Prove Your Purpose recently sat down with Paulette Frank, Johnson & Johnson's* vice president of sustainability and Cone's partner for the 2014 Recycling in the Home Survey, to learn more about the company's sustainability commitments, what inspired Care to Recycle and what Paulette considers her greatest achievement.
Prove Your Purpose: Tell us about Johnson & Johnson's Care to Recycle program. What inspired its creation, and what are you hoping it will achieve?
Paulette Frank: For most people, recycling is a familiar and achievable environmental action – it's something they feel they can actually do to make a difference. In that sense, recycling is a gateway behavior – it opens the door to other environmental actions. So that's where we started – we wanted to help facilitate better, easier recycling because one, many of our products are recyclable, and two, we believe recycling begins a chain reaction of other responsible behaviors. And with that, Care to Recycle was born.
The ultimate goal of Care to Recycle is to increase recycling rates. We're focusing first on awareness – we know from the research we conducted with Cone that consumers need help understanding what can be recycled and how. That's why Care to Recycle is also a label we put on our readily recyclable packaging, like cartons, clear plastic bottles made of PET (#1 plastic) and other plastic bottles made of HDPE (#2 plastic).
Second, we're focusing on facilitating behavior change. At J&J, we touch a billion people every day – that's a billion opportunities to share a message, educate, inspire, learn and get better at what we do. The research confirmed our hunch that the farther people get from recycling bins, the less likely they are to recycle. We're currently working on removing that barrier by helping consumers put bins throughout their homes.
PYP: How does Care to Recycle fit in with J&J's larger sustainability initiatives?
PF: One of the most compelling reasons to care for our environment is simple math: our population is growing but our planet's resources are finite. According to the WWF's Living Planet Report, we're currently using the equivalent of 1.5 "Earths" to support our activities. And by 2050, that will double to three planets' worth of resources. Last time I checked, we only have one planet Earth. This means we have to do more with less, use more sustainable materials and recover and recycle as much as possible. We simply can't afford to have valuable raw materials held hostage in a hole in the ground where they are of no use to anyone. Recycling is one aspect of a larger aspiration we have to live in a world without waste someday because "our babies will inherit our planet" – the one and only planet we have to give them.
PYP: Seems like you have a true personal passion for sustainability. How did you first get involved in the field?
PF: I originally wanted to be a doctor – but I had to ditch pre-med when I realized I fainted at the sight of blood! Seriously, I always wanted a career that enabled me to help people. When I realized being a medical doctor wasn't in the cards, I shifted my focus to more macro-level issues that affect people – the health of our planet. Also, I've always loved the outdoors. Growing up at the Jersey Shore with a stepdad who made his living as a fisherman gave me an appreciation for how interconnected people are with the planet.
PYP: Saving people and the planet – it sounds like a superhero job description. So tell us, if you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?
PF: I would be ElastiGirl from "The Incredibles" because mentally, emotionally and physically it's all about flexibility, adaptability and resilience. ElastiGirl can flex and adapt to the needs of any situation, bounce back from adversity (literally) and stay grounded in her core self. I admire that.
PYP: You've accomplished so much in your career. What would you say is your biggest success, professional or personal?
PF: They are a work in progress but hands down, my proudest accomplishments are my kids. The greatest gift I can give future generations is to instill in my children empathy for all living things – people, plants, animals and our planet. We will need those capable hands to pay it forward.