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Colgate-Palmolive’s Vance Merolla on Squeezing the Most Out of Sustainability Efforts

Vance Merolla, Senior Vice President of Global Sustainability at Colgate-Palmolive, discusses how that company tackles sustainability across all its products and brands.

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Vance Merolla

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Few companies produce as many household products as Colgate-PalmoliveVance Merolla is the Senior Vice President of Global Sustainability at Colgate-Palmolive and he joins the show to discuss how the company tackles sustainability across all its products and brands. And make no mistake, we’re talking about a ton of brands. Obviously, there’s Colgate and Palmolive. But there’s also Ajax, Speed Stick, Murphy Oil Soap, Fabuloso, Tom’s of Maine and Irish Spring. They also have an entire line of pet products.

Colgate-Palmolive has big sustainability challenges. Vance is here to talk about how they solve them, including advancements in recyclable toothpaste tubes, what the company learned from getting certain aspects of its Sustainability and Social Impact Strategy approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative and how Vance and the team recently went about signing a virtual power purchase agreement to help Colgate-Palmolive power its operations. Vance has a wealth of sustainability knowledge, so enjoy the show.

Highlights from Vance Merolla

Colgate’s 2025 sustainability and social impact strategy – (1:59)
Setting science-based targets for net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 – (4:39)
Reducing emissions and achieving net-zero goals – (7:38)
Sustainability data management – (11:22)
Renewable energy purchasing strategy for Colgate Palmolive – (14:43)
Oral health initiatives and sustainability efforts – (21:55)
Making toothpaste tubes recyclable – (24:41)
Reducing plastic waste in Colgate’s manufacturing facilities – (29:58)
Sustainability initiatives and consumer insights – (32:52)


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(Note: This transcript was created using artificial intelligence. It has not been edited verbatim.)

Sean McMahon  00:09

Hello everyone and welcome to the Sustainability SmartPod. I’m your host Sean McMahon. When we booked guests for this show, we often try to bring in sustainability leaders from companies that are household names. Think about it: AT&T, American Airlines, Panasonic, Marriott, Wendy’s and so on. But none of those organizations produce as many household products as the company today’s guest represents: Colgate-Palmolive. Vance Merolla is the Senior Vice President of Global Sustainability at Colgate-Palmolive and he is joining me today to discuss how that company tackles sustainability across all its products and brands. And make no mistake, we’re talking about a ton of brands. Obviously, there’s Colgate and Palmolive. But there’s also Ajax, Speed Stick, Murphy Oil Soap, Fabuloso, Tom’s of Maine and this Irishman’s personal favorite: Irish Spring. They also have an entire line of pet products.

So yeah, Colgate-Palmolive has big sustainability challenges. And Vance is here to talk about how they solve them. I’m going to squeeze as much information out of him as I can about things like advancements and recyclable toothpaste tubes, what the company learned from getting certain aspects of its sustainability and social impact strategy approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative, and how Vance and the team recently went about signing a virtual power purchase agreement to help Colgate-Palmolive power its operations. Simply put, Vance has a wealth of sustainability knowledge, I think you’ll enjoy our conversation. So let’s get started.


Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining me today. My guest is Vance Merolla, Senior Vice President of Global Sustainability for Colgate-Palmolive. Vance, how’re you doing today?

Vance Merolla  01:59

Good. Sean, how are you? Thank you for thank you for having me today.

Sean McMahon  02:03

It’s great to have you here. Colgate has announced its 2025 sustainability and social impact strategy. I want to talk specifically today about the environmental aspects of that. So what are some of those broader ranging goals that you and the team at Colgate have set out?

