SC Johnson Chief Fisk Johnson Dives Deep, Goes Wide Against Plastic Wastes

Fisk Johnson is making waves when it comes to putting his consumer-products company, SC Johnson, on the front lines of the plastic-waste issue, from personally diving into the South Pacific Ocean to pressuring fellow business leaders within an industry association.

Johnson’s rising activism against plastic ocean wastes may seem curious for the chairman and CEO of a company whose brands — including Windex, Glade and Ziploc baggies — use so much plastic in their products and packaging. But Johnson comes from a line of pioneering and stalwart environmentally minded business leaders, and he’s taking it upon himself to make sure the Racine, Wisconsin-based CPG giant stays on the cutting edge as consumers’ sustainability concerns rise.

“The whole issue of plastic waste from our products going into landfills is the single biggest environmental issue for our company,” Johnson told Chief Executive. “And with respect to other companies, the issue of plastic in the ocean has gotten a tremendous amount of attention in the last 12 months.

“Personally, I think that’s a great thing because that will help us solve the issue. People need to recognize it as a problem out there before they can tackle it. It has gotten a lot of companies’ attention. If there’s one thing that makes a business move quickly, it’s demand from their consumers.”

Johnson has been out front on this issue in a number of ways, symbolically as well as substantively. In March, for instance, SC Johnson announced a partnership with Oceanic Society to build public awareness around the not-for-profit organization’s conservation goals. The joint “global engagement campaign” includes “five exclusive explorations of key ocean habitats,” including Johnson’s personal trip to Palau, an archipelago in the Pacific, to dive with scientists.

And last fall, Johnson was in Indonesia to help unveil a mobile plastics-collection center with David Katz, CEO of Plastic Bank, another NGO. Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand account for ore than half of the plastic waste making its way into the ocean, found a 2015 report by McKinsey and the Ocean Conservancy. Indonesia was pledging to provide $1 billion a year to reduce plastic pollution.

SC Johnson also has committed to making all of its plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025; tripling the amount of post-consumer recycled plastic content in SC Johnson packaging by 2025; and other steps.

Not surprisingly, Fisk Johnson’s increasing push on the plastic-waste issue has begun rubbing some plastic interests the wrong way. The company recently told environmentalists in a letter that it disagrees with the Plastics Industry Association – of which the company is a member — over the group’s opposition to bans on single-use plastics, according to Plastics News.

“SC Johnson’s position is that certain kinds of plastic bans can provide an important benefit,” Johnson wrote in a January 15 letter to Sierra Club. “Plastic straw bans, for example, while not solving the overall waste problem, do bring the issue front and center in people’s minds.

“As far as the Plastics Industry Association is concerned, we have been supportive of several of their initiatives; however, in the context of bans our positions diverge.”

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Read more: How SC Johnson’s CEO Elevates Transparency In An Unlikely Industry

Dale Buss: Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.