4 Ways the Cleaning Product Industry Measured Sustainability and Lessons Learned

The American Cleaning Institute (formerly soap and detergent Association) recently published its first, 2011 Sustainability Report. Didn’t know much about the organization and the work they do. So I interview Brian Sansoni, Vice President of Communication and Membership, for Ecotwist.

In our conversation, we chat about variety of topics related to the industry’s sustainability efforts. We also touched on the history of the organization, lessons learned, product/design/packaging innovation, consumer education and outreach. (We’ll talk more about their consumer education and outreach in another post. Their programs deserve an in-depth look).

According to Brian, the Soap and Detergent Association became “The American Cleaning Institute,” in 2010. Because they want to expand their reach to include ingredient suppliers. In short, ACI is a trade industry association representing producers of household, industrial, and institutional cleaning products, their ingredients and finished packaging, oleochemical producers and chemical distributors to the cleaning product industry.

Many of us might not know that this organization was founded in 1926. They’ve been working on advancing public understanding of the safety and benefits of cleaning products, and protecting the the ability of its members to formulate products that best meet consumer needs – since then. In fact, sustainability has already been at the core (of the Institute) long before “the term” became popular and corporate social responsibility was invented.

In addition, ACI do a lot of work on regulatory, technical, advocacy and outreach work.

Some the household names members, include Amway, BASF, the Clorox Company, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Unilever, SC Johnson, Seventh Generation and more.

Sustainability metrics

ACI realized as there are more groups of people, government interested on how industries operate sustainability, they realized as an organization they needed to put a spotlight on what their industry is doing on sustainability front. Many of the members have been putting up their sustainability operations in and around the companies.

So in 2009, ACI and its members started a pilot project to report on a common set of sustainability-related metrics relevant to the industry for both its consumer packaged goods and raw material supplier members.

Over the course of three years, 20 companies supply data that includes not only companies that make the end products (detergent, household cleaning products) but also companies that supply them with cleaning agents (chemical, enzymes, fragances) – the supply chain. They worked with Environmental Resources Management to device an initial system so companies can track metrics in four different areas that are associated with the U.S. production of cleaning products.

The project was an initial effort to see how they’re doing and to develop some ways for companies large and small to be able to track this kind of data. It was not an easy thing to do because a lot of companies produce and supply products besides cleaning products. So they have to separate out data – just data associated with cleaning products. It was a learning process.

The cleaning product industry measured its sustainability efforts in 4 different areas:

1. Energy use (electricity, steam, and on-site operations).

2. Greenhouse gas emission (CO2 equivalent) from all sources owned or controlled by the company.

3. Water use and conservation.

4. Waste generation.

1. Energy use

The energy metric data includes electricity use, generated offsite; purchase steam use, coal use, kerosene use, fuel oil use, gasoline use, natural gas (liquid and gas form) use, biogas/ landfill gas used as fuel, other ‘green’ energy sources, and energy use from distribution.


>> Result: The total energy use (in gigajoules) for participating members decreased from ’07 to ’09 by approximately 18% per ton of production.

2. Greenhouse gas emissions

Member companies reported on greenhouse gas emissions from all sources owned or controlled by the company, including indirect GHG emissions resulting from the off-site generation of purchased electricity, heat or steam; on-site generation of electricity, heat or steam; other combustion process; physical or chemical processing; venting and fugitive emissions.


>> Result: The greenhouse gas emissions for participating members also decreased by 25% in ’07 to ’09.

3. Water use and conservation

Water is one of the key resources used across in the full-cycle of production from the water used upstream for raw material production to the manufacturing process to consumers when they use their products. The water metric tracks not only the water amount use but also water saved through conservation measures.

The water use data includes: water in product, purchased water, withdrawn from wells, surface water at plants, collected rain water, gray or reused water, steam.


>> Result: Water use decreased by 10% for participating members from ’07 to ’09.

4. Waste generation

Members of the Institute generates both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. The waste metric tracks the amount of solid waste generated, reused, recycled and disposed by each company.


>> Result: Waste generation decreased between ’08 and ’09, but increased by approximately by 2% from ’07 to ’09.

Lessons learned

Learning is part of the process, afterall sustainability is a journey:

– The data helps them understand industry’s environmental performance and the effectiveness of the policies that these companies have in place as well as other programs and their manufacturing process.

– Overtime as companies look to see where the trend is going for their particular line of business, they would put new practices or improved practices in place so they can certainly cut down on energy use and water use.

– For companies during this time of economic challenge the past couple of years, that’s a big expense when you’re paying for fuel, energy to keep the processes moving to formulate products.

– Companies are taking a number of different steps to decrease energy use, make it more efficient that varies per company depending on what they make.

– More and more companies are looking at the practices certainly to get to a point because they are responsible to their stakeholders, customers and employees to put all of these processes in place, make sure that they’re safe and effective as possible.

Innovation.. in the process 

In many cases, through R&D innovation, companies tested and put out products that require less water. For example, liquid laundry detergent. If you go a store right now, you’ll find that liquid laundry detergent are all concentrated. By concentrating and compacting this liquid laundry detergent, consumers could still wash the same number of loads, but the package doesn’t need to be as big. For companies, they don’t need as many fleet of trucks to deliver to the store. So it saves money on transportation. Less packaging means you’re not using much water anymore. And less space needed at the retail level.

You can listen to the full interview here.


Check Out Environment Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Dewita Soeharjono on BlogTalkRadio


Author: Dewita

Co-founder Ecotwist Labs.

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