“About ten years ago, the Swedish Consumer Agency asked a number of consumers about what they considered the most important criteria when purchasing detergent. In first place came detergent efficiency – the laundry should be clean, the second criteria was price and the third was the environmental impact. A similar market survey, conducted a few years ago, showed that the detergent’s effect on the environment and climate now had stepped up to first place. Efficiency and price were of course still important, but we can see a change in attitude of many consumers,” says Leif Löf, vice president, owner and founder of Kemibolaget AB in Bromma.
“The environmental adaptation of our products actually began in the 1940s by the legendary chemist Gunnar Jagrelius . Many of his thoughts on the ingredients live on in today’s products.”
The truth with laundry
What then is an eco-friendly laundry detergent?
“The truth is that laundry yields dirty emissions. All detergents contain chemicals and the dirt has to disappear somewhere. Many of today’s fabrics also contain various chemical products such as waterproofing, anti-microbial agents and flame retardants. We can’t do much about this, but when it comes to the greening of the detergent, we do a lot. However, I think many of us don’t understand the concept of environmental compatibility,” says Löf.
He argues that a good definition of an eco-friendly laundry detergent should contain the following components:
-The detergent’s composition and content of chemical substances. This provides eco-labels as Svanen and Bra Miljöval guidance for the consumer. It is also important that the product is approved from an asthma and allergy point of view and that the ingredients are easily biodegradable.
- -How is the detergent measured in terms of number of washes/kg detergent. The less detergent that is used means less environmental impact.
- -How detergent is produced and how far it is transported is also important. Minimising emissions from production, ISO 14001-certified facilities, and as few shipments as possible, are all factors that contribute to reduced environmental impact.
- -The detergent effect on climate.
“All points are important but we have recently lifted climate issues up on the agenda and we are now the first company in the world to deliver a climate neutral detergent,” says Löf.
Climate neutral detergent
The product Ocean Double Dryg was certified in 2009 by the organization Respect Climate under the criteria of the “Climate Neutral product.” Certification is based on the emissions during one year, and that measures are taken to reduce them. For those emissions that remain carbon offsetting is used.
The result of the certification was for the Group to take internal measures to reduce the carbon footprint and to offset the remaining emissions of greenhouse gases. Right now, Kemibolaget is involved in a tree-planting project in the Kikonda Forest Reserve in Uganda. During five years, the forest that grows will absorb 216, 000 carbon equivalents. The project employs around 600 people and contributes to an elevated standard of living for the local community.
The project has also allocated an area for conservation where antelopes, monkeys and several species of birds can find refuge. The social benefits of the project include financing teacher salaries, offering childcare places and creating suitable housing for employees. Other advantages are that illegal logging is replaced with sustainable forest management and the increased scrutiny leads to a reduced number of forest fires. In collaboration with “Anamed-NGO,” workshops are held once a week to teach modern and traditional medicine, explains Löf.
If you look at the carbon footprint of a detergent in a life cycle perspective, it is the production, its transport and usage that cause carbon emissions. For Ocean, transport emissions were the most significant so the company invested in making the detergent more economic – in practice more concentrated. Nowadays only half as much detergent is transported, which reduces carbon emissions. Moreover, Kempartner conducted energy efficiency measures and studied packaging sizes that also reduced the carbon footprint. Altogether, Kemibolaget estimates that Ocean Dubbel Dryg has diminished its emissions from production to transport by 50 percent.
“People wash a lot in Sweden! We can count on 909 million washes per year and that it takes 38.5 grams of detergent per load. This gives a combined consumption of detergent at about 35,000 tonnes. If everyone in Sweden used the Ocean Dubbel Dryg only 21 grams per load would be needed sparing the environment 16,000 tons of detergent per year. Carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 40,000 tonnes. Test results show that the laundry is very clean and part of the secret is that we concentrate the product by removing the cheap and unnecessary fillers,” concludes Löf.
The article was published in March 2014