Vance Merolla  02:17

Yeah. Oh, that’s, it’s love to talk about that. Yeah. So we have a 2025. We call it our sustainability and social impact strategy. So we don’t just call it sustainability. And we don’t just focus on Barbary, we thought it’s very important. This round, this is our fourth or fifth, I can keep track of our, you know, of the strategies that we’ve had, we’ve started this back in, you know, over 20 years ago, as I mentioned, so this time, we really wanted to say, call it sustainability and social impact and socialism, equally important to environment in, you know, in this context, and so the way that we’ve structured this, this whole strategy is around three sort of what we call our ambition says three ambitions, there’s an ambition called driving social impact. There’s an ambition we call helping millions of homes, and we have an ambition called preserving our environment. So we’ve divided that up that way, so that people understand it, there’s intersections between them. But for example, in driving, social impact, we’ve identified some really key actions, you know, we know and sustainability, we do hundreds of things, I would argue 1000s of things, but to keep the strategy manageable, simple and prioritize, we have 11, what we call our sustainability actions. And so in driving, driving social impact, we call the three of them, one’s called, we inspire our people to make a difference. So that’s about our Colgate people, first and foremost, our own people and how we deal with and treat and interact with our own people. The second one in social is we create a more inclusive work world. And that’s very much around diversity, equity, inclusion, no matter where we are in the world. critically important. And the third is we help children, their families, and communities thrive. And I don’t know if we’ll talk later, maybe we’ll talk a little bit about that. But that’s like, using our superpower of oral health, to really reach out to communities around the world. And we have a program called bright smiles, Bright Futures, which we can we can talk about later, too. But again, that’s what that’s all about the social part, the helping millions of homes piece is really about our products and our brands. And so, we’re setting out to do three actions there. One is to design more sustainable products. Second, is to build sustainable habits for life. So we have the product and the consumer uses them, they both have to be connected. And then the third item is really around our pet business records. We call that fostering lifelong relationships between pets and people. So that’s about our brands and our products. And then like, as you mentioned, if we spend time today, mostly on the environment, but there we’ve got some the big, let’s say, the big existential issues in the world right now things like we call accelerating action on climate change, which we’ll talk about eliminating plastic waste, promoting water stewardship, leading with zero waste facilities, and then driving sustainable, sustainable sourcing. And so that’s the framework of the strategy. And, you know, again, we’ve got many of the things we do behind that is sort of it’s 50 targets, which we can talk about a couple of them today, but many targets and metrics that we drive and disclose and have the entire organization different functions working to deliver.

Sean McMahon  04:57

Okay, and now I believe Colgate’s were were among the first targets that were approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative. Is that right?

Vance Merolla  05:04

Yes. So so the Science-Based Targets Initiative, or SBTi, as it’s called, as you can maybe, you know, is an organization sort of sort of weeks to do that to be the authority on setting targets and climate action. So it’s, it’s the United Nations Global Compact CDP. WRI and WWF is working together to set standards for, for climate targets. And that’s, you know, that’s born out of the idea. And that, which is actually right. If you’d look back, I don’t know, 10 years or more. Many companies like us were working on climate, but we set our own targets. And we thought, you know, we try to make progress the way we we best we can, like we do any other charter, that was fine, we got progress. But SBTi is, you know, rightfully said we, we can’t ever when setting the targets, we have to use climate science, right, we have to make it science based to set targets that go on the same decarbonisation pathway as the world needs to do to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. So there’s one standard, one set of targets that are customized to what your emissions are and where your emissions are. And that’s what SBTi does, you apply in four based on your data to get an SBTi approved target, you know, from them, and then then you set forth and go that so we did one, seven years ago, we made it we did one three years ago. And then SBTi came out with their their net zero, standard for for target setting. And we adopted that. And yeah, we applied and we were approved back in Savannah about one year ago, a year ago, a year ago in a climate week. And we weren’t, we were the first multinational company in our sector to be approved. It’s a very long, drawn out process, a lot of back and forth very data driven, very hard to get the approval because they are very thorough and do a really a really good job doing that. So for us that was that was great. I mean, it was it was it was an accomplishment for us. But I remind people in the company that we got the target, let’s congratulate ourselves, but now we have to figure out how to deliver that target. And that’s where we are now.

Sean McMahon  06:56

Yeah, so any update on you said about a year ago, was the most recent one that was approved. So any update on progress for that, first of all, what was what are those targets that you’re trying to hit? And then any update you got for us?

Vance Merolla  07:08

Yeah, so that so the big target. I mean, that’s sort of the headline targets, I mentioned that renewable energy, but that’s separate. But really, what we’re committing to is, is to to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040. So that we 2050 is the latest should go out, we decided for 2040. And in that netzero, there’s there’s milestones along the way. So SBTi Doesn’t say just, you know, Sep 2014, we’ll see you in 17 years. It basically there’s a 2025 goal of 20%. And there’s a 2030 goal of 40% 42%. For us. And as you make it out, you have to you have to do that. So we’re making some progress in the first couple of them are only two years in terms of the data, we are actually reducing, as it began, this is on an absolute basis, which is not easy to do. And your company’s trying to grow your company and reduce emissions at the same time. But that’s that’s our charge. So we’re making some progress there. But really what the work is, this is not a linear, I have to remind people, this is not a linear pathway, there’s going to be ups and downs and moves, we’re spending the last, you know, since we got approved during before we got to prove really putting together the mechanism, the understanding, and all the things you need to do to think about even bringing something as you know, as unique as Tetsuya or to life, it’s there’s never been a target quite like that right in the history of the world. And so, you know, in 12 months, you’re not going to necessarily reach the target. But we’re really are making progress, I feel is three key things, functional ownership. So these targets don’t live in the sustainability team, when we have to reduce our supplier emissions, or logistics emissions or manufacturing emissions, we have to work with procurement and r&d and Mac packaging and manufacturing, logistics, all these folks that do the business day in and day out. And they’re not carbon people yet. But we are spending our time making sure they understand what it is giving, make sure they have data and digital tools, understanding how to track and understand what to do. And so So setting up those plans is where we really are now. And then bringing that whole thing together in what we’re calling our netzero transition plan. And we have we published two versions of that already. We updated each year. So it says where the progress are the kinds of things we’re working on. But you know, but it’s a very long and not traveled road. So I’m not going to say we’re, we’re you know, we know exactly how we will get there. But but there’s a lot of it. But it’s a lot of management support, and a lot of employee support, like, Hey, I don’t really know what this is yet, but I’m interested in and I think it’s important, and I want to work on it. And then if you have that that’s combined with technology and the economics out in the world that are changing, you know, it makes us feel optimistic that we will make progress on them.

