S.C. Johnson is a family-owned business that produces many of the well-known household cleaning brands used by consumers every day: Pledge, Mr. Muscle, and Ziplock. While many of the company’s products have more than a tangential connection to environmental issues, perhaps most prominently the production and disposal of potentially hazardous chemicals, they are not on par with companies such as Exxon or that have a much greater connection to the environment. The company’s sustainability report is built around four “holistic” goals: Improving our products; reducing resource use; strengthening communities and; protecting families. These four goals not only are meant to reinforce the company’s brand, but also serve as the key strategic guideposts for promotion of the company’s sustainability efforts and brand.
Although only implicitly referred to in the report, S.C. Johnson intertwines its marketing strategy for providing quality, transparent household products to families with a larger message concerning environmental sustainability and the safety of ingredients used. Thus, the sustainability strategy serves as a key plank of the company’s marketing strategy as it reinforces claims of the product’s environmentally friendly and safe nature for use. This marketing strategy likely says two things: 1) The company is quite savvy to preempt concerns regarding its products safety and sourcing through developing a robust sustainability campaign; 2) The company ultimately views the value of brands tied to the value of efforts to advertise and emphasize how they are made.
S.C. Johnson also tries to embed components of its business model into different sustainability activities. As some of the examples highlighted below will illustrate, the sustainability efforts directly tie into the business model, creating and educating future consumers of the company’s products while also building the company’s profile in the community.
S.C. Johnson sources many of the ingredients for its products from developing countries in East Africa. While this is a valuable relationship for both sides, S.C. Johnson has been very proactive in managing public perceptions regarding its supply chain, focusing on giving back to the community and supporting community development initiatives in order to deflect potential criticism.
For example, the report expounds upon a 2006 initiative in Kenya that focused on “Community Cleaning Services” in the slums of Nairobi. The initiative blended the company’s cleaning products with an urgent need in the community: The cleaning of local bathrooms in areas where hygiene plays an important part in maintaining community health and dignity. This initiative helps to build the company’s image both in Kenya and abroad as a responsible corporate stakeholder with a key long-term interest in the country’s development.
The company also expounded upon its efforts in the war-torn country of Rwanda. Rwandan farmers are a key producer of pyrethrum (py), a natural insecticide extract of chrysanthemum flower used in the company’s products. The company also partners with other organizations in order to make sure that more productive farming techniques are used and that an appropriate living wage is paid to farmers.
S.C. Johnson has a need to show different activities in different countries in order to show they are responsible to different stakeholder concerns. Particularly in addressing such complex environmental issues associated with farming and product development, the company needs to manage different elements that are important- as the examples in Kenya and Rwanda show, these issues may differ by country.
S.C. Johnson Brands. Available at S.C. Johnson Corporate web site.
S.C. Johnson Corporate History. Available at S.C. Johnson Corporate web site.
S.C. Johnson Sustainability Report 2010.
S.C. Johnson Web Site