For Procurement Heads‘ latest CPO Spotlight, Jessica spoke with Rupert Gaster about her career and why Essity places such importance on sustainability.

Could you tell us about your background and your journey into becoming CPO at Essity?

I am from Sweden, born and raised on Hising Island, which is part of Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden. 

I have a master’s degree in chemical engineering, and I also have a diploma in industrial marketing and procurement, I like to further myself. 

My career has taken me to several exciting multi-national companies; ExxonMobil, Ericsson and Volvo. 

Mostly in Sweden and also in other countries throughout my career, for the majority in roles with global responsibility. 

I have had the opportunity to work in many areas, analytics, sales, business development and strategy and supplier quality. 

Most of my career has been in the wonderful world of procurement which never ceases to amaze me.

I would describe myself as a person who wants to continually broaden her horizons and challenge myself, I enjoy complex situations. 

For six years now I have been the CPO for Essity, which is a global health and hygiene company.

You were recently named in CPOstrategy’s Sustainable Procurement Champion’s Index; how did it feel to be recognised?

Well, getting recognised is positive by human nature and for something which is close to your heart it is even better. 

I felt very proud, it is a circle of people that I am very proud to be named with and included with and I am in a position of influence as are the others in the index. 

With my influence, I can make an impact and I want that impact to be positive. 

So, you could say that being recognised in the index is a pleasure but also a responsibility.

With many of Essity’s products being single-use, how much of a sustainable challenge does that present to you and the team?

It is a major challenge. 

The large majority of our products are single-use and at the same time, they are crucial to the wellbeing of people. 

The products and services that we provide at Essity play an important role in improving the wellbeing and quality of life for people at various stages of life. 

For example, many young girls worldwide avoid going to school when they are having their period. 

And many people avoid leaving their homes and avoid certain activities because of incontinence.

I think that our solutions for example create the conditions for people to participate more in everyday life and to live more actively. 

Am I proud of what we do at Essity to enable people to live fuller lives? Yes, definitely! 

Is that a sustainability challenge? Yes, it is a major challenge.

So, what can I do in my role? My organisation can ensure that the products we provide are as sustainable as possible. 

Through supplier innovation, collaboration, and efficient negotiations so that our customers can afford to make sustainable choices that match their needs. 

I think procurement plays a very active role within Essity and I think that makes it interesting and also a large responsibility. 

We are on a very interesting journey in regards to reusable products, if you look at the last two years we have launched washable underwear which is leakproof underwear for women and we just launched the hybrid diaper which is the semi-reusable diaper so it is reusable cloth diaper covers and disposable inserts. 

It kind of throws you back to the 70s but it is much better, I think that for us to make it easy for our customers to use sustainable products they have to be easy to use. They have to fulfil the needs and they have to have an acceptable price point.

I was also talking earlier about young girls who choose maybe not to go to school when they have their period because they are afraid it will leak on their clothes or they can’t afford period products. 

For them, sustainability is maybe not at the top of their mind but for us, it is important to service a need, for example, we have now launched this menstrual cup which is a plastic cup which you can use for months and months and is simply sanitised when needed. 

I think it is an exciting journey that I am very happy to be part of where procurement plays an active role.

Why do you think Essity places such importance on sustainability?

I think simply for one it is good business, from a business standpoint sustainability is a strategic priority for long-term profitable growth. 

I think our sustainability contributes to a better environment while also increasing the competitiveness of the company and I think we are basing our sustainability work on three sustainability platforms. 

It is wellbeing, more from less and circularity. 

With those three done trying to create true value together with our customers, our partners and society and that includes also our very important supplier base. 

We are as we are a global company in the hygiene business, we are talking a lot about wellbeing to promote awareness and break the social stigma. 

For me, that is also sustainability as they are often linked to certain periods of life that consumers use our products. 

They can be menstruation, and incontinence but also chronic conditions such as endometriosis, and lymphoedema. 

Then maybe what more people associate with sustainability, which is: more from less. 

Really striving to use fewer resources but maximising the customer value to make sure we are having good performance to serve customer’s needs but also focus on resource efficiency. 

Then of course we need to move towards a circular society, for example, recycling paper towels. 

I don’t think that it is just the business side which makes Essity place such importance on sustainability, I think that it is also attracting talent and engaging employees which are in the end also business as it will make us more successful, but it is in our culture, and it is in the heart of everything we do and what we do makes a difference. 

Most employees also think it is our responsibility to be sustainable. 

We are big and we have a responsibility. 

How does that feed into innovation?

We are developing products and solutions that require less material and that use low-carbon materials in the production, so we are going more towards bio-based materials we are going towards thinner materials and trying to service our customers and consumers in an equal way with more sustainable innovation and key strategies within Essity focus on our reusable products and designing to reduce consumption. 

How does that then feed into innovation? 

Well, we have sustainable innovations that are measured as the share of the revenue from innovations launched in the most recent three years. 

So, the Essity group target is that at least 50% of the company’s innovations should yield either social and or environmental improvements and in 2021 that outcome was 59%, so we are actually measuring how much of our innovations are sustainable. 

I think that is important to have these very tangible CPIs and of course, Essity has also signed up to the science-based targets where also procurement has a very important role to play regarding supplier innovation and development work with our suppliers and that is always also taking into account our innovation projects. 

Essity’s motto is ‘Making a difference every day’ how does procurement help Essity to achieve this?

The motto has been changed to ‘breaking barriers to wellbeing’ and I think that it is very important that we have a commitment to responsible procurement which we have stated in the Essity global suppliers’ standard and the supplier code of conduct that our highest priority is the wellbeing of our customers and consumers. 

And procurement can help the organisation achieve that by seeking that we are working with innovative supplier partners that have high quality and are reliable to work with so that our customers and consumers can rely on our part of this process. 

We are here to support so that our consumers can live life to the fullest and of course, we are also procuring marketing services, and media services on how to communicate with our customers and consumers and that is also a role to play for procurement.

Where do your passions lie in your role?

I think for me as a leader in general I really enjoy seeing people develop. 

To become their best self, in the workplace and if I can facilitate that, that is a passion of mine, to inspire, to coach and provide opportunities for the organisations. 

One of the reasons why I really like procurement is that the day-to-day of the role is very varied, it is intense, you have a plan and things happen you need to collaborate with different functions and colleagues to reach the best possible solution for the company, so I think that my passion in the day to day is that it requires collaboration, creativity and quick thinking. 

What is next for procurement and supply chain at Essity?

From a sustainability standpoint, we keep working towards these science-based targets in 2030. 

Global procurement’s part of that is to reduce global emissions by 80% at that time with 2016 as a baseline and we are at 60% now so we work as quickly as we can so that we are already on the way to net zero. 

For fresh fibre, which has always been one of our largest expenditures, it has always been important for us to have full traceability of the fibres and now we are expanding that to look deeper into the topic of biodiversity so there is always room to learn and to develop I would say. 

If you look at the supply chain as a whole and include our production side, I would say that some of the major objectives are fossil fuel-free production, resource efficiency and zero production waste. 

So that ultimately all Essity products and services will be designed to promote sustainable consumption and behaviour where everything is utilised, and nothing is wasted.

I am very excited to be part of that journey.

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