Sean McMahon  09:33

What was the conversation like with some of those other stakeholders, internal stakeholders who, you know, I think you said, maybe not carbon people, but now they’re, you know, learning more and more about it. How did you approach those conversations? Because I imagine, you know, the different what was probably previously siloed divisions, perhaps now got to kind of speak the same language. So what was that like and any advice for others who are trying to tackle that same thing?

Vance Merolla  09:57

Yes, absolutely. So it’s still it’s still ongoing. It’s just you know, this As this is culture change at its best, like I mentioned, it’s good news that people are interested and want to do something, they just don’t know what to do. And so what we’ve been doing over this past 12 months, and we’ll continue on on is, is really working reaching out to functions. And I’ll use procurement as an example of folks, you know, who buy our stuff in this that are have suppliers that have carbon associated with them. That’s the largest part of our net zero footprint. And so, you know, we work with the procurement team to early about, you know, year and a half ago, to really start to understand what is that zero? What does that mean? Why are we doing as a company, give them the reason to believe first, and then get them the data that to see you know, that they are, you know, grown with people on the business of buying, you know, good quality products at the right rate, service, right price, and all the things they do, and they’re great at their jobs. To me, if we we can’t have procurement over here, and that’s here, over here. So our job is to have them understand and integrate into their processes. So that carbon data of a purchase is visible as the price of the purchase and those those types of things. And so we’re replicating those, we’re calling them, that’s your task forces. So so the ones that procurement is really focused on that. And they have taken really hold of this. And to the point where I wouldn’t say they don’t need us at all, I hope they need us a little bit, but they’ve really taken ownership of it. And they’re putting together the data and they’re having the meetings with suppliers. And they’re trying to put systems in place to automate how they calculate the footprints of the of the key raw materials, and then the tactics to do that and create the plan. So that’s, that’s a great, you know, example. So, you know, similarly for r&d, or packaging, and others, they’ve taken that model has been replicated, essentially, task forces for these key buckets of carbon, if you want to think about it like that. Their management has been supportive without question, it’s just a matter how do we integrate into the date and our day jobs and the way we do it every day, not disrupting the work we do, but enhancing it, and figuring it out along the way. And you know, if you do it that way, versus just okay, drop what you’re doing, and let’s work on it zero, you have a much better chance of success. And, you know, folks are worried about him, how much time is going to be how much money is going to be their cases, you can show time, money and carbon reduction all at once. And those, you know, you build on those successes.

Sean McMahon  12:04

We mentioned the power of data, kind of showing it to those those folks and kind of putting it in their hands so they can see what it is you’re talking about. And in slowly start to speak that language, I guess, I’ve talked to a lot of folks in your role who have gone through the process of setting targets with SBTi. And getting those targets approved. And just like you, they say, wow, like it’s a lot of data collection, right to make it all happen. And some of them say that through that process, they learn a little bit about their own organization. So was that something you experienced as well like, having to go collect that data, opened your eyes, and maybe other folks at Colgate? Like, wow, we didn’t know that about ourselves. But now we know it. And now we can act on it?

Vance Merolla  12:42

Yeah, I mean, he’s definitely a lot of learnings when trying to collect data, and then create plans that have never really been created before and something like that zero. So on the data system side, we as our group, our sustainability group, we do ingest a lot of data from lots of parts of the organization. And, you know, many of the systems that are legacy systems that have been in place, they weren’t built for net zero or something like that, right. There’s no purpose fit for that. So it is, you know, from like, I’ve talked to all companies, I talked to the same questions, a lot of manual data, gathering it together. And and how do you do that? I think I think the net zero journey is helping us accelerate the way we maybe we manage data. And so rather than, for example, giving an example for you, rather than in net zero, trying to, to have seven different systems that bring information from different parts of the organization and groups, you know, our GI T or global IT group is helping us create sort of a data lake which is, you know, like, like a tool to democratize data. So far, that data comes all the data unique comes into one place, and then pulling it in with a new tool, you know, we’re working on having a new climate data management tool, that’s a secret success, getting all that data which are on the organization in one spot, and then having the right analytical tool. And we’re in the process, we’re getting pretty close to selecting a new, a new tool that will do all data or netzero data management, including reporting, including giving visibility, including running scenarios, if we do this, it’ll be this much carbon at this much price. I mean, very sophisticated tools are emerging out in the field now around around climate data. So we’re, again, we’re not there yet. But we are definitely making progress. So I think that’s a learning just, I mean, not just on sustainability. But I think that’s got to be the future for a lot of the way we manage data in other parts of the organization too.

