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Water Scarcity Fuels Innovation

Towards Water-Efficient Products

One possible contribution towards solving the problem of water scarcity of water scarcity could be the development of less water-dependent laundry formulations for countries suffering growing water stress and scarcity. According to the latest sustainability reports from leading companies such as Unilever and Henkel, the rinsing of laundry with water contributes up to 85% of the total water footprint of the product. Key players are exploring potential solutions to combat water scarcity. After the sustainability challenge Reinventing Laundry to Be Less Water Dependent, which Unilever launched in October 2015, the company has launched the Sustainable Washing Challenge, aimed at improving the cleaning power of laundry products and therefore reducing the amount of water used to wash clothes.

In Asia Pacific, successful companies such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Kao Corporation provide detergent formulations with a lower water footprint such as Surf Excel Quick Wash or Attack Neo and fabric softeners such as Comfort and Downy One Rinse. The world leading enzyme supplier Novozymes markets Easyzyme, an enzyme solution for laundry bar detergents that reduces the amount of water needed to wash clothes by hand. Although globally bar detergents only represent 7% of laundry detergent sales by value, in India bars account for 25% of annual detergent sales and this is expected to remain the case throughout 2015-2020.

In order to gain the market-share in developing countries where most of the growth in laundry detergent sales is expected, ingredients and detergent manufacturers should invest in research to develop cost – and water-effective laundry products that are environmentally-friendly, so the water left after washing can be reused in other contexts. In fact, Unilever, which has a significant share of the laundry detergent market in countries with problematic water supply, such as India (40%), Thailand (55%), Vietnam (75%) and Indonesia (31%), is assessing novel biodegradable laundry ingredients and their potential use as nutrients in the sustainable growth of household food crops.

Action needs to be taken since water shortages are inevitably going to become more frequent across the world. There are market opportunities for liquid tablet detergents which prevent overdosing and promote water saving in developed regions and places with growing middle class such as some cities in China. By contrast, in developing countries with limited water supply the market will be focussed on low-cost, water-efficient hand washing detergents that are able to offer rapid and clean rinsing with limited water consumption. The implications for laundry ingredients manufacturers are significant and the market for enzymes, preservatives and non-ionic surfactants is expected to grow in the medium to long term.

Maria Coronado Robles

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