A Sparkling Future for the Household Category – Can A Clean House Mean A Clean Planet?


Driven by consumer demands for greater social responsibility, circular economies, and a general commitment to environmental wellbeing, the ‘sustainability’ buzzword is making its way into the household product market. With its increasing prevalence in wider society, FMCG companies are becoming more active in this transition through their desire to meet their customers green expectations, to ensure their longevity in the global marketplace, and to make profits for shareholders and owners… as well as a duty of care for the planet.

These sustainable transitions are becoming particularly important in the cleaning industry. The Research and Markets household cleaning products industry report found that sales of household cleaning products rose by an incredible 195% during the pandemic, and as such it is expected that household waste from these same products has risen. Yet, the majority of the cleaning products sold in multiples are not entirely environmentally friendly. At least not to the extent that we would expect with an increasing trend in ‘green cleaning’ and sustainable living.

The Issue With Current Cleaning Products

Often cleaning products contain chemicals that are derived largely from fossil fuels and are encased in plastics that take years to decompose. The disposal of both creates a number of negative environmental impacts such as polluting water resources and depleting the ozone layer. Household products giant Unilever have quantified this impact (Unilever, 2020), stating that 46% of the life-cycle carbon footprint of their cleaning products originates from fossil fuel stocks. Not only this, these products may be negatively affecting our health, for example, excessive inhalation of bleach is known to damage our respiratory system. It’s quite ironic that something made to prevent the spread of diseases and kill bacteria may actually be harming us in the long run.

unilever sign and household products

Despite this risk, cleaning is necessary – I do it, you do it, we all do it, and we will all continue to do it especially with COVID-19 on the rise again. This is a clear dilemma: how do we maintain a clean home without dirtying our planet?

Large FMCG companies have the capacity to reduce their environmental impact and play a particularly important role in the UK’s transition towards a low carbon economy, and such transitions are already occuring. Only last year Unilever committed to halving their virgin plastic use by 2025; cutting over 350000 tonnes of plastic from their manufacturing facilities in favour of greener alternatives such as cardboard and bamboo, and to expand upon this commitment in September they further pledged to eliminating fossil fuels from all cleaning products by 2030 as a core element of their ‘clean future plan’.

This alone will reduce the carbon footprints of some of the world’s largest cleaning brands by up to 20%, and set them on the path towards net-zero by 2039. Similarly, in 2018 Proctor and Gamble committed to the three Rs hoping to achieve 100% recyclable or reusable packaging by 2030. As of 2019, 88% of P&G packages were considered recyclable, showing that they are working efficiently towards this goal (P&G, 2019). These investments into low-carbon technologies and maybe even carbon neutrality will have significant contributions to the UK’s net-zero carbon target.

green globe and figure with brush

Clean Doesn’t Come Cheap

Living sustainably commands a short term cost premium, however, and whilst it’s great to see large companies taking the eco-plunge, there is valid concern that smaller independent eco-driven businesses will be negatively impacted as they may not be able to financially compete. Efforts to keep the current Ocean Saver consumer who buys refillable kitchen spray pods, for example, may struggle against the more budget friendly Cif product options on the horizon. If the latter can provide the same environmental benefits at half the price, why would they stay loyal to a more expensive brand?

Either way, the positive impacts that are expected to come from FMCG giants such as Unilever and P&G, alongside the continued progressive nature of these smaller businesses prove significant. It is important that large businesses make these transitions, as many others will follow in their steps towards a more sustainable future. Maybe a clean house can create a clean planet after all?

Contact us if you would like to discuss the topic of how household brands can help save the planet in further detail. Our FMCG consultants are always on hand to discuss ways in which your product or brand can become more environmentally conscious.

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