Matthew Wasserman, senior manager of innovation systems design and management at Church & Dwight on North Harrison Street, likes to think of sustainability as the seat of a stool with three legs: the environment; the economy; and the society, or social well-being. The goal is for businesses to find a balance between making money and caring for the community, its employees, and the environment.
Focusing on only one of these legs to the extreme, while ignoring the others, will not create a sustainable business. “If you only care about the almighty dollar and do that at the expense of your employees and neighbors, you won’t be a sustainable business in the long term,” says Wasserman. “Or, if you are a ‘tree hugger,’ you will be relevant to only a small part of the population, and, from an economic point of view, that is not sustainability.”
Wasserman will speak on “Sustainability in the Business Community,” on Wednesday, August 20, at 8 a.m., at the Erdman Center at Princeton Theological Seminary. The presentation is sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce and costs $30 to attend. To register, go to www.princetonchamber.org, or call 609-924-1776.
It was when the Princeton Environmental Commission was looking to create its “Sustain Princeton” committee that Wasserman got seriously involved. When the commission asked Church & Dwight — with about 750 employees in Princeton, the second largest employer in the township after the hospital — to send a representative, the chief executive officer turned to Wasserman.
Through the committee, Wasserman learned that the borough and township, as well as area business and schools, wanted to work together to find ways to make a name for Princeton as a sustainable entity. Then, shortly after he joined the committee, Church & Dwight created its own office of sustainable development, which Wasserman oversees.
After a couple of months on the committee, Wasserman was asked to fill a vacancy on the Princeton Environmental Commission, and now he oversees the sustainability committee and is on the steering committee for the business task force, which is exploring how business and nonprofits can become more sustainable.
Through his work for the Princeton community and at Church & Dwight, Wasserman has learned something about how small and large businesses and entire communities can become more sustainable:
Take your own carbon footprint. Even though a tenant cannot dictate the types of windows or age of an air-conditioning unit, it is still worthwhile to ask the following questions: How much energy are we using and how much waste are we throwing out every day? Even a simple change, like keeping a door closed, could make a significant difference.
Put together a plan. This plan will address what is meaningful and doable based on a business’s circumstances. Perhaps it means purchasing a programmable thermostat that turns the heat way down when a store or office is empty. Or switching to fluorescent light bulbs, or placing a recycling bin inside a store that sells food items — essentially grabbing the proverbial low hanging fruit. Many progressive towns in California, such as Marin, as well as cities like Minneapolis have model websites that offer suggestions to businesses.
Join a local green campaign. For businesses willing to assess themselves, develop a plan, and make some changes, Princeton would like to offer stickers that indicate to potential customers that the businesses are green. “It lets people know these are the businesses in Princeton that are trying to make a difference,” says Wasserman. Sustainable Princeton is developing its own site, http://njssi.org/princeton.
Create a corporate sustainability report. This is a larger-scale effort used primarily by big corporations and organizations. Companies worldwide use the Global Reporting Index (at www.globalreporting.org), a list of guidelines for measuring what an organization is doing about the three legs of the sustainability stool; the index has been around since 2000. In the wake of issues like Nike’s brush with child labor in Asia, many companies are beginning to issue sustainability reports, and Church & Dwight is about to issue its first.
Develop metrics of sustainability. One area for metrics is the supply chain, from the sources of raw materials to the end use of products. It used to be cradle to grave, but more recently it is cradle to cradle, says Wasserman. “You think about using the waste of your product as a material for something else.” He cites TerraCycle, a Trenton company that uses wastes to create new earth-friendly products.
One set of metrics might involve the distance between raw materials and plants, and between plants and customers, determining how far raw materials and product have to travel. Or a metric may look at environmental damage caused by the extraction of raw materials. Wasserman asks, for example, “Am I clear cutting forests for fruits that become oils for my surfactants?” The goal is that what we do today should not aversely affect the next generations.
Another measurement is the amount of packaging used in products, with the goal of reducing it. Church & Dwight has come out with a new Essentials line of cleaners where, instead of selling a bottle of window cleaner that is 95 percent water, they are selling a bottle with a refill pack, and the customer will add water. Not only will this reduce packaging but also the gasoline and diesel fuels wasted shipping excess water around the country.
The product will also be biodegradable, using plant-based rather than oil-based surfactants. The company’s goal? “Let’s use the least amount of ingredients that the consumer needs rather than an excess that may be bad for the environment,” says Wasserman. The company is also planning for new versions of existing products to have less of an environmental footprint than previous versions.
Make internal changes that are good for the environment. Church & Dwight, for example, is working on a carpooling program, and many companies are switching to cleaner products. Wasserman himself rides a bicycle to work.
The Environmental Commission has made a lot of progress moving organizations in the community — the borough and township, businesses, and the university — to switch to recycled paper. “There is no reason to be using virgin paper,” says Wasserman. “Recycled may be a little more expensive, but given what is going on in the world, it is not very responsible not to switch.” Church & Dwight, he says, is now at 30 percent on recycled paper and is looking to move higher.
Create municipal joint purchasing for environmentally positive products. To support its drive to move the community to recycled paper and other cleaner products, the commission is looking into creating a joint-purchasing program to reduce prices, but will have to wait until existing individual contracts have run out.
Wasserman grew up in Philadelphia, where his father worked for the Philadelphia school district; his last role was as ombudsman, or shop steward. His mother worked for a long time as a nurse and more recently for U-Now daycare in Princeton.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1992 with a degree in chemical engineering, Wasserman worked eight years in Cincinnati and six months in Brussels as a process engineer for Product & Gamble. Then he moved to Church & Dwight as a product development engineer, eventually moving to business processes — stage-gate process as well as portfolio, resource, and project management. He describes his work as answering the question: What are the things we need to do with our company to effectively launch products? Adding the sustainability side was a natural extension.
The combined effects of oil going through the roof, global warming, and the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” says Wasserman, have made people realize not only that the environment is at risk, but that there is something we can do about it. Soon Princeton should have its own green business website and community buying program, and the commission is looking at a bagless community, as Whole Foods has done on Route 1.
“It is not just about how do we save the trees,” says Wasserman, “but how do we make our businesses, schools, and community a sustainable entity.”