Chemicals in the company's cleaning and laundry products make up 46 percent of its Home Care division's carbon emissions across their life cycle.

Containers of Unilever's Persil Ultimate Powergems Bio Detergent (L) and Non-Bio Detergent (R) are seen in a photo illustration shot June 22, 2017.
Containers of Unilever's Persil Ultimate Powergems Bio Detergent (L) and Non-Bio Detergent (R) are seen in a photo illustration shot June 22, 2017. (Simon Newman / Reuters)

Unilever Plc is set to invest $1.18 billion to eliminate fossil fuels from its cleaning products by 2030, cutting the carbon emissions created by the chemicals used in making the products.

The household goods conglomerate behind the Omo, Cif, Sunlight and Domestos brands said that, instead of petrochemicals, the products would use constituents created from plants and other biological sources, marine sources such as algae and waste materials.

Chemicals in its cleaning and laundry products make up 46 percent of its Home Care division's carbon emissions across their life cycle.

The switch – which Unilever said it is the first company to commit to – will cut those emissions by a fifth.

"Clean Future is our vision to radically overhaul our business. As an industry, we must break our dependence on fossil fuels, including as a raw material for our products," Unilever Home Care boss Peter ter Kulve said in the statement.

Surfactants, or de-greasing agents, are the biggest petroleum-derived components, Peter ter Kulve, said. 

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.

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Too little, too late? 

Unilever said its $1.18 billion investment would be used to finance biotechnology research and carbon dioxide utilisation, 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 combatting 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.

It reported in July that, Cif surface cleaners and Domestos bleach sales jumped in the double-digits in the first half of 2020.

But the major hurdle at this time of heightened demand is getting new suppliers to scale up ingredient production to meet Unilever's requirements, Kulve said.

He, however, is confident that in choosing "skilled" partners, such as speciality 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. 

READ MORE: Unilever to invest over $1.1B into climate change fund over 10 years

Source: TRTWorld and agencies