As companies strive to be more sustainable, their customers might grow more critical on their performance rather than less, asking questions that were never raised. At least, that is what Ecover experiences. These bottles being made from sugar rather than from mineral oil, are they sustainably and equitably produced?
Ecover is one of the frontrunners in sustainability, a company producing household and personal health care products. It employs 300 staff and has the mission ‘Making a Healthy and Sustainable Lifestyle Easy’. Whereas at last week’s World Bio Markets conference, many middle-aged men in grey suits asserted to each other once again that ‘the consumer does not want to pay a premium for sustainability’, Ecover is the living proof of the opposite. According to their experience, in the countries in which they are active, 15-30% does not mind such a premium for a sustainable product that works. They can tell, because it is their market. And one can sell a lot of detergents to 15-30% of the population.
Ecover innovates. The company announced this month that it will substitute algae oil for palm oil in its detergents, as the first producer in the world. Later this year supermarkets will start selling these products. This announcement is an important step in sustainability, particularly in the struggle to safeguard the tropical rain forest and its inhabitants. At present, some 90% of all biobased (so non-fossil based) surfactants are still produced from palm or coconut oil. Moreover, algae can be produced locally instead from tropical feedstock, so they reduce the carbon footprint of the logistic chain. And the chain from algae oil to product is completely traceable.
A macro trend towards health and wellness
Tom Domen is ‘long term innovation manager’ at Ecover, a title that we presume to be unique in the world. The question mentioned above on the sustainability of biobased bottles, he says, is among the problems (or rather challenges?) they run into. No one ever raised questions on whether fossil-based bottles are sustainably sourced. But the company is ready to meet the challenge, even seek its strength in doing so. Ecover adheres to four principles that exemplify their concept of sustainability: natural born resources, biological processing, evolutionary design, and restoration to nature. They commit themselves to be 100% biobased in 2016.
Ecover feels supported by a ‘macro trend’ towards health and wellness, says Tom Domen. This extends to well outside the customer’s own body. People that ask questions about the health aspects of products they consume (‘in me’), then move to ask similar questions about the products they use ‘on me’, and finally to the environmental aspects of products ‘around me’. Ecover aims to create an extended health experience, essential to convince the aforementioned 15-30% of the population of the attractiveness of their products. Recently, they started to give more attention to the design of their packaging, convinced as they are now that this needs to transmit the same kind of message.
Towards a glocal approach
In the field of sustainability, people nowadays receive many confusing messages. Natural, does that equal healthy? might be an appropriate question. And does it equal sustainable? Ecover tackles head-on such questions and is ready to answer any customer’s problems. They now tend to convey the message that sustainability is first and foremost on closing loops locally. Global concerns can thus be translated into local actions and into a movement towards a local circular economy. They use the term ‘glocal’ to characterise this approach.
Ecover experience may be useful for the rest of industry. They perceive a blurring of borders between green and conventional. This is exemplified by the growing uneasiness in industry about the multitude of sustainable labels and the search for a unified system of establishing the ecological footprint of products. Ecover is the living proof of the statement that sustainability does not preclude a profitable business.