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PPG focuses on innovation by making a positive impact on the environment and by developing engagement, diversity, and awareness through unique human resources (HR) initiatives. The company addresses UN SGD #12, Responsible Consumption and Production, and UNSDG #10, Reduced Inequalities. PPG achieves decreased energy consumption through using the ECOPAINTJET system, which also helps eliminate waste and protect the environment. PPG reduces inequalities through innovation in their HR department by combining cultural workshops, informing employees about unrecognized biases, with listening and engagement sessions, where they listen to concerns of employees, leverage their knowledge, and encourage all to engage and speak out.
PPG is a company with a long history of innovation, starting as a plate glass company and innovating their way towards their status as the world's largest coatings company. Today, PPG has two distinct yet equally impactful areas for innovation: HR and the environment. PPG's HR innovation, the combination of cultural workshops and engagement sessions, enables them to hire and retain more diverse and productive employees. This is in pursuit of UNSDG #10, Reduced Inequalities. PPG's environmental innovation, the ECOPAINTJET system, applies coatings more efficiently, saving energy and materials and providing for environmentally responsible production. This is in pursuit of UNSDG #12, Responsible Consumption and Production. Because one innovation centers around production and the other centers around the business' operation, they combine to produce a company that is more efficient and socially responsible, creating a competitive advantage.
In HR, PPG has innovated by combining cultural workshops with listening and engagement sessions. Focusing on these innovations in the past five years, PPG implemented cultural workshops to teach employees how to be inclusive, respect the backgrounds of others, and recognize unconscious biases. Further, this is complemented with listening and engagement sessions, where PPG’s management learns from the inherent value of its employees, and all are encouraged to engage. This innovation was spearheaded by the Business HR department, for which our contact Ms. Zhou works, and funding was secured because of management commitment to the principle of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), as highlighted by the recent appointment of Marvin Mendoza as global head of DEI. PPG dedicates many website subpages to communicate their efforts to external stakeholders, and emails, message-boards, and focus groups communicate it to internal stakeholders.
To ensure production that is environmentally responsible, PPG has innovated through the formulation of a special product, called decorcoat paint, which allows them to use the ECOPAINTJET when coating automobiles. The ECOPAINTJET is a device that applies paint with no overspray (wasted paint). This targets UNSDG #12, Responsible Consumption and Production. This not only requires less paint per car but also alleviates the energy needed for air purifying equipment to remove wasted paint from the air. The creation of decorcoat paint, a special product capable of being applied this thinly, helps PPG meet its goal of “reducing energy consumption intensity by 15% by 2025”. This innovation was spearheaded by the research and development department and has been used globally by PPG since 2020. Top management provides extensive funding to R&D, enabling this innovation. It is communicated through the same effective techniques as the HR innovation.
The inspiration for PPG’s innovation to combine cultural workshops and listening sessions came from a desire to build a more diverse and inclusive team that would be more innovative and productive. From our interview, it was very clear, as our contact Isabella Zhou put it, that PPG is “very focused on the diversity and inclusion process”. Ms. Zhou explained that all levels of management began to see the need to promote cultural awareness and inclusivity and to leverage the immense resource that is PPG’s employees. The inspiration for the innovation began from the perspective of hiring. Ms. Zhou informed us that one early program was “extending the time [to apply] to develop a strategic candidate pool”. However, with the support of top management, these programs continued to grow, soon encompassing workshops managed by HR that brought together employees to discuss cultural awareness and inclusion. From this, the groundbreaking engagement workshops were created to gain a deeper, closer understanding of the feelings of the employees.
The inspiration for the integration of the ECOPAINTJET into PPG's production process came from a long-held understanding of PPG's industry. Isabella Zhou told us that "as a chemical company, [PPG] needs to be considerate of the environment". PPG's recognition that the products they create could harm the environment if care is not taken motivates them to find more efficient and responsible production methods. Further, saving resources not only helps the environment but reduces costs, providing further financial inspiration.
From these innovations, Isabella Zhou explained that she has more impact as an HR manager. She explained that PPG is in “a very established industry” and being at the heart of this change is very rewarding. The innovations empower her to directly impact employees, whether by creating a more supportive work environment or giving them a better opportunity to apply for a position. Ultimately, it also creates a more enjoyable work environment for all as employees feel proud to work for PPG.
There has been a significant overall impact from PPG’s implementation of cultural workshops combined with listening sessions and the ECOPAINTJET. These results impact both the business itself and society and the environment as a whole. The HR innovation has allowed the company to extend time to develop the candidate pool, which has led to significant strategic change in the company’s hiring process. Moreover, the ECOPAINTJET has provided materials, energy, and time savings for the company while also allowing for environmentally responsible production with room for expansion.
