Unilever to replace carbon from non-renewable fossil fuels in cleaning products

Consumer goods giant Unilever will replace 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in its cleaning and laundry products with renewable or recycled carbon, the company has announced.

The company said the move would transform the sustainability of cleaning and laundry brands like OMO (Persil), Sunlight, Cif, and Domestos.

Many cleaning and laundry products contain chemicals made from fossil fuel feedstocks, which are a non-renewable source of carbon.

Unilever says its move to renewable or recycled sources of carbon for these chemicals is a deliberate shift away from the fossil fuel economy.

The step is a component of Unilever’s Clean Future programme designed to change the way its cleaning and laundry products are created, manufactured, and packaged.

The programme is aimed at helping Unilever deliver its pledge of net zero emissions from its products by 2039.

The chemicals used in the company’s products make up the greatest proportion of its carbon footprint (46%) across their life cycle.

Therefore, by moving away from fossil fuel-derived chemicals in product formulations, the company will be able to reduce its carbon footprint.

It expects the initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of the product formulations by up to 20%.

Peter ter Kulve, Unilever’s president of Home Care, said: “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.”

Unilever is also ring-fencing one billion euro for Clean Future to finance biotechnology research, CO2 and waste utilisation, and low carbon chemistry – which will drive the transition away from fossil fuel derived chemicals.

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

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).

Tanya Steele, chief executive of conservation charity WWF UK, said: “The world must shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable resources that reduce pressure on our fragile ecosystems and that help to restore nature.

“These significant commitments from Unilever, combined with strong sustainable sourcing, have real potential to make an important contribution as we transition to an economy that works with nature, not against it.”