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Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Unilever to eliminate fossil fuels in cleaning products by 2030

  • The Clean Future investment will also be used to create biodegradable and water-efficient product formulations globally, and to halve the use of virgin plastic by 2025

NEW DELHI : Consumer goods major Unilever on Wednesday announced plans to change its cleaning and laundry product formulations by replacing 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels with renewable or recycled carbon, extending the move to some of its key home cleaning brands such as Surf Excel, Vim and Domex, as part of its Clean Future initiative.

The move is directed to ensure that its home care brands lower their carbon footprint and reduce their dependence on the fossil fuel economy globally.

“From what goes into our cleaning and laundry products to the way we package them, we’re changing it all," the company said in a global release on Wednesday as it set the goal to replace 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in its home care formulations with renewable or recycled carbon over the next decade or by 2030. The company said that most cleaning and laundry products sold in markets today contain chemicals made from fossil fuel feedstocks—a non-renewable source of carbon.

The company’s €1 billion investment in its Clean Future initiative—designed by the company’s home care division—will see the consumer goods major fund global research, development, and innovation in circular cleaning chemistry.

The Clean Future investment will also be used to create biodegradable and water-efficient product formulations globally, and to halve the use of virgin plastic by 2025, while supporting the development of brand communications that make these technologies appealing to consumers, the company said.

In India, for instance, the company's local arm already makes water-saving formulations of Rin laundry powders and bars.

Unilever has pledged to move towards zero emissions from its products by 2039, Clean Future is a critical step towards the pledge.

The initiative will “radically overhaul our business," said Peter ter Kulve, Unilever’s president of home care, said in a statement to the press. “As an industry, we must break our dependence on fossil fuels, including as a raw material for our products. 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," he said.

The announcement comes as the company’s home care products have seen a surge in demand, in the midst of the global pandemic, that has prompted more consumers to buy cleaning products as they spend more time indoors.

“We’ve seen unprecedented demand for our cleaning products in recent months and we are incredibly proud to play our part, helping to keep people safe in the fight against COVID-19. But that should not be a reason for complacency. We cannot let ourselves become distracted from the environmental crises that our world – our home – is facing. Pollution. Destruction of natural habitats. The climate emergency. This is the home we share, and we have a responsibility to protect it," Kulve said.

The chemicals used in Unilever’s cleaning and laundry products make up the greatest proportion of their carbon footprint (46%) across their life cycle, the company said in its statement.

“Therefore, by transitioning away from fossil fuel-derived chemicals in product formulations, the company will unlock novel ways of reducing the carbon footprint of some of the world’s biggest cleaning and laundry brands," Unilever said.

The move could reduce the carbon footprint of the company's product formulations by up to 20%.

In markets like India, home and laundry cleaning brands such as Surf Excel, Vim, Rin and Domex are highly popular among households. In the financial year 2019-20, its home care segment, that houses these brands, contributed to 35% of Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s (HUL) segmental revenues.

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