From our interview with Isabella Zhou, we learned that the HR department puts out an annual engagement survey each October to measure employees’ engagement. They see engagement as “a reflection of productivity”, so by focusing on employee engagement, the company finds new ways to maximize profit. Additionally, the company organizes new surveys about engagement each quarter, which are analyzed by HR. The quarterly reports and annual reports sent out by the HR department have boosted the focus on employee diversity and engagement. Moreover, Ms. Zhou explained that the innovation has given everyone a sense of ownership, in which everyone feels they have responsibility and are not afraid to speak up and provide feedback. However, she also elaborated on the long-term effects of the innovation, referring to the decades-long nature of the chemicals industry as a "traditional industry". Listening sessions and cultural workshops implemented by the company have been and will continue to be significant in helping to bring about change in the long term.
The ECOPAINTJET has had a similarly high level of impact on the company. In the short term, PPG can use this innovation to coat cars with less cost because less paint and energy is required. This provides a cost savings for them. They also experience the social benefit of producing in a more environmentally responsible manner. In the long term, PPG is looking to expand this technology. Ms. Zhou explained that the "Asia Pacific market [is an] upcoming big market", and using this technology there in higher volumes will amplify its impact. Further, the technology can be expanded to other markets such as aerospace and the marine industry.
The innovations of cultural workshops combined with engagement sessions and the ECOPAINTJET both provide substantial and growing benefits to PPG. The cultural workshops and engagement sessions help employees create a sense of community, interact well with each other, and ultimately become more productive. Productivity benefits the company, and as Ms. Zhou explained, “engagement is a function of productivity”. The ECOPAINTJET system, on the other hand, provides definitive cost savings to the business, both in energy and decreased materials needs. As its application expands, it will continue to save more money for PPG.
The implementation of listening sessions compounds with the cultural workshops to create an innovation that enables PPG to better appreciate the wisdom of its staff. Since everyone is encouraged to engage, listening sessions reduce any miscommunication within the company. These innovations result in a more cohesive, higher functioning, and wisdom-sharing combination of teams that maximize creativity as well as their value to the company, motivating employees with an increased sense of belonging. As a result, PPG hired 33% female employees in 2020, a substantial accomplishment considering the inequalities in workplace access in many countries. Ms. Zhou explained that “labor is a shortage”, so being able to employ more people benefits the company. Further, reducing inequality for women in the workforce directly addresses UNSDG #10, Reduced Inequalities.
Moreover, PPG has experienced clear benefits from their environmental innovation: the ECOPAINTJET. As a result of their environmental innovation, PPG has experienced a 42% reduction in their waste, as referenced from the 2017 baseline. They also have experienced a 24% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the same time. These statistics are found on PPG’s sustainability subpage, which Ms. Zhou noted is a valuable resource for up-to-date information on PPG's efforts that also directly demonstrates their skill in communicating their initiatives. These statistics speak to the objectives of the innovation, its cost savings, and compliance with UNSDG #12, Responsible Consumption and Production.
PPG’s HR and environmental innovations greatly benefit society. Through their HR innovation, combining the cultural workshops with the listening sessions, PPG has hired more diverse candidates by “celebrating candidates with different backgrounds”. This enables more people to have a chance to work for a company as established as PPG. Once these candidates are employed for PPG, these innovations enable them to achieve greater success within the company. The environmental innovation, the ECOPAINTJET, benefits society by reducing the environmental impact of the necessary products and services created by PPG. Using less energy burns less fossil fuel, and wasting less paint provides for less environmental disturbance.
In explaining the innovation, Isabella Zhou noted that “less employee turnover is a key indicator of the effectiveness” of the innovations. While decreased turnover benefits the company, it also indicates increased satisfaction on behalf of PPG's employees. With thousands of people employed by PPG, this benefits society. Further, the dramatic rise in management positions held by female employees, now 25.5% in 2020, demonstrates that PPG not only hires a more diverse pool of candidates but also helps them in their professional successes through this HR innovation. Having more female managers helps reduce inequalities in the workplace (UNSDG #10). Ms. Zhou noted that PPG stays aware of the feelings of their employees by having “senior leaders meet the employees on the ground [and] understand what they see from their perspective”.
The environmental innovation of the ECOPAINTJET also provides a dramatic benefit to society. With PPG now expanding this technology to the aerospace and marine industries, its already proven impact will be magnified. As a result, 35% of PPG’s sales now come from “sustainably advantaged products and services”. The ECOPAINTJET is a key innovation in this, and because all of society shares the same Earth, protecting it through environmentally responsible production (UNSDG #12) is a clear societal benefit. In addition to the quantitative benefits of decreased fossil fuel and natural resource dependence, this innovation enhances the reputation of the company. This qualitative impact makes the many communities in which PPG operates benefit from both environmental responsibility and the positive association with a company known to be sustainable.
Isabella Zhou, HR Manager
PPG is a manufacturer of coatings, paints and special materials that operates around the world. PPG was founded in 1883 by John B. Ford and John Pitcairn when they started the first successful plate glass factory in Creighton, PA. The main focus of their enterprise was said to be innovation in quality. As the years went on, PPG was constantly evolving. For example, during WWII the company developed laminated aircraft glass for the military. As automobiles became more and more popular in the 1960s, PPG introduced an electrodeposition coating process, eliminating rust on cars. After acquiring AkzoNobel in 2013, a North American coatings company, PPG became the largest coatings manufacturer in the world.