For design guru Chris Hacker, it's not only easy being green, it's been easy to bring green to one of the biggest playing fields in consumer products. Since joining Johnson & Johnson as senior VP-global design and design strategy last year, Mr. Hacker has been using the eco-friendly skills he honed in his five years at trendy Aveda, a unit of Estee Lauder. Only now the stakes are much higher. "One of my interests in joining J&J was using that same kind of method logic that we used at Aveda, but on a much larger scale," he said.
Although J&J is headquartered in New Brunswick, N.J., Mr. Hacker has set up shop in New York, where he oversees a group of 90, about half of them in packaging engineering around the world, and the rest split between a creative team and management team. New York was the logical place, said Mr. Hacker, an Ohio native: "The best creative people live and work in urban environments." Mr. Hacker's team is tackling design assignments that J&J once would have assigned to outside consultants. "We're starting from scratch to bring a design competency within the company," he said.
Colleagues say Mr. Hacker has a gift for using business acumen and a sophisticated design sense to deliver products that are right for the consumer, lovely to look at and, yes, just happen to be as good for the planet as they are for the bottom line. "Environmental responsibility does not always add costs, and in many cases it costs less," he said.
"With Chris, it was never enough that the design encouraged sustainability," said Karen Wilkin-Donachie, a former VP-sales and education at Aveda who worked closely with Mr. Hacker. "There was always some other twist, an element that would make it very different."
For some J&J brands, like the Aveeno natural-skin-care line, Mr. Hacker's environmental sensibility makes for an obvious fit. But he says even Band-Aid, a brand he is working on (although he won't yet say how), is ripe for design tweaks that will be made in as responsible manner as possible. "Band-Aid is iconic. The idea of a Band-Aid is of our mother taking care of us," Mr. Hacker said. "So how do you convert that great memory of childhood into a way of thinking about the product? And then how do you make sure everything we develop around the brand is consistent with that?"
And he's convinced that at J&J he'll continue to find environmentally sound ways to make those changes, even as ideas about corporate sustainability continue to morph. "New learning often changes things," he said. "When I first started doing environmental design, it was all about recyclability. Then it was about using recycled goods. Then it became about biodegradability. So we incorporate all that new information as best we can," said Mr. Hacker, who has worked in design for companies as diverse as Steuben Glass, Warner Bros. and Mattel. "I can't fix everything, but I can fix my little part of the world. As a designer, I have the power to change our corporate footprint."