Interview: Procter & Gamble—commitment to advancing healthy oral care habits and sustainability
Celeste Giganti obtained her master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Palermo in 2004. She joined Procter & Gamble right after graduating, and after several roles in Feminine Care and Baby Care, she joined Oral Care’s newly established sustainability team in 2020. She is the Oral Care R & D director for sustainability in Europe and for manual toothbrushes globally. During the Mobile World Congress (MWC), which took place in Barcelona from 28 June to 1 July, she gave a presentation on P&G Oral Care’s newest sustainability commitments to advancing healthy oral care habits and helping to transform the health of people while reducing the impact on our planet.
Ms Giganti, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. Oral-B’s vision is to advance oral care habits, help transform the health of people and reduce the impact on our planet. Can you tell me more about the “Healthy Smiles. Healthy Lives. Healthy Planet.” platform?
Besides being a platform for the brands Oral-B and Crest, “Healthy Smiles. Healthy Lives. Healthy Planet.” is also P&G’s vision. The reason for this is simple: dental caries and other dental diseases are widespread globally and affect the overall health of countless people. Just look at Type 2 diabetes—scientists confirm that bad dental hygiene can lead to a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. Poor oral hygiene furthermore seems to promote cardiovascular diseases and even Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, P&G wants to support healthy oral care habits for everyone, leading not only to healthy smiles but also to healthy lives. At the same time, P&G is paying attention to a healthy planet by producing long-lasting high-quality products and recyclable packaging, because sustainability is an equally important factor for our health.
High density polyethylene (HDPE), though considered safe and inducing a relatively low toxicity, has been shown to possibly leach chemicals. What is your opinion?
HDPE has a comparatively high density compared with other polymers. It is relatively hard and resistant to impact and can be subjected to temperatures of up to 120°C without being affected. These durable properties make it perfect for heavy-duty containers, and HDPE is primarily used for milk, juice and drinks containers as well as for shampoo and detergent bottles. HDPE also does not absorb liquid readily, making it a good barrier material for liquid containers. Almost a third (around eight million tons) of HDPE produced worldwide is used for these types of containers. HDPE offers the right criteria of durability, flexibility, and a high level of recyclability across most of our countries, and this is why we have chosen it for our toothpaste tubes. On top of that, we have worked with our suppliers to ensure that the HDPE tube materials have food grade certification.
There is a rising trend in trying to reduce plastic waste. Is P&G considering the “bring your own container” trend in distributing its products such as toothpastes? Would glass containers be something feasible, for example?
At P&G, we are watching this trend in the food sector with great excitement. As toothpaste is a completely different product compared with foods like flour, sugar, rice, etc., it has different needs in packaging. For example, protection against light and oxygen is essential for toothpaste. Therefore, the system of “bring your own container” wouldn’t work for this hygienic product yet.
Could you expand on Oral-B’s educational endeavours? Education seems to take place mainly via dental care providers, and I’m not sure that the message is being passed on to the patients as it should be.
Education regarding oral health is an important topic for Oral-B. Therefore, we use two ways to reach the patient target group (simply put, this is made up of every person of every age group). As you said, on the one hand, we focus on dentists, dental hygienists and other dental experts to spread educational content. This works relatively well, as their patients place a great deal of trust in their opinions. On the other hand, we also try to reach people outside of the dental office. This works best in print and online media as well as on social media channels like Instagram or TikTok. Here, we collaborate with experts and influencers who spread new scientific data and tips for good oral hygiene.
In your presentation at MWC, you talked about Oral-B’s Click manual toothbrush, which allows the replacement of brush heads, and you also mentioned the launch of your bamboo toothbrush. Do you plan a replaceable brush head for the bamboo toothbrush as well?
We continuously look for innovation. However, regarding the bamboo brush, we are not planning yet to have a replaceable brushing head.
What about a round brush head for both the manual and the bamboo toothbrush?
The round head cleans efficiently in combination with the oscillating-rotating movement (both with pulsation and with micro-vibrations) of our electronic toothbrushes. The performance would not be the same on a manual toothbrush, so no, at the moment, we are not considering having a round head on a manual toothbrush.
In relation to improving healthcare, Oral-B is a great advocate of the electric toothbrush, which is highly recommended by dentists. You also mentioned in your presentation that adopting an electric toothbrush early in life is important. If we consider sustainability and reducing waste, it seems unlikely that this product will contribute to sustainability. Are you working on ways to make it more sustainable?
For hygienic reasons, every toothbrush needs to be replaced from time to time. This holds for manual toothbrushes as well as for the replaceable brush heads of electric ones. Oral-B helps to reduce waste in the area of electric toothbrushes by producing high-quality and long-lasting products that rarely need to be replaced. The new Oral-B iO toothbrush is even better, as the batteries can be removed, disposed of, and replaced.
When talking about sustainability, we should also never forget the health factor: prevention promotes good health and leads to higher levels of sustainability in a social context. For this reason, the United Nations ranked “good health and well-being” as number three of its 17 sustainable development goals. Oral-B helps to reach this goal by offering high-quality products for dental care.
“When talking about sustainability, we should also never forget the health factor: prevention promotes good health and leads to higher levels of sustainability in a social context”
Could you tell me how you are engaging your partners and suppliers around their own energy usage, water waste and emissions and whether you are happy with the outcomes?
We engage with the majority of our partners and suppliers on an annual basis around their environmental impact through the P&G supplier citizenship survey. We encourage all suppliers to use 100% renewable electricity, set science-based targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, and aim at zero manufacturing waste to landfill. Those belonging to water intensive industries or located in high water stressed basins are encouraged to establish a water stewardship programme and set ambitious water reduction targets. P&G’s supplier citizenship survey assesses vendors’ overall citizenship, including not only environmental impact but also ethics and corporate governance, equality and inclusion, and community impact. The overall supplier citizenship is taken into account in business allocation decisions, and through our supplier performance action plans, we are continuously elevating the citizenship standards of our vendors year on year. P&G is committed to providing products and services of superior quality and value to the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come.
Sustainability also means responsibility. What are P&G’s conflict mineral policies and how are they implemented in tracing the origins of tin, tantalum and tungsten?
We’re committed to ensuring that we are not sourcing minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) that fund armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and adjoining countries. We do not ban sourcing of minerals from this region, because such a policy may harm legitimate miners. We’re taking steps across our entire supply chain to confirm our sourcing does not fund armed groups in the DRC and adjoining countries.