Heroes & zeros: vol. 10

Procter & Gamble chemical works
Procter & Gamble chemical works, West Thurrock, Essex. Photo by Peter Scrimshaw

Hero: Procter & Gamble

Officials at Procter & Gamble (P&G), the world’s largest consumer product brand, announced in April that 25 per cent of the company’s 192 factories worldwide have achieved zero waste status. P&G defines zero waste as a site where no manufacturing waste ends up in a landfill, except hazardous materials. Another 20 locations are likely to be certified in the next year. “We have found ways to divert most of our major waste streams away from landfill, so we’re now seeing new sites achieve zero manufacturing waste to landfill nearly every month,” said Forbes McDougall, P&G’s global “zero waste to landfill” leader, in a press release. The company has set a long-term goal of operating with no manufacturing waste at every factory as it battles with competitor Unilever to establish itself as one of the world’s leading sustainable corporations.

Strict recycling procedures ensure that all refuse is collected in carefully delineated containers, which then become the responsibility of the site solution provider. The goal is to not only repurpose the remaining material, but also turn it into a revenue source. Assistance is provided by a global asset recovery purchasing team. Successes include a facility in Mexico that turns paper sludge left over from toilet paper manufacturing into cheap roof tiles used on houses in the area. In Hungary, waste left over from feminine care pads is sold as fuel for a cement plant. Over $1 billion in reduced landfill costs and new revenue has been generated for the company since the asset recovery team began its work in 2007.

These efforts have successfully reduced waste generated within P&G facilities, but only account for 4 per cent of the total raw material used by the company. The remaining 96 per cent is integrated into finished products. With 4.6 billion consumers worldwide, attempts to ensure zero consumer waste are likely to prove more challenging. A life-cycle analysis is needed for each product, along with efforts to shift consumer behaviour. As an example, the creation of detergents that require less rinsing and allow for cold water use are positive steps, but reducing the ecological footprint at the point of purchase, during use and through disposal all present unique challenges to achieving zero consumer waste.

Zero: BSG Resources

Officials in Guinea, West Africa, arrested an executive of BSG Resources (BSGR) in April in conjunction with a broader U.S. Department of Justice corruption probe. The arrest came a week after FBI agents arrested Frederic Cilins, an agent of BSGR, in Jacksonville, Florida, for allegedly attempting to cover up evidence of bribery. The diversified natural resource company is part of the privately held Beny Steinmetz Group of Companies, a consortium involved in the diamond business, capital markets and real estate. Beny Steinmetz is one of the wealthiest men in Israel, with an estimated net worth of $4.1 billion. The allegations of bribery stem from BSGR’s acquisition of the mineral rights to the Simandou iron-ore deposits in a remote part of south-eastern Guinea in 2008. Two weeks before president and strongman Lansana Conte died in December 2008, he revoked 50 per cent of mining giant Rio Tinto’s stake in Simandou. It was then acquired by BSGR for no upfront cost. In April 2010, Steinmetz Group sold 51 per cent of its stake to Brazilian mining giant Vale for $2.5 billion.

BSGR maintained a cozy relationship with the military junta that replaced Conte, but the 2010 democratic election of former opposition leader Alpha Conde spurred heightened scrutiny. Conde launched several probes into mining contracts issued by previous regimes, focusing on the Simandou concession. Working with billionaire investor George Soros, a group of investigators was established that claims to have unearthed incriminating evidence about the deal. Documents provided to the Financial Times and other news services showed several contracts, signed by BSGR representatives in 2007 and 2008, promising millions of dollars to the former president’s wife, Mamadie Toure, to take “all necessary steps” in securing access to the Simandou deposit. These documents were referenced in the FBI indictment against Cilins, who was filmed under surveillance in Jacksonville allegedly attempting to obtain and destroy the evidence from Toure. The Guinean government has stated its intention to strip BSGR’s mining rights if the allegations can be proven. Vale has refused to pay $2 billion it still owes to BSGR without further progress demonstrated on the mining project. Vale issued a statement distancing itself from the arrests, while stating its intention to cooperate with the investigation.

Click here to view our complete Heroes and Zeros series.

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