Greener Products: A Conversation with Johnson & Johnson’s Al Iannuzzi

January 2, 2013

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Al Iannuzzi, Ph.D., is the Senior Director, Product Stewardship & Green Marketing at Johnson & Johnson. He has been with the company for 28 years, after spending time as a consultant and with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. I sat down with him recently to talk about green marketing and his book, Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands, which is currently being used in graduate courses at the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University.

What inspired you to write this book?

I felt there was a need for a book that combines both how to make greener products and how to market them. I thought it would be great to have a book steeped in case study, looking at leading practices and sharing some of my knowledge from my job experience. I hope that people will take the concepts found in the book and use them in their own company, and that this will become the norm for the way that we bring products to market.

You've been at this for more than 30 years. What are some of the most important things you've learned?

Whatever you do from a sustainability perspective, even the nomenclature you use, it has to mesh with the culture, language and business objectives of the company.

The other thing is to keep it simple. The people who make things happen within our company, within a lot of companies, are the sales and marketing groups. Get them on board and you'll have so much more success. In order to do that, it has to be simple. That's why J&J came up with the Earthwards® process for developing and marketing greener products through lifecycle thinking. Before that, I led J&J's Design for the Environment program. It was more complex and more difficult for people to understand how to make their products greener.

What are your favorite examples of companies that consistently get it right when it comes to sustainable brands?

There are over 20 case studies in my book. They include popular examples like GE's Ecomagination, the gold standard of greener product development and marketing, and companies like Seventh Generation and Method. But I also include case studies on more traditional companies like BASF, DuPontSamsung and Philips, all who are doing interesting things.

Our Earthwards® process is based on benchmarking these types of companies. We have two objectives: to make it easy and clear on how to develop greener products and to help generate green marketing claims to bring to the customer. One of J&J's sustainability metrics is how many claims coming out of our Earthwards® process are actually being used with our B2C and B2B customers.

In the first line of your book you state: “Things will never be the same.” What do you mean?

The first part of my career was about operations – controlling emissions, managing risk, making sure nothing happened to tarnish our name.

Then about five years ago, sustainability hit a tipping point. Before then, we'd get excited if there was one article about sustainability in The Wall Street Journal. Now it's commonplace. Even Sports Illustrated has featured articles about climate change on its front cover. Five years ago, we would not have imagined having such an impact on sales with our sustainability initiatives. Now, all of our customers are asking for greener products. It's quickly becoming almost a requirement to bring greener products to market.

I've heard you say that there's no such thing as a “green” product, just “greener” products – meaning that all product footprints can potentially be improved. Do you foresee a time when there's no longer such thing as a “greener” product because companies will have reached a level of parity?

I can foresee that being true for certain aspects of a product. Take packaging, for example. We may come to a point when minimal packaging is required, when it has to be recyclable and the paper must be sustainably sourced.

There could be some very basic properties within a product that make it hard to differentiate greener attributes. In the B2B area that's already happening. Our hospital customers ask a lot of sustainability questions in their RFPs. Certain large hospital chains will no longer purchase IV bags that contain PVC, for example. So if your bags contain PVC, you can't get access to that market.

Eventually greener product standards will be a requirement, just like quality.

Do you think that raters and rankers like SAM/DJSI and Sustainalytics (Newsweek's Green Rankings) should give companies more credit for moving the needle on greener products? What might that metric look like?

Yes. What is a company anyway, if not the products that they make? The way you make them is important, of course, but the development of greener products should get greater weight. What's the metric? Well, one of the things we're working on at J&J is quantifying the benefits of an Earthwards-recognized product and being able to show that we're minimizing the areas of greatest impact.

What happens to the business model of developing greener products if all things are equal?

There will always be ways to differentiate your product using sustainability as a lens. Our new ONETOUCH® blood glucose monitor is a good case in point. This used to be a fairly substantial piece of equipment. Now it's almost like a pen, something you can slip into your pocket and carry anywhere. And we've made it look attractive. So it improves the patient experience, uses less materials, costs less to make and it's better for the environment.