Guardian Sustainable Winner

Product sustainability

 

 

bitc tick 2014

Boots UK received a Big Tick award in 2014 (reaccredited in 2015) from Business in the Community for ‘Sustainable Products and Services”. Read more here

As both a product developer and retailer with over 2,500 stores in the UK, Boots is a household name everyone knows and loves. We bet you will have at least one of our brands at home, be it No7 on your dressing table or Soltan in the bathroom cabinet.

We create and supply thousands of products that our customers love and, with a presence on thousands of high streets, we are an important part of local communities. So it’s crucial we understand both the social and environmental impact of our business, in order to help ensure a sustainable future.

We’ve been working on this for many years already. We continually build our knowledge base, both from within the business as well as via external experts, to allow us to make a genuine difference.

This approach allows us to drive product innovation that delights our customers, while ensuring that we continue to protect and improve the environment and local communities within our supply chains around the world.

Our product journey

When you are moisturising your skin or relaxing in a bubble bath, do you ever think about all the different steps it takes to take a product from the seed of an idea through to products you buy for yourself and your family?

It can take more than three years to get a new product idea onto our shelves. Every single product will have different environmental and ethical impacts at different stages in the journey the product takes along the supply chain: from concept and design, through to customer use and final disposal of the packaging and any waste product. This is true for both product formulations and the packaging designs.

Product Journey

At the same time as creating products that have specific health or beauty benefits, our product teams also work to understand and map the product journey to help us measure the sustainability of our products. For example, when we think about a product, we take action to minimise risks such as resource scarcity and potential ethical and social issues within our global supply chains, as well as optimising the impacts of raw material inventories and packaging choices within the product journey.

Taking this “whole life” approach helps us make the right decisions and provides the basis of our product sustainability strategy.

Reducing our product footprints

We have developed a web-based tool that is used to quickly and simply analyse and score 24 environmental and ethical indicators throughout a product's entire lifecycle. How the scoring system is used can be seen in the product sustainability footprint examples below.

To make sure that the tool was robust and delivering science-led results it was peer reviewed by Forum for the Future (a non-profit organisation which works globally with business and government to create a sustainable future).

Take a look at the following video to see how it works.

How does this help?

This process helps us create a sustainability profile, or “footprint”, for any product or range of products. We then:

  • Score and compare the relative performance of individual ingredients, products and entire product ranges.
  • Identify any “hotspots” (high risk areas)
  • Produce a database of sustainability performance data.

From this, we can start to work on how we might improve the sustainability of individual products and ranges, and set ourselves well-focused improvement targets to measure against.

An initial sustainability
footprint example
Boots sustainability chart before
An improved sustainability
footprint example
Boots sustainability chart after
 

Product development and technical staff at both our Nottingham support office and our product sourcing office in Hong Kong are using this sustainability model as well as some of our suppliers.

We have used this process to assess products within seven Boots cosmetics and toiletries brands, and from the insights gained, we set sustainability objectives for the future development of these brands.

Our Botanics toiletries brand uses this process to define sustainability objectives for both products and packaging. As a result new products are able to be developed with significant improvements in their sustainability footprint.

Research and collaboration

We believe that collaboration is the only way to tackle complex, global sustainable development issues. We do this by working with other experts in the field including policy makers, academia and NGOs (non-government organisations) such as pressure groups and charities.

For example:

  • We are steering group members of the Circular Economy Task Force, which we also sponsor. This Government backed group is working to address resource opportunities and concerns, disseminate leadership thinking and provide a forum for policy innovation. It is a partnership between government and selected representatives from leading businesses, with assistance from a number of specialist advisers
  • University teams such as Loughborough University and Nottingham Trent University: Working on joint research projects looking at sustainable product design and developing sustainable business models
  • Boots UK is a member of the Sustainability Leaders Forum, a group of major international businesses whose aim is to share insights and best practice in product sustainability
  • We have used the data from our product sustainability assessments to help the government's Waste Resources Action Programme. This involves working with their Product Sustainability Forum to develop a strategy on achieving more sustainable use of resources over the entire lifecycle of products, throughout the whole supply chain
  • In conjunction with WRAP and INCPEN we have carried out research into Unintentional Product Waste in consumer products. INCPEN have published the findings as a guidance document “The Bit at the Bottom”