Kimberly-Clark’s sustainability report tagline is “Essentials for a Better Life”. The maker of hygiene products goes little beyond the essentials in its latest sustainability report

Around the world at a couple of dozen plants and manufacturers, 84m rolls of toilet paper are created each day. That’s 31bn rolls annually. US-headquartered Kimberly-Clark all but invented this industry back at the turn of the last century when one of its subsidiaries, Scott Paper, marketed toilet tissue in rolls.

Along with getting global consumers to find the rolls indispensable (global per capita use tops 100 per year) Kimberly-Clark has popularised other iconic disposable hygiene products such as Kleenex tissues, Huggies nappies, Kotex sanitary pads, and Depend incontinence products. It is a profitable and growing sector. It’s also hugely energy- and resource-intensive to make these paper-based “essentials”. K-C’s global emissions in 2013 were 5.1m tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

In its report K-C, which had revenues of $21.2bn in 2013, concentrates on a formulaic cataloguing of its notable achievements – and admittedly there are many. This year’s report is the first to have a materiality matrix, which leads the report. Integrity, business conduct, and transparency scored very high in its matrix (above climate change concerns and waste management) and are areas where the company excels. K-C is proud of the fact that it is ranked sixth among the world’s best multinational workplaces by the Great Places to Work Institute.

K-C’s 2013 environmental achievements include completing six water reduction projects, including a wastewater recycling and reuse system at its Northfleet Mill, which helped it beat by 1.4% a goal to reduce water use by 25% by 2015 compared with a 2010 baseline. K-C increased the percentage of “environmentally innovative” products it sells from 22% to 37% and increased its waste diverted from landfill to 81.5% (from 2011’s 78.3%.) In Australia, K-C in 2013 launched FSC-certified Viva paper towels, which contain bamboo fibres. Bamboo is an important part of K-C’s fibre policy, which promotes moving away from wood, especially from natural forests, as part of ongoing sustainability efforts.

K-C’s GHG emissions reductions – 6.4% in reductions by 2013 compared to a 2010 baseline, are good, but not enough, its own independent Sustainability Advisory Board suggests. “I would encourage the company to set its ambitions and goals to a heightened level and speed required by the threat of a climate crisis, the pressures of deforestation and urban consumer waste, and the needs of communities suffering water, sanitation and food stresses,” says Claude Fussler, sustainability advisory board member, in the report.

One place where the company seemed to embrace a “stretch” goal was in packaging. K-C’s 2015 aim was for a 20% reduction in its packaging’s environmental impact. In 2013 it had achieved just a 4% reduction, though, and instead of redoubling its effort in its report the company says it is now “amending” that goal. Advisory board member Suhas Apte said in the 2013 report that recalibrating a metric just because it is hard to reach is not “good enough”.

Although K-C’s sustainability pillars are “People, Planet, and Products” and the company leads its 2013 report with its People section, the company announced in October 2014 that it would cut about 1,300 salaried employees (of a total of 57,000) in the near future, in the name of restructuring. To its credit, KC has provided these laid-off employees with a jobs hotline and job placement assistance.

Preparing a GRI G4 sustainability report is no casual undertaking, and in its 2013 report K-C does a competent and clear job of covering the “essentials”. There are no frills here, either in the report’s layout, which eerily is almost identical to the 2012 edition, or in its content, which includes practically none of the narrative case studies that are now the stock in trade of many corporate sustainability reports. It will be interesting to see in 2014’s report whether K-C will take some of its stakeholders’ admonishments to heart, and decide to stretch further beyond the essentials both in reporting style and action.


  • Follows GRI? Yes, GRI G4-1 and G4-2.
  • Assurance? Yes, by DNV Certification.
  • Materiality analysis? Yes. First this year.
  • Goals? Yes.
  • Targets? Yes, though may be set too low.
  • Seeks feedback? Yes, email addresses are prominently featured.
  • Key strength: No frills, solid reporting.
  • Chief weakness: Lack of visionary goals.
  • Pleasant surprise: Report allows browsers to cherry pick sections through an online “report builder”.
  • Level of integration: (1 to 5): 3

April Streeter is an associate with One Stone -


CR report review  CR Reporting  hygiene products  Kimberly clark  manufacturers 

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