Most cleaning products on the market today are made using chemicals derived from fossil fuels. It’s been that way for decades.
But we had a thought.
There are many sources of carbon already on and above the ground – like plants, plastic waste and even the carbon dioxide in the air. If we could harness those sustainably, at a big enough scale, we wouldn’t have to take carbon from non-renewable sources under the ground.
That way, we will eliminate our use of virgin fossil fuels in our cleaning and laundry formulations. Better for the planet. Better for consumers. And better for our business.
Well, we’ve come up with a way to do just that.
Transforming the sustainability of global brands
‘Clean Future’ is a ground-breaking innovation strategy designed to fundamentally change the way that our cleaning and laundry products are created, manufactured and packaged.
It is unique in its ambition to embed circular economy principles into both packaging and formulations. That means reduce-reuse-recycle, rather than take-make-dispose.
At the heart of this strategy is a new ambition: to replace 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in Unilever’s cleaning and laundry product formulations with renewable or recycled carbon by 2030.
Clean Future will transform the sustainability of global brands like OMO (Persil), Sunlight, Cif and Domestos. It’s also a big step towards our pledge of net zero emissions from our products by 2039.
A radical overhaul of our business
The chemicals used in our cleaning and laundry products currently make up the greatest proportion of their carbon footprint across their lifecycle. By moving to renewable or recycled ingredient sources in their formulations, we will unlock novel ways to reduce that carbon footprint.
“Clean Future is our vision to radically overhaul our business,” says Peter ter Kulve, President of our Home Care division. “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 utilise it at scale.
“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.”
Superior, affordable, greener
We have ringfenced €1 billion for our Clean Future strategy, which is in addition to our new €1 billion Climate & Nature Fund. This will finance biotechnology research, CO2 utilisation, low carbon chemistry, biodegradable and water-efficient formulations, and reducing the use of virgin plastic.
Essentially, we will use it to create affordable products that deliver the unbeatable clean people expect from our products, combined with a significantly lower environmental impact.
In fact, our Clean Future strategy is already supporting industry-leading projects around the world.
For instance, soda ash is a key ingredient in laundry detergents, but it’s currently made using a lot of energy from fossil fuels. That’s why we’ve partnered with Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals (TAC) in southern India and Carbon Clean Solutions (CCSL). They have pioneered a cutting-edge method to capture CO2 from their own production processes before it reaches the atmosphere, and use the captured CO2 as a raw material to make their soda ash.
In Slovakia, we’re partnering with biotech leader Evonik Industries to develop rhamnolipids, a renewable and biodegradable surfactant which is already used in our Sunlight (Quix) dishwashing liquid in Chile and Vietnam. We hope to significantly scale and build from both technologies.
Rewriting the rule book
As we pave the way to decarbonise our formulations, we must diversify the carbon sources we use.
We call this the Carbon Rainbow™.
We will replace non-renewable sources (black carbon) with captured CO2 (purple), plants and biological (green), marine algae (blue) and carbon recovered from waste material like plastic (grey).
Putting carbon diversity at the core of our Clean Future strategy is essential. This new way of sourcing carbon will be guided by environmental impact assessments and work alongside our industry-leading sustainable sourcing programmes to prevent unintended pressures on ecosystems.
People want affordable, sustainable products that are just as good as conventional ones. Rapid developments in science and technology are allowing us to offer these, with the promise of exciting new benefits, from ultra-mild ingredients to self-cleaning clothes and surfaces.
“A new bio and circular economy is rising from the ashes of fossil fuels and it is rewriting the rule book of our industry,” says Peter. “Diversifying sources of carbon is essential to grow within the limits of our planet. By sharing our Carbon Rainbow model, we are calling on an economy-wide transformation in how we all use carbon.”