Sean McMahon  14:25

Recently, you announced the details of a virtual power purchase agreement, and Colgate-Palmolive. sign that to address smart sources of energy. So give me a favor and walk our audience through what is a VPN and how you came about getting that deal done. And what are some of the intricacies there that other corporations out there who might be thinking about doing something similar? should keep in mind?

Vance Merolla  14:44

Sure, happy to do that. So yeah, as you mentioned, we signed our first virtual power purchase agreement vppa, just a couple of weeks back and we were lucky enough to announce it during client week, which is terrific. So for us, you know, just taking one step back. The reason why we’re doing this at all right is it’s really associated with our long standing climate program, so Colgate-Palmolive, has been working on climate action for over 20 years I’ve been with the company 26 years, so long time. And as we’ve we’ve evolved into a leadership role, we think a leadership role in climate, you know, renewable energy plays a big portion of it for certainly our own facility. So we have, we’ll talk about later, maybe we’ll talk about our Science-Based Targets. But one of the other targets we have specifically around renewable energy is to have all of our facilities around the world be 100%, renewable electricity by 2030. And so we as a team, and last, you know, last couple of years of kind of really taking that on as a charge and then working with our teams around the world to do that. So to do that, there’s really four main tactics that we use. And so we use things like on site solar, and we’ve got lots of projects where you put solar panels on buildings, and we have some large factories around the world and some land to do that. And, and that’s been a long standing project, and we’re doing more and more because the, the availability and cost of that is getting better and better. So outside, so it was terrific, we have about 17 projects, 17 sites right now that have a solar systems on the on the facilities themselves, and that’s really, really good is also a visual thing for our employees. So it’s a, it’s a great thing to do. We also, you know, we purchase utility green power. So in some markets, you can purchase green power from from utility and, you know, either pay a surcharge, or figure out how to, you know, get it into the normal flow, but that’s not available everywhere, where it is we try to, we try to do that. And then we you know, in some markets, it’s hard to do either one of those, and we will, you know, we’ll use instruments for climate like renewable industry certificates where we can, we’re using less and less of those over time, truthfully. And so although those first three are great, and they help us, but that’s not the way to scale. And so what we’re left with really is, is something like a virtual power purchase green. And, you know, just a quick description of what that is that essentially is helping a market. In our case, it was the US this time that we’re working in Europe, and we’re looking at other places as well to to actually go out into the market and see what projects what solar and wind project viable projects are out there that we that we can sign to agree on a long term contract, 1520 years contract that we will agree to pay and by the attributes of the renewable energy project. So in our case, the project is in just in our press releases is a 209 megawatt Markham project solar project from from Scout, it’s in West Texas, in Waco, Texas, it’s, it’ll be a long term deal for us. And we’ve got 20 years and we hope it provides clean, renewable solar energy for that time. And the sizing of it, you know, it’s hard to know exactly, but it should cover most or all of our current US footprint in the US. So in essence, once that’s construction is done, and it’s up and running, and we’re working on that we cover our whole US footprint, which is fairly, you know, fairly large for us. So that’s that’s what that’s about. We like it because it creates additionality. The other tactics are just as relevant and useful. But the idea that we sign a contract allows a developer to go to the you know, literally to get financing because they have a customer like Colgate that’s going to buy for 20 years allows that project to happen. And so that there’s a real advantage of actually putting new solar on the grid, we think that’s an important part of our strategy. And like I said, we’re, we’re working on negotiations in Europe as well. And then as other markets around the world where, you know, huge operations in Asia and Latin America and Africa as well. So we’ll be working to expand there as well.

Sean McMahon  18:25

Okay, and as someone in your position, obviously, is kind of in charge of the strategy that and bringing everyone together the various you know, the developers, you mentioned, scout was who you work with on that? What went through your mind in the decision making process there? For example, why did you go solar and wind? What boxes? Did you have to check?

