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 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 utilization, 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.
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.