When it comes to Procter & Gamble and the environment, big changes are afoot. At the same time, accolades are pouring in for sustainable innovations like greener packaging and safer detergents.

Procter & Gamble has embarked upon an ambitious sustainability plan that includes improving the environmental profile of its own operations and reaching out to the community to promote greener habits and even deliver clean drinking water to children in need.

According to the company’s environmental reports, upon which most of this article is based, Procter & Gamble established its five strategies for sustainability in 2007, increased its goals in 2009 and was rewarded with a place among the Top 100 Most Sustainable Companies of 2009 at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In March 2010, the company announced the expansion of its Future Friendly educational initiative.

"With Future Friendly, we're trying to educate 'mainstream' consumers on how to conserve natural resources in their homes," Melanie Healey, P&G group president for North America, said in a company news release.

Procter & Gamble seeks to make the most meaningful impact possible in five target areas: products, operations, social responsibility, employees and stakeholders.

Sustainable Product Innovation

Procter & Gamble’s packaging innovations have proven that small changes add up fast.

The company has cut back on waste through surprisingly simple packaging makeovers, like producing an ultra-concentrated liquid laundry detergent, eliminating bulky “clam shell” cosmetic packaging and fitting more pills into a single blister pack.

In fact, simply altering the design of the pump on Olay Total Effects anti-aging moisturizers is expected to save 800,000 pounds of plastic per year – the weight of a Boeing 747.

Making Procter & Gamble Plants Greener

Procter & Gamble set out to improve its resource management in four key areas of its manufacturing processes: energy usage, CO2 emissions, waste disposal and water usage.

Since July 2002, the company has made remarkable progress, reducing all four environmental footprints by an average of 50 percent.

All of these efforts are contained within P&G’s systematic Product Supply Sustainability approach.

For example – have you ever wondered where waste materials like wood pulp and outdated mascara end up? Instead of just tossing them in a landfill, Procter & Gamble works with external partners to find incredibly creative reuses for these materials. Thanks to this approach, there have been such creative solutions as using scrap feminine pads to fuel kilns at a Budapest cement factory.

Improving the Lives of Children

Procter & Gamble’s Live, Learn & Thrive initiative has reached more than 135 million children, helping them gain access to medical care, clean drinking water and education.

Through P&G brands like Tampax, Pampers and Safeguard, this initiative has built sanitation facilities in rural China, provided puberty education to girls in the developing world and much more.

The Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program uses P&G’s PUR water purifying technology to turn potentially deadly water into clean, drinkable water.

Since the program began in 2004, 1.6 billion liters of clean water have been delivered in more than 50 countries, saving more than 8,300 lives.

Helping Employees Think Green

Of course, for Procter & Gamble’s sustainability to be truly successful, every employee must be dedicated to making greener choices both at work and at home. P&G drives employee engagement with the “Take the R for Tomorrow” program, urging each individual to take responsibility for the next step.

A weeklong Earth Day celebration in 2008 was just the beginning.

Employees aren’t just taught about opportunities to go greener or asked to participate in recycling programs, they’re encouraged to take an active role in meeting P&G’s sustainability goals.

An Idea Challenge produced 130 great proposals for reducing energy, water and paper while the Employee Sustainability Challenge translated the green actions of employees into a two-million-liter donation through P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water program.

Transparency with Stakeholders

Procter & Gamble isn’t keeping its environmental practices behind closed doors.

Its annual sustainability report is just one way in which the company seeks to engage in an ongoing conversation with its stakeholders about important issues like climate change, animal welfare and the responsible procurement of resources like wood pulp and palm oil.

P&G invites stakeholders to play a part in finding answers to these pressing issues, and provides assurance of the many ways in which sustainable action can benefit the company financially.