Vance Merolla  18:40

Yeah, no, it’s a good question. And it’s, again, this was our first one and it’s does a lot of learning and a vppa process, I would encourage people to do it. But um, you know, going with open eyes II really the cross functional team. So, you know, it’s myself and our sustainability folks are important to this. But equally, when we when we do this is having folks from the finance team, our procurement team legal. And so we created this cross functional team, even treasury, people who, you know, have to be part of this decision making, including the C suite leaders of those functions, you know, really involved with this. It’s not simply an environmental project. In fact, it isn’t, it’s really, it’s really a finance project overall, and really understanding how to do that. So a lot of the choices are made around what’s available in market with with your third party. So you typically use a third party to go to market and bring back potential projects based on our specifications and, and go through them and speak to the developers and negotiate and figure out what what’s the best fit. And so you whittled down from a very large group of projects down to a handful and then it comes down to things like viability, timing, risk price, all the things you would do on any other projects. So it’s in a lot of negotiations back and forth with force with the lawyers but also on the commercial terms of it as well. So an exciting project, but uh, you know, it takes it takes some time, but the results because you know, vppa and I mentioned before, it’s a scalable scales. So it’s very hard, it would be impossible, I would almost say it’d be daring to say, to use on site solar to meet our entire electrical footprint in us, right, we just simply wouldn’t have enough property or land to do it. And so this is the way we scale. And so the effort you put in even if it takes you a year or two years, is, you know, I would say is the main round, if you have an ambitious goal, like Colgate to be 100%, renewable electricity by 2030.

Sean McMahon  20:24

You mentioned you’ve reached out to, you know, third parties to help you go to market and kind of seek out the right projects. Were there any other folks kind of in a similar role to yours, but at other corporations, right, either CPG or not, but any other folks you kind of talked to or pick their brains for advice on how to approach this or any resources, perhaps online or associations and things like that?

Vance Merolla  20:43

Yes, there’s lots of corporates working on this, we haven’t had to do it, we’ve been able to meet our goals, right, honestly, without a VPP. That’s why we haven’t done and not that we didn’t think it was important. But we met our prior Science-Based Targets without the VPP. But the new net zero targets in this this new 100% target, you know, something couldn’t get there. So yes, we absolutely spoke to peers, even competitors in the space, you know, this is a pre competitive thing. We’re not rolling in sustainability. You know, we often benchmark with our direct peers and competitors. And so yeah, we other companies that have been through it on a false name unnecessarily. But, but they definitely helped out because they’ve been through the process before, and also helped us identify potential third parties that really are in the market. There’s not 1000s of them. So this is a relatively small group. But we found, you know, a third party that we really felt comfortable with who we’ve had our best interests in minds who were looking for the right projects for us and bringing them back was patient enough to wait as in parallel told us work in the US that the market was going under a lot of churn and pricing was changing, you had bans on imports of certain panels from different countries, right, you had a lot of dynamics, or there was throwing this market into a bit of a spin. And so we live through that and having their third party advice. I would love if we could possibly do this without a company like that. Yeah. And then there’s lots of resources out there, I think, you know, there’s like, rebuild, and other, you know, the groups that consortium groups that you can go to that with that can help with, with these types of things. You know, with many corporates going through it, you know, our sector has done a lot. I think the tech sector has done much more, they have a very high electricity demand. And so they’ve done I mean, dozens, maybe even maybe 100 projects, some companies even I don’t know,

Sean McMahon  22:18

okay, obviously, when a lot of folks think of Colgate, you know, we’re thinking about oral health. And you mentioned that the superpower of oral health as one of your bright smiles, Bright Futures Initiative. So getting to that, how did the products that you produce, how are you tackling those both from, you know, enhancing the social impact and you know, helping people live better, healthier lives, but also reducing the footprint of some of those products? You know, I think of toothpaste and you know, we’re all thinking of, it seems like a design that hasn’t changed much in the last, you know, few decades, but maybe I’m wrong. So what is Colgate doing on that front? Yeah,

Vance Merolla  22:53

that’s that’s a great question. You’re right. We are, you know, we have other categories as well, personal care, and home care. And we have a Pet Nutrition Division, but oral care, or health are really is the flagship of the company. And so on the social side, as I mentioned before, we have a program called bright smiles, Bright Futures, we call it B SPF. And it’s been in Kogi for over 30 years. And really, the premise of it is to teach oral hygiene and oral health, to fleece to children and their families all over the world. And so, dentists and hygienists, essentially folks like that go into communities in dental vans or trucks or whatever they have locally as again, this around the world. They do checkups, they clean teeth, they provide products, they teach children about good oral health and hygiene practices. And so again, like I said, that’s been going on for 30 years, we’ve kept track of how many children it’s at this point where we’re at about 1.6 billion children that we’ve touched in 100 countries since it began our goal is to reach 2 billion by by 2025. And so we’re working to do that’s a very big and impressive program. And so, again, it’s not just done in countries where, you know, you might expect but you know, even people are surprised that even in the US 75% of kids get cavities before they’re eight years old, and 40% of parents feel like they don’t really know much about oral health. And so in cities very often you don’t you have these pockets of you know, rural health issues. And so it’s a very interesting program that it can be done anywhere around the world. So that’s the social part of it. And we’re really proud, right? I mentioned it as a superpower because I really think it is something very, very special that Colgate delivers.

