Unilever announced plans to eliminate fossil fuels from its cleaning products by 2030. The company anticipates moving to sourcing renewable or recycled carbon for cleaning and laundry product formulations.
Chemicals used in the manufacturer’s cleaning and laundry products make up 46% of their carbon footprint — the greatest percentage — across their life-cycle, according to Unilever. The company says that transitioning away from fossil fuel-derived chemicals is expected to reduce the formulations’ carbon footprint by as much as 20%.
The company created a new program, called Clean Future, within the Home Care division to help move away from fossil fuels. Unilever said they are ring-fencing approximately $840 million for the program to invest in biotech research, carbon dioxide and waste utilization, and low-carbon chemistry.
“This investment will also be used to create biodegradable and water-efficient product formulations, to halve the use of virgin plastic by 2025, and support the development of brand communications that make these technologies appealing to consumers,” Unilever added.
A separate initiative with equal investment, the Climate and Nature fund, is focused on developing affordable cleaning and laundry products that have fewer negative environmental effects while still delivering “superior cleaning results.” The company’s brands include Omo (Persil), Sunlight, Cif, and Domestos.
“People want more affordable sustainable products that are just as good as conventional ones,” Unilever’s president of home care Peter ter Kulve told Reuters. “We must stop pumping carbon from under the ground when there is ample carbon on and above the ground if we can learn to utilize it at scale.”
Cleaning Products Get Diversified Carbon
Under the Clean Future program, Unilever hopes to scale up tech currently in development. In Slovakia, the manufacturer has a partnership with biotech company Evonik Industries to produce a type of renewable and biodegradable surfactant called rhamnolipids. Unilever said that the surfactant is already being used in their Sunlight dishwashing liquid in Chile and Vietnam.
Another effort, in the port city Tuticorin in Southern India, involves sourcing soda ash for laundry powders with novel carbon dioxide capture technology. “The soda ash is made with the CO2 emissions from the energy used in the production process,” Unilever explained.
The company adopted an approach they call Carbon Rainbow to diversify the carbon for product formulations. Black carbon, or non-renewable fossil sources of carbon, gets replaced using a different color-coded carbon. Purple is captured CO2, green represents biological sources, blue designates marine sources such as algae, and gray signifies carbon recovered from waste materials.
“The sourcing of carbon under the Carbon Rainbow will be governed and informed by environmental impact assessments, and work with Unilever’s industry-leading sustainable sourcing programs to prevent unintended pressures on land use,” the manufacturer said.