April 18. 2024. 1:29

The Daily

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A Missed Opportunity? Why the European Union must Value Ingredients in Reducing Laundry’s Carbon Footprint


Science-based cooperation between legislators and industry will benefit consumers and the environment.

In the 18 months since the EU’s ‘Fit for 55’ package of legislative updates to the Green Deal was passed, all sectors and industries have been hard at work to understand how they can best contribute to cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in time for 2030.

In this space, the detergents industry has a role to play and is focusing on research and innovation to meet these targets. Evidence from Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) done by many industry leaders reveals that, on the European average, up to 60% of the carbon footprint from laundry occurs in people’s homes. This is largely due to the energy required to heat water to wash clothes. Lowering the washing temperature is a practical and effective step that society can take to significantly reduce emissions. Dialling down water temperature from 40°C to 30°C for each wash cycle will reduce emissions by up to 35%. If applied across Europe, this alone will reduce carbon emissions by 3.5 million tons of CO2 per year.

The actions of households and consumer behaviour are key catalysts for this change. But they are only part of the picture. The driving force will be the science and technology innovation of consumer products companies to enable consumers to turn the temperature dial down. Society’s shift to Fit for 55 relies on industry-led sustainable innovation, so people can trust that there is no compromise to the clean when they wash on cold.

Today, ingredients account for 20% of laundry’s carbon footprint. As a part of its efforts to reduce emissions, the industry is continually researching new ways to produce low-resource – even carbon-neutral – ingredients that deliver high performance and are safe for people and the planet. Enzymes are a good example of this. Enzymes have a long track record of being used safely in detergent formulas while continuous innovation over the years has unlocked their contribution to sustainability. A most recent example of new sustainable innovation is ‘Purezyme’, one of P&G Ariel’s proprietary enzymes, derived from seaweed. This naturally occurring enzyme is used to clean corals in cold oceans, and our researchers noticed it would do the same for clothes when washing on cold cycles.

By delivering superior cleaning even at colder temperatures, consumers are much more likely to change behaviour and wash at 30 degrees or less. If we all made this change, this would have a significant positive impact on emissions in the everyday use of household and industrial laundry activities. Superior performance at lower temperatures also helps avoid consumers’ ‘compensating behaviours’ of using higher volumes of less effective detergent formulas.

This is one clear example of how the industry is applying sustainable innovation to everyday consumer tasks to reduce the environmental footprint of laundry activities while delivering the performance they expect. Across the industry’s development laboratories, research teams are exploring a long list of potential innovations that will make their way into our homes in the coming years.

To support this innovative thinking, the emerging legislation under the EU Green Deal needs to be based on a holistic, science-driven approach, which allows the industry to unlock safe and sustainable new products that enable consumers to change their habits. Crafting legislation informed by solid science is a clear prerequisite if the EU is to meet its climate objectives.

As specialists in new chemistries and formulations that deliver the future performance of household consumer products, the industry is well placed to provide constructive input to upcoming regulatory changes. For example, by providing practical information to consumers to encourage responsible product use, to reduce high-emitting compensating behaviours such as re-washing, overdosing, and pre-treating their laundry.

The detergents industry is built on scientific innovation; and the sector continues to respond to today’s changes by developing new formulations that complement Green Deal thinking and regulation. But to enable continued sustainable innovation, it’s important that regulators understand the potential for unintended adverse consequences if regulation does not take a holistic view of a product’s carbon footprint.

For us to tackle the majority of laundry’s carbon footprint, detergents must deliver a superior clean when washing laundry in cold settings. This is because changing how ingredients are produced accounts for 20% of emissions. But shifts in consumer behaviour, towards washing cold, can reduce a further 60% of laundry-related emissions. Combined efforts in these two areas have the potential to make a significant difference – addressing up to 80% of laundry’s overall carbon footprint. So, we must ensure that products that deliver superior cleaning power remain available until sustainable ingredient alternatives can be found.

Just as doctors are responsible for prescribing safe dosages of medicines, scientists and engineers designing household consumer products advise the optimal dosage and temperature for detergents – to ensure that they maximise performance for use in laundry and cleaning. This focus on innovative thinking – developing products and tracking sustainability through their entire lifecycle – is complex. But it continually delivers safer and more efficient household products.

The detergent Industry has a long-standing record of commitment to sustainable development and a science-based collaboration with all stakeholders and policymakers will secure a better future for European populations and the planet.