at Johnson & Johnson? Share your journey a little bit.

PAULETTE FRANK: Sure. Well, I’m a Jersey Shore girl. I grew up at the Jersey Shore with a love for the outdoors and the beach and the ocean and my father was a professional fisherman so he made his livelihood off of the ocean and I learned at a very early age that nature can be very kind, particularly if we take good care of her, so it’s just inspired a love and an appreciation for nature at a very early age. I decided to go into the field after doing some graduate studies in environmental policy at Yale and came to work at Johnson & Johnson 17 years ago and have been thrilled with the opportunity to apply what I love, my passion for the environment and sustainability at a company that really gives me the ability to make a difference.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is amazing and when did you evolve into sustainability? You’ve been there 17 years. When was the sustainability evolution happening at Johnson & Johnson where you moved into that leadership role there?

PAULETTE FRANK: You know, in appreciation for the social and environmental goodwill that we can do in the world has always been part of the company culture. I think it’s kind of taken on different names over the years, even way back when we didn’t even call it sustainability at all, but when I started in the company, it was environmental responsibility function in the organization, which then grew to have more of this social dimension, starting with the employee health and safety and then community outreach and it just sort of grew into this more holistic view of sustainability, which really does bring together both the social, the environmental, and the economic pieces of the business. I’ve been in my current role, which is very broadly base din sustainability, as I just described to you, for about four years in the consumer group.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, you have a new campaign there called Care to Recycle and for our listeners out there that want to follow and see the great work you’ve created and your team has created, I’m on the website now. I was already familiar with it when you launched it and I’ve just fallen in love with it but I’m on it right now and for our listeners to follow along, it’s www.caretorecycle.com. Share a little bit about how this came to being, the vision for it, and what is about really, Paulette?

PAULETTE FRANK: Sure. Well, we look at sustainability across the entire life cycle of our products so that includes from the decisions we make around formulations, around designing the product to how we manufacture the product, how we deliver the product, and it also involved how consumer use and ultimately the end of life of the product after it’s used and that kind of took us into this phase of recycling in general and we wanted to dive a little bit deeper into what we knew about recycling. There’s been a bit of research on consumers’ habits when it comes to recycling and most consumers, it’s a very familiar topic. It’s something that is part of our day to day lives and most consumers report that they are fairly good recyclers but we wanted to dig a little bit deeper into that and we decided to sponsor a research study to ask some more specific questions about recycling habits and in particular, how do those habits change depending on where you are in your home and where you might be generating recyclable items and we had a hunch going into this study that perhaps, in the bathroom or rooms that might be a little further away from that recycling bin, that perhaps the recycling rates weren’t as high as they might be in other parts of the house like the kitchen, where the recycling bin might be more accessible and the research results confirmed our hunch, that in fact, even though seven out of 10 Americans report that they are consistent recyclers, when you dig a little deeper, only one in five report that they are consistently recycling items from the bathroom and 40% of the respondents indicated they were recycling nothing from the bathroom and this is the room in the house where our products tend to be used or at least stored and it presented us with an opportunity to deliver a message that was very needed and could be very helpful to help consumers of our products and other products that might be in the bathroom be better recyclers of those items.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: That makes sense. So, then talk a little bit about then reaching your constituents and clients. How did you come up with the name Care to Recycle and how did the website evolve and I’m on the website and again, for our listeners, it’s CaretoRecycle.com. It’s literally not only visually beautiful but it’s chock full of information and a lot of accessibility to where you can recycle. It’s got great partners, Recycle Bank, Earth 911, Keep America Beautiful, so many great partners here. What a great collaboration but how did that come to be in terms of the name and then choosing a platform like this website and then getting that platform out to others and we’ll talk about some of the platforms you chose to get it out but talk about the name that you came up with, Care to Recycle, and the website creation.

PAULETTE FRANK: Sure. Well, I think the name was pretty obvious. Caring is at the heart of everything we do at Johnson & Johnson. We wanted to be very deliberate that the act of recycling is an act of caring for our planet so the name came to us pretty easily. In terms of the content that we decided was going to be important to have on our website like this, we looked to the research again and digging a little deeper into that one in five people are consistently recycling, the reasons why people reported that they weren’t recycling as consistently in the bathroom were two main reasons. Twenty-two percent said that they just hadn’t thought about it, that it wasn’t top of mind, and then 20% reported that they didn’t know what items were recyclable in the bathroom so that’s why we look at Care to Recycle as first a gentle reminder that in fact, there are items in your bathroom that can be recycled so to make it more top of mind for people, and then the second main aspect of the website is information; tips and tools, there’s a recycling locator that you can use. If your local municipality doesn’t accept something for recycling, you can use the recycling locator to find another that might accept that item for recycling so we wanted the website to be helpful . We wanted it to give people the information that they needed to be more informed about recycling in their home and particularly in their bathroom.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, and when did you launch the website?

