Liquid laundry detergents are popular with consumers and have a lower greenhouse gas footprint than powders. In 2013 we were the market leader in emerging markets, with a market share of over 25%. Similarly our Persil brand was the leading liquid brand in the UK with over a quarter of the liquids market. The majority of our liquid detergents are now sold in concentrated form.
Concentrating or compacting our laundry products helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further and is good for our business – great performance combined with lower material and transport costs.
However, it can take time for consumers to switch to concentrated or compacted products and use the right dosage. Some consumers continue to use larger doses than needed, while others under-dose. For some people, it can be hard to move directly from a big bag of powder to a small bottle of liquid. To ease this transition, we have introduced semi-concentrated products in some markets as this encourages consumers to make the change. In Europe, unit dose capsules are proving to be a successful means to guide dosage of product.
As well as reducing GHGs via compaction and concentration, we have been reformulating our products to remove phosphates - as the mining and transport of phosphates can have a higher CO2 impact than their alternatives.
We are also improving our packaging to reduce GHGs. Examples include lightweighting, reducing secondary packaging, maximising pack sizes and using pouches where appropriate.
Reducing GHG impact by redesigning our powders
Since 2008, we have been redesigning and concentrating the formulation of our powders across Europe. We have reduced our recommended dosage from 100g of product per wash in 2008 to 75g in 2013.
Less product also means less raw and packaging material used, less energy used in production, and fewer lorries needed to deliver it – which leads to lower carbon emissions.
Reducing GHG by removing phosphates
Phosphates improve washing performance by softening the water, enabling the detergent to get to work quicker. They are safe, effective and sustainable in the majority of cases. However, they can contribute to water eutrophication in areas where they are not removed by wastewater treatment. Moreover, the CO2 contribution of phosphates can be higher than alternatives, due to associated mining and transport.
This is why we have actively reformulated our portfolio towards more sustainable alternatives with better CO2 profiles than phosphates. Over 2011-2013, we have taken significant steps to accomplish this. We have now reached a 90% reduction in the global use of phosphates across our laundry powders and machine dishwash products. This reduction has resulted in a lower CO2-emission of up to 50% per single consumer use.
By 2012, 95% of our laundry powders had been reformulated in our top 14 countries to achieve our target of reducing GHG by 15%.
In 2008, we were the first company to launch a phosphate-free machine dishwash formulation in Europe, and since 2011, phosphates have been eliminated from 95% of our machine dishwash products.
We now only use phosphates where we do not have alternatives in place that deliver the same benefits to consumers, or where regulations require us to use them. We will continue to search for alternatives and to investigate technologies that may lead to zero-phosphate products in the future.
Quick Wash - saving energy, water and time
Most front-loading washing machines in Europe and Turkey now offer a quicker wash option. The quicker wash option reduces washing time so is more convenient for consumers and generally has a lower GHG impact. This is because there is generally less energy required in a shorter- or lower-temperature heating phase and less agitation in the wash. Quick cycles are also more likely to save water as they may require fewer rinses. While washing machines vary, quick wash cycles on a full load, where possible, can reduce environmental impact.
If all 26 billion washes done by consumers in Europe each year moved from a two-hour standard cycle to a 30-minute wash, this would save 40 billion of hours of machine time and reduce energy by around 30%.
Since 2009 Persil has been actively encouraging consumers to shorten their washing machine cycles, whilst guaranteeing faster stain removal and impeccable cleaning, even with a quicker wash. Since the launch of Persil Small & Mighty, the number of consumers using quick cycles is increasing fast, along with an understanding of the environmental benefits. In 2013, UK consumers claimed 1 in 5 loads were done on shorter cycles, a substantial increase from just 9% in 2003.
Communicating with consumers
Laundry habits vary in different markets. For example, in some countries people generally handwash their clothes; in others, using washing machines is the norm.
Based on these differences, between 25% and 68% of the total greenhouse gas footprint of our products occurs during consumer use.
Through our packs and campaigns we communicate with consumers on how they can adopt better laundry habits to reduce their own environmental impacts – habits such as correct dosing, lower-temperature washing, washing a full load and using shorter wash cycles. We also include the Washright logo on-pack to support more sustainable washing.
