Having people move past the classical mindset of sustainability, where businesses’ environmental responsibilities end after selling a product, is the next step for corporations seeking greener business practices.
That’s one of the main conclusions reached by Suhas Apte, vice president for Global Sustainability at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, during a recent visit to Costa Rica, where he was a guest lecturer March 16 at the Business Forum on the Environment and Sustainability.
Apte has worked for companies that make personal care and hygiene products for the past three decades and currently leads sustainability projects in the areas of energy, environment, and occupational health.
The Tico Times recently spoke with Apte. Excerpts follow:
TT: Where is the world heading in matters of sustainability?
SA: The world is now addressing the matter from a global perspective, both climate change phenomena and international efforts to reduce it.
If we do not reduce our carbon footprints, we will lose the battle on climate change, and we’ll have storms at one place and scarcity of water in other locations. We need to collectively work on how to reduce that impact so that we can reach the United Nations 2020 environmental goals.
Some countries already have regulations in place. For example, in Latin America, Brazil wants to see a 30 percent reduction in the emission of gases from the companies operating in the country. Unfortunately in countries like the United States and Australia, I don’t see any regulation coming.
Should private companies collaborate with governments on sustainability projects? What can we expect from such alliances?
By the year 2050, there will be nine billion people living on the planet. That’s more than two billion more people in our environment, and we need to work with governments to think about what the future of sustainable cities looks like, because the future of sustainable cities won’t look the same as cities look today. And it all has implications for businesses. How do we source our products? How do we manufacture our products? And how do we make our products available? So we need to work close with governments and the United Nations to think about how we are going to address the problem that’s ahead of us. It is the only way to solve climate change issues.
The industry you’re in, personal care products manufacturing, is constantly on the spot for being big polluters. What’s the biggest the misconception people could have in this kind of business?
The main misconception people have is that we cut down a lot of trees in order to make our products, and the reality is that today we buy 90 percent of all supplies from certified sources. What do certified sources mean? That our supplier today, when they cut down one tree, they plant three trees. We have a very sustainable supply chain that we have created over time.
The second misconception people could have about us is that our products are disposable. They are not, and our responsibility does not stop in the shelf. We need to figure out a way to responsibly take care of product waste…
What’s the most important thing you would like Costa Ricans to remember from your lecture at the forum?
The one idea I would like Costa Ricans to remember is that people have been talking about how we reduce the impact in the environment in supplies chains. I think what we need to do now is to focus on sustainable consumption. We can’t continue to consume at the same rate the rest of society does. We, as corporations, need to think about how we are going to keep things on a sustainable consumption level, which means to use less in order to deliver the same benefits. We need to continue to reduce the usage of sources for consumers, that’s the only way the planet resources will be able to support nine million people.