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ACI 2020: Sustainability in sharp focus

February 3, 2020
Chemical Value Chain

Sustainability is dominating discussion at ACI’s annual convention, currently under way in Orlando, as cleaning products companies push to reformulate to meet the needs of savvy consumers.

Suppliers are working hard to innovate and offer soapers more sustainable, convenient, and differentiated formulations.

To help the cleaning products industry navigate the changing landscape, ACI’s board has approved a new, three-year strategic plan focused on business, science, sustainability, and communications. The plan will “help ACI be stronger, more agile, and more forward thinking,” said Melissa Hockstad, ACI’s president and CEO, in her opening address. The plan will enable ACI to “nurture impactful relationships to accelerate growth and innovation across the cleaning products industry” and “advance, promote, and utilize science to drive informed dialogue and decision making.”

There is a lot to be happy about in this industry, Sundar Raman, president/fabric care, North America and P&G Professional, Global Procter & Gamble, said. Demand is up in North America, and the industry is growing. “And there are more opportunities for innovation,” he added. “People’s lives continue to be time-starved, and solutions that make their lives easier are in demand.”

Macro trends favor the cleaning products industry, noted Timothy Mulhere, executive vice president and president, global institutional, at Ecolab. The global population is growing, as is the middle class. And with that growth comes increased expectations for health and hygiene. “For industry, that bodes well,” he said. “Innovation is key to taking advantage of these tailwinds.”

F. Quinn Stepan, Jr., chairman and CEO, Stepan Company, noted that the cleaning products industry is in a strong position. “The mission of the industry is fundamentally good. Markets are growing, and we have significant opportunities to grow…and with technology and science, we can make a big impact on the world.” He also highlighted the tremendous gap in health and hygiene practices globally, Stepan noted. “Our penetration is high, but can be much higher.”

Discussions around sustainability have “become much more concrete,” says Ralph Schweens, president of BASF Care Chemicals. “It’s a much stronger theme in 2020. It’s a deeply dominating topic.” Sustainability discussions must coincide with innovation, he adds. “Sustainability solutions will come from innovation. It’s not just a trend. If you play in this field, it’s part of your license to operate in the future.” Schweens says BASF is shifting R&D spend into biodegradable and biobased solutions, including products based on its enzymes technology.

“Sustainability is absolutely a key driver of this industry now,” says Eric Peeters, global business director, home and personal care for Dow. “We see that in every meeting and every site discussion. It’s what every consumer has on their minds.”

The growing influence of sustainability is accelerating the pace of innovation, says Vincent Gass, head of global marketing industrial & consumer specialties at Clariant. “I’m very optimistic. The market in 2019 was a little bumpy, but I also feel this was a transition year,” Gass says. “The speed of innovation, the new tools allowed by digital, and an appetite for sustainable concepts where consumers can feel empowered by a brand is [opening new opportunities].”

It is no longer a discussion about the premise or concept of sustainability but rather “Do you have the solutions required, how do we get there, and how fast can we get there,” Gass says.

Stuart Holt, global technical marketing manager, cleaning surface chemistry at Nouryon, agrees that the sector is dynamic. “Consumers are more educated and sophisticated in terms of product selection, so you have more product line diversification to meet these niche needs. These can be biobased materials, perfumes from natural sources, or third-party accreditations.”

By Rebecca Coons and Robert Westervelt

Source: Chemical Week

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