Sean McMahon  24:29

Real quick, trust me, I understand when you say it’s need, there’s a need for here in the US. I have an 11 year old son, and that kid wakes up with some dragon breath and we’re constantly having to brush his teeth and man, you need some reminding every once in a while. It’s everywhere around the world. He’s not one of the one point whatever billion we’ve got the message anyway, but yeah, getting back to the tubes, right. Right.

Vance Merolla  24:50

So on the product side, I mean, that’s again, that’s, that’s another big success. That’s more on the environmental side than social side, but you can connect them for sure. So, toothpaste tubes, everybody knows what they’re One of the most ubiquitous packaging forms in the world, right. And so a few years back, we, as a company had a vision to make all toothpaste tubes recyclable both in practice and at scale, I mean, not just not just a couple of tubes really, really do it there. And so if you think about, you know, again, squeeze tubes are for all kinds of things are out there, they’re very commonly used form of, of packaging, but most toothpaste tubes in traditionally, and you’re right, we’ve been making toothpaste tubes, I think over 100 years now. So it’s not a new, not a new form by any man by any stretch. But they’re traditionally made of a mix of materials, making them not really recyclable. They were like the laminate lamination of several different materials that you can’t see. They’re just they’re so small, but that’s what the two does. And so, you know, globally, you know, right now that I think the world uses about 20 billion toothpaste tubes a year and we don’t, we don’t make them all of course, right. So we made I think we make about 9 billion, so almost half. But they’re not recycled in large form right now until until because they’re just simply not recycle. So we did the research and development Colgate. And after about five years, we introduced the sort of a first of its kind recyclable to back in 2019. And basically what it was is we engineered the tube to remove very thin foil layer that was inside a sandwich inside, and then made it mostly from HDPE, high density polyethylene, one type of material that you commonly see that like in milk jugs, or detergent bottles, right, and it’s a very highly recyclable, you know, stream like it’s, it’s pretty, it’s collected and recycled a relatively high rate. So we picked a common thing, a single material, you know, wasn’t easy to do, because so if you’ve ever felt the milk body, you wouldn’t want your tube to feel like that either. So the magic of the design was that you’re taking a rigid material like HDPE, that’s really not great for squeezable tubes, and combine it with different layers in different sizes of varying thicknesses to produce kind of an easy to squeeze recyclable to, which fits into the existing usage behaviors. So they’re very important that the consumer doesn’t really feel a difference that they like this. I don’t like to suvir doesn’t work it meets. And of course, it meets Colgate to rigorous flavor standards and regulations, anything it needs to do. And it was designed for mainstream recycling alongside HDPE bottles. So that’s that’s, that was the big innovation. So we had the first who was earned the technical recyclability recognition from the Association of plastic recyclers here in the US. The nice thing too, is you literally can, you’ll be able to, when it’s collected, you throw it into into a bin, there’s no rinsing, cutting, cleaning, or anything that needs to be done with that. So it’s, you know, recycle as it is. And, you know, we did that, and we released that, and we patented it, but then we immediately, quickly after open open the pad to anyone else. So we basically shared the technology with everyone, including, you know, suppliers, and to makers and peers and competitors. With the whole idea that even though we sell a lot, we don’t sell them all. And the recycling industry is not going to just say, oh, let’s look for the Kogi tubes and recycle those, we wanted to transform the entire industry. And, you know, fast forward to today, there’s commitments from, we’re almost I think we’re almost a critical mass or at critical mass, where we’ve got enough where the industry can now start to say we can collect these in mass, and we can start doing that. So the four largest toothpaste players in the US, three out of four of them are making tubes that are already recyclable, we should be at about 90% recycled by 2025. And, and that’s another 10 to recycles have joined in as well. So it’s a real transition story more than it is and technology is very important. It was great. But the idea that we we want to use that to scale. And we’re launching this in all our divisions around the world, our goal is to get them all, you know, all there. You know, that was that was a pretty a pretty big deal. A very proud moment for me, I’m going to Colgate 2627 It was 27 years. And to me that’s the way you do sustainability. Right? You don’t keep it to yourself.

Sean McMahon  28:42

Yeah, kudos to you and the team for for sharing that knowledge with even with competitors, like you said, because it’s definitely shows you’ve got your eyes on a bigger picture goal here. And did you say that the tubes don’t have to be rinsed or anything you just recycle them as it?

