Colgate-Palmolive is a 200-year-old company with iconic brands, but that doesn’t mean they’re resting on their laurels. As part of their 2025 Sustainability and Social Impact Strategy, Colgate is working towards its goal for 100% of its packaging to be recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. As such, Colgate worked with MIT Sloan Action Learning’s Sustainable Business Lab (S-Lab) on a project for their French business to develop innovative ways for Colgate to transition to reusable and refillable toothpaste packaging.
Colgate’s strategy is especially important due to the European Green Deal and the E.U.’s vision for Europe as a net-zero economy, coupled with an anti-waste law in France that mandates a phase-out of single-use plastic packaging by 2040.
The S-Lab team, which included MBA students Rachel Davidson, Molly Wartenberg, and Nwakaego Uzoh, and Integrated Design and Management students Andrea Quiros and Zach Sternberg, were up to the challenge to help Colgate meet these new standards.
The team was tasked with identifying initial solutions for relying on refillable and/or reusable toothpaste packaging by 2040, without compromising on consumer safety or satisfaction.
“Policy and legislation can often be the single driver behind true impact and change, and the opportunity to get in at the ground level with the company’s flagship product was super exciting,” says Sternberg.
The team conducted research into Colgate’s current toothpaste packaging, quality assurance and logistics process, the French oral care market, and current refill and reuse solutions. Ultimately, the team produced a final report across departments outlining four models for toothpaste refill, as well as a preliminary comparison and elaboration of key considerations and barriers to success, complete with a timeline and next steps for implementation. They also included initial pilot recommendations for next year.
Our hosts were definitely impressed by the design work and the approach of our recommendations. We did our best to effectively leverage the varied skills and experience of our team.
The group is especially proud that they were able to reach stakeholders across the company, ranging from operations to marketing to manufacturing, behind a shared mission.
“Alignment across system stakeholders is everything. It became clear to me that the main value we could offer Colgate was a document that could help communicate the importance of reusability for their company to activate the strategies outlined. Sustainability departments tend to be siloed; we aimed to help them breach departmental boundaries,” Quiros says.