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3 Sustainability Insights Inspired by the Lyrics of an 80's Pop Song 3 Sustainability Insights Inspired by the Lyrics of an 80's Pop Song

Environmental scientist and chemist Bert Verstappen has lived and worked around the world: Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Belgium. He's also studied firsthand what many people ignore: that is, what happens to products once they become so-called "waste." Why does he call himself "an optimist" about environmental challenges?

Find out, and learn how you can join him today.


Rethinking "Waste"


At a certain point in Bert's career he started to ask himself, "What does the concept of 'waste' even mean?" The category itself bugged him. "To produce one gram of gold," he pointed out, "takes approximately one metric ton of ore—or something like 41 smartphones."

The takeaway was clear in his mind: Things we discard as waste retain a lot of value.

The more Bert thought about it, the more he noticed the contrast between human processes, which generate waste as an end-product, and natural processes, which do not.

Take your average apple trees, for example, Bert suggested. "As the apple tree grows, apples become ripe, fall to the ground and are eaten by animals or by one of us humans. The rest get consumed by insects or microorganisms."

Unlike our "linear ways of thinking,” he observed, nature seems to "treat materials in a much more circular way."

And as if sewn by an apple tree, the seed of an idea was planted.


Divination From the Diva


Enter Madonna: Bert at one point referred to her as "that ancient philosopher," for he drew inspiration from the chance overlap between the lyrics to her 1985 anthem "Material Girl" and his own evolving environmental insights.

How so?

For one, he realized the challenge was to "rethink the very concept of waste." And that's a pretty profound challenge, considering (as the song's chorus relentlessly reminds) You know that we are living in a material world!

Bert's counterpoint harmony?

"Living in a material world? Yes, we are. But can we find a more circular approach?"

Today, as Principal Expert on Environment and Sustainability at Johnson & Johnson, in fact, finding such circular approaches is his whole focus right now. Thanks to those efforts, what's more, we've been circling in on some pretty significant environmental milestones of late.

"I'm always thinking about the bigger picture," Bert explained. "All my work is grounded in the three P's of sustainability: people, the planet and prosperity."


Circling In On Impact


How exactly are Bert’s insights driving sustainability outcomes at Johnson & Johnson right now?

Take one Janssen site that manufactures critical medicines, for example: "We're now able to close the material loops and recycle specific chemicals during the production of our active compounds in a very innovative way, which we call ‘Plant on a Truck.'"

He added, "We’re constantly expanding the scope of these concepts to make them more impactful. We’re really pioneering this idea of circular economy, so it's a tremendously exciting time for us."

Of course, that's just one aspect of the impact Bert is driving today. Another core component of his work is to ensure that we live up to our commitments on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a global framework for progress toward a more sustainable future.

That's a pretty big mission, to be sure, but Bert is confident about our ability to deliver.

"Ultimately, I'm an optimist," he said. "I know that we can find—and that we are finding—ways of changing our current patterns of consumption. I'm very proud of the ways Johnson & Johnson is advancing new forms of circular economy in the pharmaceutical space."

Join Bert Today


Bert Verstappen, Principal Expert Environment & Sustainability, Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Anyone who shares Bert's optimism—and wants to change the way we all think and act around sustainability—will find a community of like-minded peers at Johnson & Johnson. Bert also had this to say: "I do think the awareness piece has to come in, because with awareness comes responsibility, and with responsibility, choice.”

Learn more about our commitment to sustainability at Johnson & Johnson, and sign up for our Global Talent Hub, too. The latter is a great way to stay in touch, get insights into daily life at our company and receive updates about jobs that might interest you in the future.

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