Unilever CEO: Turning Vision into Execution

October 13, 2006

Detergent industry must do a better job on sustainability.

Unilever CEO: Turning Vision into Execution

Detergent industry must do a better job on sustainability.

By Tom Branna
Editorial Director

It’s been four years since the last World Detergent Congress, and though the
industry has done a good job defining the issues for the next 100 years—which
include developing solutions for developing markets, sustainability and forming
effective partnerships between marketers, suppliers and retailers—much more work
needs to be done.

“Vision is one thing, execution is another,” charged Patrick Cescau, chairman of
Unilever, in his keynote address to open the 6th World Conference on Detergents
in Montreux this week.

Mr. Cescau pointed out that the recent success of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient
Truth” underscores the gravity of the environmental issues and insisted that
the need for action has become more urgent. Unfortunately, the detergent
industry has so far failed to keep pace.

“The time for talk is over,” he insisted.

Instead, marketers and their suppliers and retail partners must find solutions
to the two biggest global issues for the next 100 years: climate change and
sustainable development. Mr. Cescau noted that one report suggests that
one-third of the earth will be desert by 2100.

“We must act as an industry, the tide is irreversible,” he said. “Our industry
is too concerned about its own future, but we are not masters of our own

While the detergent industry mulls its future, other companies are already
taking action, proving that the green consciousness is everywhere. Wal-mart,
for example, made its entire staff watch “An Inconvenient Truth” and in recent
years, has become the biggest buyer of organic produce. Elsewhere, UPS now has
1,500 alternative-fuel vehicles on the road.

Digital TV…Not Detergent

And while the industry takes baby steps toward sustainability, it continues to
lose customers who choose to spend their money elsewhere.

Mr. Cescau recalled how in one market survey, Unilever researchers discovered
that some consumers in India prefer satellite TV to running water!

“How can we make our brands as exciting as mobile phones?” he asked. “It all
starts with the consumers. They’re excited by technology, not detergent.”

That’s because the industry hasn’t offered consumers anything truly different
for decades. While products have become more convenient, the technology behind
them remains the same.

“We’re offering them the same solutions that we offered their parents,” he

Besides exciting the consumer today’s detergent makers must deal with a host of
new regulations, not the least of which is REACH. But Mr. Cescau insists that
the new regulation provides an opportunity to reinforce to the consumer and
regulators that detergent ingredients are safe for the environment.

“But REACH is just the tip of the iceberg,” he told the World Detergent
Conference audience. “Are we really facing up to the challenges of
sustainability and lack of water?

Marketable Solutions

He noted that Unilever rolled out Surf Excel in India. It reduces water
consumption by 50%, according to the company. Unilever launched Skip Actigel
laundry tablets in India and other markets around the world last year. The
chemical composition of the tablet was reduced by 20% and the size and weight
of the package fell 5%. Skip Actigel debuted in 2005 and was one of the fastest
growing home care brands in France.

“At Unilever, we’re raising our sights on responsibility and sustainability,” he
insisted. And now, Unilever has its sights set on the consumer too, as Mr.
Cescau noted that 95% of the water used in a detergent lifecycle comes at the
consumer level.

“We have much more work to do to get the consumer to save more water,” he
admitted. “In Africa, 10% of water use goes to the laundry process.”

To help reduce the amount of water in a typical load, Unilever is studying the
feasibility of recovering and recycling rinse water and improving the
rinseability of its products.”

But Unilever’s efforts aren’t totally focused on Africa. The company broadly
rolled out All Small & Mighty, a compact detergent that greatly reduces the
environmental impact of the laundry process and saves retailers valuable shelf
space too.

“We must look at the world and see how new environmental initiatives, new
textiles and new regulations are shaping our business,” he insisted. “Digital
cameras made film obsolete almost overnight. We can’t let that happen to our
blog comments powered by Disqus
  • A Facial Bar Grows in Brooklyn

    A Facial Bar Grows in Brooklyn

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||October 24, 2016
    With three doors in Canada, Blitz Facial Bar opens its first US location in one of the hippest areas of New York.

  • Free and Clear

    Free and Clear

    Melissa Meisel, Associate Editor||October 17, 2016
    OY-L aims for zero-chemical skin care.

  • Coming Clean on a Host of Issues

    Coming Clean on a Host of Issues

    October 17, 2016
    Cleaning Products Conference is set for Nov. 9-11, 2016 in Washington DC.