In Turkey, people tend to wash laundry, especially white laundry loads, at higher temperatures (above 60oC) and around 27% of households use pre-wash cycles (compared to a European average of 7%). This has big impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and water.
In 2012 and 2013, Omo worked in partnership with all local and international washing machine manufacturers, such as Arçelik. When consumers purchased a new machine, an Omo expert visited them at home to advise on optimal washing performance and which products to use. Consumers were briefed on the best way of using their machines as well as receiving a sample of Omo products.
In Latin America, our Home Care category partnered with leading retailers such as Carrefour in a new initiative ‘Sumate al EcoLavado’ (Join us at Ecowash) to promote good laundry habits. Brands including Surf and Skip worked together in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile to encourage washing at lower temperatures, saving energy through shorter wash cycles, and switching to concentrated detergents. Carrefour stores that participated in Argentina experienced sales growth three times higher than others while consumers were encouraged to make lasting changes to their behaviour.
Growing market share and enhancing our reputation
We have seen success in countries where we have implemented initiatives to improve the environmental impact of our laundry products. For example, in Turkey we became the market leader with the move to compacted powders by communicating the efficacy of Omo and also its environmental benefits in 2009. We remained the market leader in 2013.
Our company received the Water Footprint Award from the Turkish marketing and communications magazine, MediaCat, in its Open Air Advertising Awards for encouraging consumers to use water responsibly.
Working with industry bodies
We take a leadership role in industry bodies that can influence consumer behaviour. Within AISE (the International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products, the industry representative body in Europe), Unilever has been actively involved in sustainability campaigns such as Washright, which was launched in 1998 to encourage consumers to wash clothes at lower temperatures and use full washes. We also support AISE’s Charter for Sustainable Cleaning which certifies products that meet specific sustainability criteria across the industry.
In 2013 Unilever joined the ‘I prefer 30º’ consumer initiative led by AISE to drive down further the European average wash temperature. Throughout 2014, the campaign will be informing people and creating awareness around the different benefits of washing at 30° in stores, on websites, via Facebook and on-pack.
Promoting the importance of consumer behaviour change
Enabling and inspiring consumers to adopt more sustainable habits is fundamental to achieving many of our goals. Experience has taught us that marketing can be a powerful force for behaviour change. In 2011 we published Unilever’s Five Levers for Change, a set of principles to increase the effectiveness of our interventions. We are now looking to apply this expertise across the business. See Encouraging behaviour change for more.
We also work with a variety of organisations to address the role of the consumer in using and disposing of our products efficiently. For example, our Radox brand of shower gels in South Africa gave consumers a free aerator when they purchased two products at Pick and Pay stores. These can be fitted to shower heads to reduce water use and they can save people up to €450 a year.
Wider factors in reducing consumer GHGs from our products
Many other factors will affect the greenhouse gas footprint of the use of our products. These include the eco-efficiency of domestic appliances, such as boilers and water heaters, and the carbon intensity of the energy used to power these appliances.
Eco-efficiency of domestic appliances
Much of the environmental impact of household chores is determined by the design and manufacture of the appliances used.
Unilever believes consumers can be encouraged to buy newer, eco-efficient models, through a mixture of consumer information at the point of sale, financial incentives to upgrade inefficient appliances (such as the UK’s boiler scrappage scheme) and minimum product standards. Developing countries that are introducing appliances should move straight to eco-efficient appliances.
Carbon intensity of domestic energy use
Reducing the amount of energy consumed will reduce the associated carbon emissions. Increasing the use of low carbon or renewable energy sources is also important.
Investment should be accelerated in existing low-carbon energy production and the development and deployment of new low carbon energy technologies, such as wind and solar energy.
Unilever supports moves by governments to incentivise these technologies. This is essential because many are not economically viable without government support.
The deployment of solar thermal energy systems should also be accelerated. These use concentrated sunlight to heat water at the point of consumption. However, payback times from this investment are not sufficient to stimulate consumer demand. Unilever therefore supports government incentives for this technology.
We recognise the challenges faced by governments in setting ambitious frameworks for action on climate change. We support this action through membership of a number of progressive advocacy groups, such as the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change.