Sustainable cleaning products giant Ecover announced this week it is developing an algae-based laundry liquid as part of its goal to cut the use of palm oil in all of its products.
Palm oil has become a huge topic of concern for NGOs, brands and consumers alike. The ubiquitous oil and its by-products are used in hundreds of packaged food, personal care and cleaning products — as demand has continued to increase, its production has become the largest single driver of deforestation in South East Asia and parts of Africa and South America.
As CEO Philip Malmberg explains in a video, “All the big soaps are using massive amounts of palm oil — this has become a really unsustainable way of growing and harvesting the palm oil, and it has had massive, massive impacts on wildlife, on the forests. Rainforests are being cut away and they’re being replaced with palm trees and that’s the major concern. So we’re offering a much better, much more sustainable liquid laundry product.”
Malmberg insists the algal-based oil will in no way compromise on the quality or effectiveness of the brand’s conventional products.
Ecover only uses RSPO-certified palm oil, which ensures more sustainable sourcing. But as the demand for palm oil has increased, the company says it sought out a less impactful alternative.
“The environmental benefits of the algae oil are multiple — first of all, it has a much lower greenhouse gas footprint, or CO2 footprint, because of how it’s sourced,” Tom Domen, Ecover’s long-term innovation manager, says in the video. “Secondly, the water usage to grow the algae is massively different from any other oil you find in the market — either renewable or fossil-based oils that are out there.
“Thirdly, it doesn’t compete with land usage, it doesn’t compete with food — so really, it’s the most sustainable oil in all areas,” Domen says.
Another benefit of algae is that, since it can be grown anywhere, it doesn't need to be shipped across the world as most palm oil does, resulting in an even smaller carbon footprint.
While the spotlight on the destructive nature of the palm oil industry has prompted a number of major brands and their suppliers to commit to zero-deforestation methods of procuring the oil, an investigation last month by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found that a majority of those companies are so far falling short of their commitments.
In September, Unilever — one company that scored highly on the UCS scorecard — formed a supply partnership with Solazyme around the companies' jointly developed Tailored™ Algal Oils, which Unilever says it will use in its Dove and Brylcreem brand personal care products.