PAULETTE FRANK: We launched the website earlier this month, first week in October, we launched the website and I can also explain that the reason we selected Tumblr as the platform for the website was very deliberate because at the heart of the campaign’s success is getting this very simple message about a relatively simple act that we can all do. The key to success is getting that message in front of a lot of people because when a lot of people take that simple act, then the impact is big and that’s the goal. The goal is to have a big significant impact on recycling in the bathroom so that we can actually have a benefit to the planet so Tumblr is very unique in that it’s just highly shareable content. You can share every piece of content on there is an individual post that is shareable in and of itself so you can choose to share the video if you want to send that gentle reminder to your friends and family. If you want to share specific tips, you can send that. If you want to share the recycling locator that I mentioned, you can share that so the elements of the website are highly shareable and the audience that’s engaged in Tumblr, they share and they’re very, very likely to share content so that was the main reason why we selected Tumblr to get the message to a very broad audience.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: What elements of the campaign are you really excited about? Because I’m on the site now and there are some great tips here for teaching kids to recycle. What are some elements of the campaign that are meant to engage and get people participating?

PAULETTE FRANK: Personally, I love the video and I could be a little biased because the talent in that video is actually the children of our employees and one of them is mine so I’m a little biased on the video, which I think is really meant to be that gentle reminder. It’s meant to hopefully connect with people on an emotional level and encourage recycling but that said, the tips and the tools are meant to be very simple, very straightforward and one of the most exciting pieces of feedback that we’ve received on the tips and tools are notes from people who lead Cub Scout dens or people who are on their PTA Green Committee and they are taking this content and bringing it into the schoolroom. They’re bringing it to the Cub Scout meetings and they’re using it to work with the children. That, to me, is a really nice indicator of success.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Sure is. Let’s talk about Johnson & Johnson though now, and for our listeners who just joined us, we’ve got Paulette Frank on with us today. She’s the Vice President of Sustainability for Johnson & Johnson family of companies and we’re talking about their newest and specific campaign around sustainability and recycling. It’s Care to Recycle and you can beautifully see it at CaretoRecycle.com. Let’s talk about your products specifically, bathroom items that can be recycled. What do you produce that can be recycled that we’re not typically thinking of, like you said from your survey, and what should people be doing with them?

PAULETTE FRANK: Sure. Well, we have bottles that are in number one, which is PET plastic. We have bottles that are in number two plastic, which is HDPE. Really, all you need to remember is the number one and the number two, so those shampoo bottles, those cleansing bottles, those body wash bottles, if you turn them over and there’s a one or a two on the bottom, they’re recyclable. Now, the caps are generally made of a different material. They’re generally made of number five plastic and those are usually recyclable as well but you should definitely check with your local municipality on number five plastic and we do suggest that you take the caps off, because they are a different type of plastic, when you’re recycling them.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, got it, got it and what are the other bathroom recycling tips that are on this website and that you want our listeners to really try to leverage and engage in after they listen to the show and after they go to your website?

PAULETTE FRANK: Sure. Well, the first tip is to turn it over. Turn over the bottle and look for that number one or number two plastic. The other tip is to remove the cap. That’s helpful in the recycling stream to have that separated. The other tip is to rinse. You probably want to get every drop of that product out anyway and so you put a little water in there and you rinse that bottle out and get every drop of product out. That’s also very, very helpful and I think those are the main tips that we encourage people to think about. Turn it over, check it out. If there’s a one or a two, it’s recyclable. Remove that cap and rinse out the bottle if you can.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, with regards to the website, I’m on it now and we were just talking about, I love this line that you have on the website in terms of our babies will inherit our planet. Please recycle in the bathroom. About 50% of the world’s population is under 27 years old and it seems like, Paulette, that that generation, your children’s generation, my children’s generation and grandchildren’s generation, are really on fire for sustainability. They get it. They want to be part of it. They want to be part of the solution. Talk a little bit about the website and you also just give tips, for instance. I’m here and there’s just some very common sense approaches that you give kids to recycle and I’m looking at this list that you have, litter in the park, how to encourage kids, what to do, and what not to do so in terms of picking up trash in a park or beach or making recycling bins or telling them bedtime stories that have an environmental message. This is great stuff. You have four partners. I’ve mentioned them before and these are great organizations: Recyclebank, Earth 911, Keep America Beautiful, Small Steps, Big Winds. Three out of those four have been on this show and we’re so thankful that you’re on this show today. How did you collaborate with them? Why did you choose them and how did this wonderful collaboration come together?