Vance Merolla  28:54

Yeah, it’s funny. It’s not intuitive. But if you’ve ever been to these recoveries facilities where they collect them, but then processing, they get chopped up and grinded up and stuff like that. So you say oh, there’s gonna be toothpaste in there. But very often they they will put cleaning agents inside to clean that clean the plastic and toothpaste is what cleans better than toothpaste. Right? So it actually is an additive to the normal cleaning stream. Again, this is again, this is from our packaging experts. We have people who do this really know and I’m not the packaging expert, but that’s that’s a very common question is Well, what if there’s toothpaste left in the tube in a sense doesn’t matter. We want people to use it obviously use it to fix but it won’t it won’t upset the process at all. In fact, it could actually enhance it at times.

Sean McMahon  29:32

Okay, and then pivoting the packaging a little bit obviously this is about packaging and making the tubes recycling but there’s been conversations a lot and the sustainability sector lately about redundant packaging and toothpaste is an example where you’ve got if you’ve kind of seal the opening then you’re also then putting it in cardboard or some kind of paper product and and companies are trying to look at ways to reduce that right like just have the thing packaged once anything that you and the team are working on a Colgate whether it’s toothpaste or other products.

Vance Merolla  29:58

Yeah, no Is it big? focus on packaging overall. So not just plastic, by the way, so you’re right. It’s, it’s also its primary secondary packaging. I would say eliminating plastic waste is one of our biggest targets as I’m, as I mentioned, we have some very specific, you know, targets around plastics that around plastic itself, I mean, you know, we were trying to, essentially, by 2025, eliminate 1/3 of our virgin plastic use. So that’s, that’s just using less new plastic, and then be 100% recyclable reusable, compostable plastic packaging by 2025. So there’s a big focus on that work alone. And so that could be anything from you know, lightweighting a bottle or, or something related to a toothpaste tube or even concentration, even giving you imagine delivering a concentrated mouthwash and a smaller container, that’s half the amount of plastic or even less, that surfaces, the same amount of mouth washing, you know, events, let’s call it and so lightweighting concentrating these types of things are really were the focus is different types of materials, lighter materials, and of course, using recycled content, which is which is something we you know, we we try to, you know, get forward for secondary packaging, there is some efforts to to do, you know, the secondary packaging, like like a toothpaste carton provides a benefit, it actually protects the, you know, the product itself, it allows us to be transported much more seamlessly and safely without breaking, it’s on the shelf life. So it has a purpose of it. But there’s there’s work and actually some activity around, could we do that in another way. And so in some markets, we’re, we’re kind of looking at that we’re looking, we would say, our practice team, is looking under every rock for every idea and have come up with some pretty interesting stuff. Again, Colgate alone can do it, it really is like a transformation of the industry itself. And then participation of the consumer, consumer has to want it as well. So that’s an important aspect of you know, of all of this that we’re talking about today is the actual person,

Sean McMahon  31:48

I understand. And so then, obviously, the effort is to, you know, reduce the size of the packaging, you know, recycle products and things like that. But invariably, there’s often still some waste. And so I was looking around your site before we jumped on the call here today, and looking at some of the things you’re doing to reduce or eliminate waste itself. And I came across dumpster dives. Tell me, I think I know what a dumpster dive is. But I think it might have different meaning in the world. So tell me what comes through dives?