  • Change Is in the Air

    Change Is in the Air

    Doreen Wang, BrandZ ||October 3, 2016
    Technology is changing the personal care market

  • Skin Care of One’s Own

    Skin Care of One’s Own

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||October 3, 2016
    Nu Skin’s ageLOC Me—which melds the worlds of smart-phone technology, efficacious ingredients and personalization

  • Proof Positive

    Proof Positive

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||October 3, 2016
    Testing service providers enable companies to back up their claims and stay in compliance with regulations.

  • Contract Manufacturing / Private Label Directory

    Contract Manufacturing / Private Label Directory

    October 1, 2016
    Our directory is your source to find a manufacturer to get your product to market.

  • Back to School

    Back to School

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||September 1, 2016
    It may be September, but class was in session this summer during the Private Label Manufacturers Association’s Executive Educ

  • What

    What's In Your Formula?

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||September 1, 2016
    A look at the ingredients beauty brands are using to fuel their formulations and capture consumers’ attention.

  • A Sweet-Smelling Sanctuary

    A Sweet-Smelling Sanctuary

    Melissa Meisel, Associate Editor||September 1, 2016
    Home fragrance is enhanced by aromatic developments in delivery and components.

  • How Green Is Your Surfactant?

    How Green Is Your Surfactant?

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director ||September 1, 2016
    Suppliers offer a range of solutions to help household and personal care product formulators develop formulas

  • New Surfactants

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director ||September 1, 2016
    Here’s a list of new ingredients introduced by surfactant suppliers

  • The International Top 30 Household and Personal Products Companies

  • Special Effects

    Special Effects

    Melissa Meisel, Associate Editor||August 1, 2016
    Fall 2016 color cosmetics reflect light and offer a focus on elements like pigment, slip and wear.

  • Works of Art

    Works of Art

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||August 1, 2016
    These suppliers know that the container can be just as important as the juice to entice luxury shoppers.

  • Silent Partners

    Silent Partners

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||August 1, 2016
    From research & development to logistics to confidentiality, savvy distributors help finished formulators achieve their goals

  • Sustainability is Omnipresent

    Sustainability is Omnipresent

    Christine Esposito , Associate Editor||July 1, 2016
    Industry stakeholders convene in New York City for Organic Monitor’s annual event

  • Perceived Perfection

    Perceived Perfection

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||July 1, 2016
    From primers to pressed powders, facial cosmetics help create the illusion of a flawless complexion.

  • Preserve & Serve

    Preserve & Serve

    Melissa Meisel , Associate Editor||July 1, 2016
    Suppliers with innovative preservatives provide staying power for formulations.

  • Quaternized Guar Is a Natural Solution

    Quaternized Guar Is a Natural Solution

    Tom Schoenberg, Schoenberg Consulting||July 1, 2016
    The polymer has applications in a range of skin and hair care formulas that does not build up on hair with repeated use

  • The Top 50

    The Top 50

    June 30, 2016
    A look at the biggest US companies in the global household and personal products industry.

  • Take Notice

    Take Notice

    Melissa Meisel , Associate Editor||June 1, 2016
    Packaging trends revolve around trendy artwork, eco-conscious materials—and portability is a plus too!

  • Virtual Reality

    Virtual Reality

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||June 1, 2016
    An update on nature-identical ingredients for cosmetics and personal care products.

  • Shiseido Advances in the US

    Shiseido Advances in the US

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||June 1, 2016
    New facility in Windsor, NJ demonstrates its dedication to the US and other markets outside Japan.

  • Get Smart About Your Big Data

    Get Smart About Your Big Data

    Christine Esposito, Associate Editor||June 1, 2016
    Experts at the IRI Growth Summit explain how to make personal connections with customers.

  • For the Love of Lipids

    For the Love of Lipids

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||June 1, 2016
    AOCS and SCC to deliver a program geared to cosmetic chemists of the important role that fats and oils play in a healthy skin

  • April in Paris

    April in Paris

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||June 1, 2016
    In-Cosmetics sets attendance record in its return to the City of Light.

  • Salon Selectives

    Salon Selectives

    Tom Branna, Editorial Director||June 1, 2016
    The inside story about what stylists think about the state of the industry and the state of your products and ingredients.