Green Ingredients

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | November 3, 2010

Marketers have their own criteria when it comes to what's green...and what isn't. And often, they develop solutions that combine the best of both science and nature.

Green, apparently, is still in the eyes of the beholder. Despite a plethora of certifying agencies, such as Ecocert, Soil Association and Natural Products Association, deciding what’s green (and what’s not), what’s good for the environment (and what’s not), remains a local decision.

And while some industry leaders are calling for industry to develop its own standards regarding green ingredients and environmental objectives (see our coverage of the World Conference on Detergents in this issue), many marketers in the household and personal products industry continue to go it alone, creating their own criteria about what’s green and what isn’t.

In the household sector, non-government organizations (NGOs) have decried the use of a raft of ingredients for years. Whether it was materials used in relatively small percentages such as fragrances, or ingredients representing higher dosage levels, such as surfactants, NGOs and their followers have been quick to blame—rightly or wrongly—one ingredient or another for a host of health and environmental issues.

What’s Inside SC Johnson?
Of course, there have been proponents of “green” ingredients on the manufacturing side of the ledger too. Personal care companies such as Aveda and The Body Shop, as well as household care companies such as Seventh Generation and SC Johnson, have pushed the topic of what they put in their formulas to the forefront of any discussion about sustainability.

Tide Coldwater laundry detergent saves money and energy.
Back in 2001, SC Johnson developed Greenlist to evaluate and classify the raw materials in its products based on their impact on the environment and human health. Using the Greenlist process, the company was able to phase out less desirable ingredients such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) packaging, according to Christopher Beard, director, reputation management, who noted that the Greenlist program allowed the company to cut nearly 48 million pounds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from its products in the past five years, while maintaining or even improving product performance.

More recently, in 2009, SC Johnson launched an ingredient communication program.

“We saw it as the next logical step from our patented Greenlist process,” explained Beard. “Sharing the ingredients in these products was the next step in this process because we believe in the consumer’s right to know what’s in the products they use in their homes.”

As the starting point for the ingredient communication initiative, the company launched the What’s Inside SC Johnson product ingredient-focused website in March 2009. It offers consumers information on product ingredients for more than 200 SC Johnson home cleaning and air care products.

“And we will be going further,” Beard advised Happi. “By Jan. 1, 2012 we also made the commitment to phase out the use of phthalates in our products, as well as disclose ingredient information for our dyes, fragrances and preservatives.”

The move to remove phthalates was in response to an increasing number of questions from consumers, and marks another example of SC Johnson going beyond regulatory requirements in its product development, according to Beard, who added that the particular phthalate that raised concern, diethyl phthalate (DEP), was extensively researched and was deemed safe by various scientific bodies.

“But the larger class of substances in the phthalate family has been more hotly debated, and we know

There are superfruits in Kiss My Face mouthrinse formulas.
that sometimes whole categories of substances can erroneously be seen as concerning despite individual items being safe,” said Beard. “So even though the chemistry was sound, we decided that making sure consumers know they can trust SC Johnson products was well worth the time and effort.”

DEP has been included in some of the fragrances that SC Johnson sources for its products, and is used in very small amounts, according to the company.

“It is the only phthalate that was used in the fragrances in SC Johnson home cleaning and air care products and as we said, will be removed by January 2012,” Beard told Happi.

P&G’s Latest Moves
SC Johnson isn’t the only multibillion-dollar, multinational to announce new ingredient initiatives. In late September, Procter & Gamble issued a new, long-term environmental sustainability vision. The company’s sustainability goals include replacing 25% of petroleum-based materials with sustainably sourced renewable materials by 2020. Like other manufacturers and suppliers to the industry, P&G is a member of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, which was formed in 2004 with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and the engagement of stakeholders.

“By 2015, we will only use palm oil that we can confirm is sustainably sourced,” added Len Sauers, VP-global sustainability. “And the World Wildlife Fund will help us ensure that we are setting up a sustainable supply chain.”

But for Procter & Gamble, nature isn’t the only source of green ingredients—science and technology can help improve a product’s environmental profile. Sauers noted that enzymes represent “a very efficient way” to get fabrics clean. At the same time, P&G has partnered with Amyris and LS9 to develop new raw materials.

Many Kiss My Face formulas now contain plant-based surfactants.
Under terms of the agreement with Amyris, which is based in Emeryville, CA, P&G is focused on the use of Amyris’s renewable product farnesene (Biofene) in certain specialty chemical applications within its products. In connection with these collaboration agreements, the parties have also entered into a supply agreement for Biofene, which would commence upon successful completion of certain technical and commercial milestones.

“We are very pleased to be working with P&G, a global leader in consumer products,” said John Melo, chief executive officer of Amyris. “These agreements demonstrate the breadth of applications we can access with our technology, and validate the versatility of our first fermentation product, Biofene.”

Amyris applies its industrial synthetic biology platform to produce a broad range of hydrocarbon products. Biofene—the first product that Amyris is seeking to produce at commercial scale—may be used directly as an ingredient in various industrial and consumer products applications, or it may be modified to provide an even broader range of additional products, such as diesel fuel, industrial and automotive lubricant products, ingredients for the cosmetics and personal care market, as well as other specialty and functional chemicals to replace petroleum-derived products.