Vance Merolla  32:12

Yeah, no, I hope so. Yeah, no. So I think what you’re referring to Sean is, is our facilities, our manufacturing facilities around the world. We’ve got, you know, several around the world, they’re large facilities, and like any facility, they’ll they will create some some waste. And so we’ve worked to reduce waste for years and years, but we did it in the kind of, you know, facilities doing their best and figuring it out. And, and without any real necessary, unified guidance around the world that everybody can use. And so it’s about, say, about 667 years ago, we started working with the US Green Building Council, they’re the folks who do lead LEED buildings as we build all of our manufacturing sites, our new sites, LEED certified, we’ve been doing that for almost 15 years now. But they have something called true zero waste. It’s another certification program different than LEED, but same idea is that you reach a certain level, and you do certain amount of things, and you get sort of mount points and you can get certified. And what that does is it kind of gives a framework to a site a manufacturing site to like how do we really go after this? What are the right things to do on the wrong things to do? Where should we spend time and not? And so the true zero waste certification? We try to like I said, first of all, was maybe about seven years ago, it was very well received in the manufacturing site, because it’s logical, it’s step wise, it’s it gives you a process on how do you do you know, and it’s not just, it’s not just how to, of course, it’s making less waste, if that’s the primary thing you do. But the always whatever you’re left with, can you find a place to recycle or repurpose it or reuse it in the plant, or maybe you need to substitute a new material. And so it’s not not a waste anymore, or give it back to a vendor so they can bring it back the next time. And so it’s a management systems process about how to manage waste. Ultimately, you’re measured on are you doing all the right things around those, but also what your diversion rate is to a landfill. And so 90%, you can start getting credit and you work your way all the way you can work your way to 100. And there’s different levels all the way up to platinum. And so this has become a wild hit at Colgate manufacturing, people have eaten it up, we have currently last count about 34 to zero waste certified manufacturing sites located in 19 countries on five continents. And that’s more than any other company in the world. So we’ve really we were early on adopter to this, a lot of folks are now are using it as well. And what that translates to is about that means about 80% of CO gates, manufactured volume that we make for ourselves are now coming out of two zero waste certified sites. So that’s really an interesting way to think about it. And also and in the spirit of because we’re so global. We were first in country with choose airway sort of five facilities, and I think about a dozen countries in places like India and South Africa, China, Mexico, Turkey. And so we had the first literally the first certification in those countries. So we think that’s a cool leadership position. That dumpster dive is just one of the one of the tactics you can use. So one of the things it doesn’t, you know, literally have to dive in but one of the common tactics for a site would be that they’ve set up their systems as they will pull One or two of their big, you know, compactors or waste bins out into the parking lot, they’ll cover up, make sure there’s nothing gets away, they dump it out in that lot. And then they have the employees dressed up in the right gear, go through and actually find it. It’s it’s stuff it’s not, it’s not the type of trash at home, right, they’re not going through food, they’re going through things like like packaging waste and different products or, or pallets and things like things that get thrown away or just waste. And so they segregate them out. And then they literally take an inventory. And it’s more that it’s not that that solves the problem. But there’s a huge cultural aha moment that happens typically with this, like, wow, half of the stuff we have here probably could have been recycled, we just didn’t know or we didn’t put in the right spot, or we don’t have been in the right place. And so it leads to like, how do you solve these problems by using the real stuff in the in the parking lot. And yeah, and it’s fun, it’s fun, it’s like this, it’s an activity, and let’s just go through dumps, it can be fun. It really, it really just results. And so I think that’s probably what you we read about in the in our report.

Sean McMahon  35:57

That sounds like a pretty amazing awareness exercise, if you will. Any other unique sustainability initiatives that you and the team are working on that might be under the radar.

Vance Merolla  36:06

One thing I did want to jump back to, if it’s possible is a little bit on the consumers around the product. So we’ve been working very hard, we have great r&d and packaging, folks that work on these things, we have marketing and insights, people who are understanding what we think people want, right? People tend to want to want to be more sustainable, they don’t always have the right products, or they don’t know how or they or that kind of thing. So there’s a lot of work being done on more on the kind of commercial and product development side that I think is very exciting. There’s something called a what if you’ve heard of the action, intention gap, but when you survey people in almost every market around the world, people have that yearning, they want to be, you know, nine out of 10, or eight out of 10 will say yes, I want a more sustainable product or life, but then that’s the action, the the intention, but the action is then going to actually you know, find that product and buy that product. And that’s that maybe even if it’s part of the reason they want a product, it’s not the only reason, right so so we have to really figure out what people want, that’s just to be sustainable, they don’t want to necessarily pay a lot more money, they don’t necessarily want to have to go travel around and find it or, or have a product maybe that doesn’t work as well, like those these are, those are barriers to entries, making it sustainable is an add on and doing it at the right price is really what you’re trying to do. So there’s a lot of a lot of work in that area. And I think, you know, with our with our retailers, but also with you know, also with consumers and consumer insights all together, we’ve got some really interesting, great, I think are great products that you know, but their market changes. So we have, I’ll give you an example. We have a replaceable head toothbrush, essentially, it’s got currently it’s got like a metal handle that you keep forever. And then the top has a replaceable head column just like you would think on an electric toothbrush right? And so it’s 80% less plastic just to begin with, because you keep the handle and just keep it forever, you know, when you need a new head you you go online or you go and store and you get ahead. So that’s that’s a great sustainability thing. But you know, not yet that’s not yet still the you know, a habit or normal way that people think about brushing their teeth is the habit is you know, you buy a manual toothbrush and you replace it when you need to. And so there’s a lot of what seemed like a pretty easy switch over like, you know, like a razor blade. But that’s not an understood heavy. So there’s a lot of work, educate people work with them, make them they understand, make the product as good as good as it can be, make sure the pricing is right. And so we are a products company, so we can do everything we can on on climate and all the things we’re working on. But you know, the brands and the products are very important to this issue, and they’re very excited about it.

Sean McMahon  38:28

I gotcha. Well, hey, Vance. This has been very enlightening, informative, obviously, like I said, Colgate-Palmolive has products everywhere. So it’s great to hear someone like you is working on ways to make them more sustainable. So thank you for your insights today.

Vance Merolla  38:40

Great. Thank you, Sean. It’s been great.

Sean McMahon  38:48

All right, everyone. Well, that’s our show for today. Thank you all for listening. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe or follow this show on Apple, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And as always, please be sure to share it with your friends and colleagues. Have a great day.