PAULETTE FRANK: Sure. Let me also just quickly go back to your point about children. I personally completely agree that children are all over sustainability in general and recycling is probably one of the most fun things they like to focus on and I personally think it’s because they love to jump at the opportunity to turn the tables on parents and point out things that we can be doing better and I know my kids enjoy that in our house for sure so getting back to the partners, we’ve actually had partnerships with these partners for quite a while and given we have a particular focus on waste and recycling. The fact that these partners share that common interest made a lot of sense for us to have partnerships with them in the first place. They also have access to a lot of information and a lot of expertise that we don’t necessarily have so that’s another thing that we look for in our partners, that they can bring something to the table that makes us smarter about our approach and they also have their own audience so they also help to extend our reach and they can reach people that we necessarily can’t so it’s a combination of the expertise and the smarts that they bring to the relationship as well as the reach of getting the message to a broader audience.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting. So, now this campaign, which is, let’s just say this is a micro of the macro of what you do every day as the Vice President of Sustainability at the Johnson & Johnson family of consumer companies. Talk about how this campaign ties back to your macro goals with regards to sustainability and in terms of caring about your clients and constituents and about the world that we all live in. How does that work?

PAULETTE FRANK: Sure. As a consumer product company, consumer engagement is one of the levers that we can pull to advance sustainability. Our products touch millions and millions of people every day and for me, that’s a million opportunities to deliver a sustainability message to someone and to inform them and help them to make better choices and better decisions that ultimately have a positive impact on the planet. There’s obviously a lot that we’re working on with respect to our products and our supply chains and there’s also a lot that our consumers can help us to make an even bigger impact on so this space and this campaign just represents a really exciting first step into this space of engaging our consumers in a dialogue on sustainability that we hope will grow and evolve over time.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, the interesting thing and what I’ve learned from this show over the last four or five years, Paulette, is that when big companies, iconic brands like yours, move in this direction and push sustainability forward, it really gets to move the needle in a very, very relevant way so my question to you is as I’m on your site now and I’m looking at just some of the facts and figures that you have more than 275 operating companies in 60 countries employing approximately 120,000 people, talk a little bit about sustainability as a whole because when people talk about people, planet, and profits, how does that work? How do you engage with all those employees? How do you then push it both internally, now this is the external push, Care to Recycle, which is wonderful, engaging your constituents. How internally do you champion sustainability as such a broad and far reaching company? How does some of that work? We’re down to the last three minutes. Just share some of the highlights with our listeners just so they understand that the journey is never ending and that it can be big and small together.

PAULETTE FRANK: That’s absolutely right. Our employees in engaging with our employees, and I would say engagement in general, whether it’s employees or external stakeholders, is really the next frontier for sustainability in my opinion. IT’s how we’re going to get the scale that we need to make the impact that we need to make on the issues. In a lot of ways, our employees are the first audience that we test things with, like Care to Recycle, for example, and Care to Recycle is as much internally alive as it is on the Care to Recycle website. We have been having recycling campaigns inside our company for the past couple of years where twice a year, we encourage our employees to bring in used electronics, gently used clothes, toys, and books that we then donate to local charities so the spirit of recycling and reusing things so that they don’t ultimately end up in a landfill where they serve no one any good, this is the spirit that we’ve been cultivating internally with our employees for the past few years and it’s also why we had a lot of confidence that the message was going to resonate broadly in the external environment.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Gotcha, and I’m even on your site here. You get to touch so many elements of sustainability. I’m just looking at your first LEED Gold-certified research laboratory so you get to build green. I’m sure you have all sorts of fascinating opportunities at Johnson & Johnson with regards to energy and water and I’m sure it’s just fascinating.

PAULETTE FRANK: Not to throw another website out there but a lot of our work in sustainability we share with people on our HealthyEssentials.com website. It’s our website where people can learn about our brands and our products and there’s also tips and tools around health and wellness on that website as well as a whole section called Our Caring, where you’ll see a variety of stories and a variety of ways that we are bringing sustainability to life through our business.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, it’s HealthyEssentials.com?

PAULETTE FRANK: Yes, and it’s the Our Caring section.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you for that, and, Paulette, we’re down to the last minute or so. There’s a lot of young ladies around the world that want to be the next Paulette Frank. Just give them a couple of things to grab onto and a couple of your pearls of wisdom, how to make that journey or start it.

PAULETTE FRANK: I would say follow your passion, first and foremost, and I would also say having passion for this work is incredibly important but also having passion for the organization that you are doing this work through and with is also critically important. Finding that fit not only with your passion but who you are as a person and how you choose to lead in this space is also critically important. I have been fortunate to have found both and I think that’s a recipe for success if you can get it.

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you for your time today. For our listeners out there to find out more about all the great work that Johnson & Johnson is doing, it’s CaretoRecycle.com or HealthyEssentials.com. Paulette Frank, you are a sustainability superstar and truly living proof that green is good.