In April, Amyris entered into a joint venture with São Martinho, a leading producer of sugar and ethanol, to construct the first commercial scale plant dedicated to the production of Amyris products. Amyris expects production from this plant may be used to supply farnesene to P&G.

Based in San Francisco, LS9 Inc. calls itself the “renewable petroleum company.” In a partnership that it formed with LS9 last year, P&G will employ one of the cleanest and most efficient technologies available to produce chemicals for consumer products. LS9’s technology converts renewable materials into high-value, low-carbon, cost effective fuels and chemicals. The partnership includes a multi-year collaboration that will accelerate the adoption of LS9’s proprietary technology in the production of a broad portfolio of commercial products—including sustainable chemicals and renewable transportation fuels. At the time of the announcement, made in April, 2009, Sauers said the partnership with LS9 delivers on P&G’s continued commitment to identify and promote sustainable innovations that help reduce the environmental profile of P&G’s products and operations.”

As it forges alliances with companies outside the household and personal care segment, P&G isn’t turning its back on traditional suppliers.

“We have 75,000 suppliers and we say to all of them, ‘please bring us technology to use for sustainability’—especially in the area of compacts,” said Sauers.

For P&G, green ingredients only represent a portion of the larger sustain- ability picture. Like other marketers, the company insists that its products only represent a fraction of the product’s carbon footprint. According to Sauers, P&G’s CO2 emissions from all of its production plants equal just one coal-fired power plant. Therefore, P&G’s most meaningful contribution to sustainability issues result when the company can get consumers to change their behavior and how they use P&G products.

To kick-start that change in behavior, P&G has rolled out an array of new products. In emerging markets, new Downy Single Rinse ensures effective cleaning of clothes with just one bucket of water. For developed markets, Tide Cold Water eliminates the need to heat wash water. According to Sauers, 3% of all U.S. energy consumption goes to washing clothes in warm water.

Rightly or wrongly, consumers believe that hot water is necessary for product efficacy. So Tide Coldwater saves money and energy. In Europe, P&G offers Ariel Excel Gel, which promises to get clothes clean in wash temperatures as low as 15°C. Moreover, it uses 40-50% less water and 30-40% less energy to manufacture.

Still, more work needs to be done in this area and, in addition to calling for more research into enzymes, Sauers said that there is a need for surfactants with higher solubility.

“It is our intent, in five years, to reach five billion consumers, up from four billion today,” explained Sauers. “So, we have to grow responsibly.”

Growing responsibly includes powering plants with renewable energy, whether it’s solar power in California and Italy, wind turbines in The Netherlands, or geothermal experiments taking place in Utah, near Yosemite.

“You have to find what’s right (for the region),” explained Sauers.

Other 2020 sustainability goals at P&G include having zero consumer and manufacturing waste go to landfills and designing products that delight consumers while maximizing the conservation of resources. In its efforts to create zero waste, P&G initiatives have kept 300,000 metric tones of packaging out of landfills. One example of that was the decision to eliminate the outer carton on Olay skin care products, a move that cut Olay packaging by 30%.

In recognizing the importance of sustainability, Sauers also issued one caveat: “Our view on sustainability is that there must be no tradeoff in terms of cost, consumer acceptance or performance,” he explained.

Other Voices
Smaller personal care companies, too, have their own system when it comes to choosing ingredients. Kiss My Face (KMF) is a privately held manufacturer of a variety of cosmetics. Heather Halpern, director of product development, explained that the ingredients considered acceptable for natural body care products has changed since the company was formed in the 1980s, with more scrutiny of processes as well as origin.

“As new information and ingredients have become available, KMF has continuously reformulated and tweaked our products to use the cleanest and best ingredients possible,” said Halpern. “There are more and more new natural ingredients becoming available daily.”

She noted that one of the challenges of ever narrowing “natural standards” for body care ingredients is the dramatically higher cost of the acceptable ingredients.

“As more natural body care companies utilize new green ingredients, hopefully the costs will drop and make these ingredients more accessible,” she added. As a signer of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, Kiss My Face follows the European Union’s Cosmetic Directive. According to Halpern, it is a standard for cosmetic ingredients that determines what ingredients are appropriate for the natural products industry.

Ingredient No Nos
“So there are many raw materials allowed in conventional personal care products that we would never use in our products,” she told Happi. “As this and other guidelines have changed, so have our formulations. Ingredients once considered the best natural choice have been replaced by new greener ingredients in our formulas.”

According to Halpern, new plant-based surfactants have been incorporated into a number of Kiss My Face products such as Moisture Soaps and Shower Gels. The company also utilizes a type of tapioca to thicken some of its skin care products.

“And we love the antioxidant superfruit—pomegranate, acai, cranberry, acerola—blend in our Breath Blast Mouthrinses,” she added.

According to Halpern, because Kiss My Face has been in the green marketplace for a while, the company has strong relationships with numerous suppliers of raw materials.

“(They) are happy to work with us to determine appropriate raw materials for our formulas,” she said. “The internet also makes it relatively easy to find ingredient suppliers and information.”

The web also makes it easy for consumers to learn more about the products they use, and forward-thinking consumer product companies are making sure that shoppers are hearing their messages.

“Ingredient communication is something that our consumers care about, and the large number of visits to our website have shown us that they want to hear from us,” observed Beard of SC Johnson. “For our company it’s a great way to engage with consumers. We also believe that having the right ingredients in our products is part of the holistic approach to sustainability.”