P&G (PG) Chief Bob McDonald touts the company's green credentials at Indianapolis appearance

Procter & Gamble now has 45 zero-waste plants

CINCINNATI - Procter & Gamble Co. has a new factory in China that runs on 100 percent wind power. Forty-five of its 145 plants globally send zero waste to landfills. And Tide Pods is the most environmentally friendly product you can buy.

So went the lesson that CEO Bob McDonald delivered to Butler University students in Indianapolis Thursday night. The Gary, Indiana native was invited to speak on the campus where his parents met as part of the Howard Schrott lecture series, funded by a Butler trustee and McDonald family friend.

P&G announced this week that it has achieved its long-term goal of sending no manufacturing waste to landfills at 45 plants worldwide. Another 40 plants are close to reaching that milestone. McDonald's speech on "Growing Sustainably" began with a story about a meeting McDonald had with Wang Qishan, a former acting premier of China.

"He said to me, ‘Bob, we can't grow the way you grew in the United States. There's not enough oil in the world for China to grow the same way the United States grew. The environment can't stand that kind of growth. 'The thing global business needs to help me with is how do we grow responsibly and take care of the environment at the same time,'" McDonald said.

P&G has been making steady progress against a set of ambitious environmental goals announced in 2010. The goals include powering plants with 100 percent renewable resources. McDonald said the company now stands at seven percent and expects to reach 20 percent by 2020.

McDonald said P&G is working with the U.S. Green Building Council to establish a protocol for certifying factories under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, or LEED.

"We're the first company in the history of the world that I know of that is working with the LEED organization to actually certify manufacturing plants," McDonald said. "Typically, they certify offices and buildings. We're working with them to develop a protocol for manufacturing plants."

Another goal is to recycle manufacturing waste. McDonald described a Charmin plant in Mexico that uses waste material to make roof tiles and a feminine products plant in India that converts waste to shoe soles. P&G claims its recycling initiative has generated $1 billion in value for the company.

And then there is Tide Pods, a unit-dose laundry product that is made to wash in cold water. McDonald said cold-water washing could be a huge energy saver for the U.S. If everyone did it, we'd save enough energy to power 4.4 million U.S. households each year.

McDonald said one of the biggest mistakes of his career happened in Canada, when he launched - and later withdrew – the Tide Enviro-Pak. It was a refill package for liquid Tide that consumers said they wanted in company research, but few people bought. McDonald said he learned from the experience that most consumers will not accept a tradeoff in price, convenience or product quality to benefit the environment.

That's the beauty of Tide Pods, he said. There is no trade off.

"Tide Pods is one of the most environmentally friendly products you can buy," said McDonald. "It's the most concentrated form of laundry detergent you can get. It's all active ingredients. When you're buying a bottle of laundry detergent, particularly a competitive brand, if you should make that mistake, you're buying a lot of water. Water is used to dilute the active ingredients. It takes fewer trucks to ship it. It takes less shelf space to store. It's easier to bring home, easier to use in the machine.  It's better for everybody."

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