Unilever to drop fossil fuels from cleaning products by 2030

Unilever Plc (ULVR.L) said on Wednesday it would invest 1 billion euros to eliminate fossil fuels from its cleaning products by 2030, cutting the carbon emissions created by the chemicals used in making the products.

The household goods conglomerate behind the Omo, Cif, Sunlight and Domestos brands said that, instead of petrochemicals, the products would use constituents created from plants and other biological sources, marine sources such as algae and waste materials.

Chemicals in its cleaning and laundry products make up 46% of its Home Care division’s carbon emissions across their life cycle.

The switch – which Unilever said it is the first company to commit to – will cut those emissions by a fifth.

Surfactants, or de-greasing agents, are the biggest petroleum-derived components, Peter ter Kulve, Unilever’s president of Home Care, told Reuters.

He said the company was working with small biotech companies and chemical makers such as Dow Chemical (DOW.N) to create environment friendly product formulations.

“The writing is on the wall.. the next phase is industry change in chemicals and cleaning agents ….many of these big suppliers still have a lot of capital still locked in the old carbon economy,” he said.

Unilever said its 1 billion euro investment would be used to finance biotechnology research and carbon dioxide utilisation, as well as boost the production of biodegradable and water-efficient product formulations.

The company emits about 100 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents globally, but aims reduce this to net zero from its own operations and its suppliers by 2039, a plan that is 11 years ahead of a deadline enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement on combating global warming.

The move comes at a time the Anglo-Dutch maker is facing unprecedented demand for cleaning products in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

It reported in July that Cif surface cleaners and Domestos bleach sales jumped in the double-digits in the first half of 2020.

But the major hurdle at this time of heightened demand is getting new suppliers to scale up ingredient production to meet Unilever’s requirements, ter Kulve said.

He, however, is confident that in choosing “skilled” partners, such as specialty chemical maker Evonik, which have been able to produce plant-based formulations at an industrial scale, the company will hit its 2030 targets in time.