Unilever, a leading manufacturer of cleaning and laundry products, today, announced that it will source 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in its cleaning and laundry product formulations with renewable or recycled carbon.
This move is set to transform the sustainability of global cleaning and laundry brands including Omo (Persil), Sunlight, Cif and Domestos.
The chemicals used in Unilever’s cleaning and laundry products make up the greatest proportion of their carbon footprint (46%) across their lifecycle. 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 expects this initiative alone to reduce the carbon footprint of the product formulations by up to 20%.
Peter ter Kulve, Unilever’s President of Home Care, explains: “Clean Future is our vision to radically overhaul our business. 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.”
The Carbon Rainbow
Central to Clean Future is Unilever’s ‘Carbon Rainbow’, a novel approach to diversify the carbon used in its product formulations. Non-renewable fossil sources of carbon (identified in the Carbon Rainbow as black carbon) will be replaced using captured CO2 (purple carbon), plants and biological sources (green carbon), marine sources such as algae (blue carbon), and carbon recovered from waste materials (grey carbon). 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 programmes to prevent unintended pressures on land use.
This diagram is an illustration of Unilever’s trademarked Carbon Rainbow. The rainbow shows how Unilever is eliminating fossil fuels in its cleaning products by 2030, by replacing this with four new sources of carbon. These are represented by a rainbow with four colours: purple to represent carbon from CO2 (including from industrial emissions); blue represents carbon from marine sources; green represents carbon from plants; and grey represents carbon from plastic waste.
These renewable sources of carbon are processed into useful ingredients to produce cleaning and laundry products. After the consumer uses the product and disposes of it, the formulation biodegrades and plastic waste is chemically recycled. This creates carbon to produce new consumer products, and so the Carbon Rainbow cycle continues. All of this is powered by renewable energy, which sits at the middle of this circular illustration.
“We’ve heard time and time again that people want more affordable sustainable products that are just as good as conventional ones. Rapid developments in science and technology are allowing us to do this, with the promise of exciting new benefits for the people who use our products, from ultra-mild cleaning ingredients to self-cleaning clothes and surfaces.
“Diversifying sources of carbon is essential to grow within the limits of our planet. Our suppliers and innovation partners play a critical role through this transition. By sharing our Carbon Rainbow model, we are calling on an economy-wide transformation in how we all use carbon.”