Why sustainability must be grounded in science

The scale and urgency of the environmental challenges confronting the planet demands new thinking and new relationships. Could innovation grounded in science be part of the solution? We learnt more about how P&G Fabric and Home Care is investing in developing new products that carry the potential to cut European household carbon emissions.

By Procter & Gamble

P&G is improving everyday life as a Force for Growth and a Force for Good — for you, for the world, and for generations to come.

27 Jun 2023

How much energy is used each time you launder your clothes or wash your dishes and how much carbon does that release into the atmosphere? 

These may not be questions that households routinely consider as they flick a switch, turn a dial, or fill a bowl with hot water. But they are high on the agenda for detergent manufacturers, including P&G’s Fabric and Home Care division. For cleaning products, innovation is the key to help reduce European household carbon footprints while continuously delivering the clean consumers expect their products to deliver.   

Due to the scale and reach of P&G’s business, innovating products to deliver a better cleaning performance can enable sustainable habits, which have the potential for significant carbon savings. For example, if everyone in Europe turned the temperature of their washing machine down from 40°C to 30°C we could save 3.5 million tons of CO2 from being released into the air every year, which is equivalent to taking two million cars off the road. 

However, to deliver those carbon savings, households will need to be encouraged to switch to lower washing temperatures or to select more energy efficient cycles on their appliances. Manufacturers have dual responsibility to deliver performing products as well as creating awareness among consumers. P&G’s campaigns are already making an important difference when it comes to the behaviour of European consumers. Ariel’s “Every Degree Makes a Difference” campaign in Europe as well as the “Drop the Hot,” and “Switch to Short” campaigns from Fairy and Dreft are starting to deliver measurable shifts in consumer behaviour. Across Europe, average laundry wash temperatures are down by about 2 degrees in recent years, which is in line with Ariel’s target to reduce washing temperatures by 5 degrees by 2025. These efforts in laundry are being supported by a new P&G campaign focused on raising awareness of the potential carbon savings of changing dishwashing habits.  

“The switch to washing in lower temperatures and quicker cycles is delivering further benefits to consumers, reducing household costs, and benefiting the environment,” Sundar Raman CEO of P&G’s Fabric and Home Care Division tells Parliament Magazine. “This triple win has only been achieved as a result of a partnership where the whole value chain has invested in developing new approaches and where regulators have encouraged an operating environment where innovation can happen. Through innovation grounded in science, we can develop products that don’t just deliver what they are meant to do. They can also balance environmental sustainability and product safety without the need for compromise.” 

That theme, of how to create a “win-win” for planet, producers, consumers, and regulators is central to P&G’s approach to decarbonising at every step of their products’ lifecycle. At the heart it is the application of science and innovation to find dishwashing and laundry solutions that can deliver environmental sustainability in a way that does not reduce product effectiveness.  

Performance at lower temperatures requires breakthrough technology and continuous access to innovative ingredients, such as enzymes which perform very well in low concentrations allowing compaction and replacement of larger quantities of other ingredients. One good example is the unique enzyme used in Ariel products called Purezyme® which is developed based on the discovery of enzymes used by microorganisms that live on cold water seaweed.  

By learning from and even mimicking nature, working with partners across the value chain, and innovating with bioscience, P&G’s scientists have developed formulas that perform outstandingly well in more resource efficient washing conditions. Fairy and Dreft are also leveraging the findings of the LCA to develop dishwashing products that eliminate the need for pre-rinsing and deliver effectively, even when using shorter, energy-efficient cycles and cooler water. These innovations save time, energy, money, and reduce the CO2 footprint of laundry and dishwashing. 


Key to developing new approaches that deliver for consumers and the planet is the relationship between industry and policymakers. That relationship needs to be built on a foundation of openness and collaboration; to share information and generate new thinking. The ultimate goal of a more sustainable future is providing a solid foundation for different interests to come together to develop new solutions for the detergents sector.  

European legislators and regulators are already collaborating with industry to develop effective metrics. For example, assessing the carbon impact of detergent products must take into account not only manufacture, ingredients and packaging, but more importantly how the products are used. According to the Life Cycle Assessment of laundry products in Europe, on average around 60% of the carbon footprint comes from heating water in washing machines.  In dish handwashing this rises to an average of around 90%.   

Discounting the in-use phase in policy could discourage innovation, which would result in less effective products. In this scenario, consumers simply resort to increasing wash temperatures further, using high energy demanding cycles or resorting to compensating behaviours like pre-rinsing, pre-treating, and re-washing. These behaviours would have been at odds with the intent of the regulations.  

Encouragingly, P&G has started seeing a consensus behind an approach which looks at the whole life cycle of a product when assessing its carbon footprint. This model, of connecting smart science, large-scale consumer engagement, close collaboration and dialogue between the sector and regulators based on science, provides a template that can be replicated to deliver meaningful change and accelerate progress in a range of other important sustainability challenges, for instance around water and air quality, circular packaging and recycling. 

How ingredients are selected and used in various everyday products to deliver performance and secure sustainable behaviours is one such area that would likely benefit from such an approach. Human and environmental safety is a non-negotiable prerequisite for the industry that produce products which are trusted and used every day by billions of consumers around the globe. But if dishwashing and laundry detergents are to deliver to their full potential, then manufacturers have a responsibility to use the right type and amount of ingredients to achieve more with less. Such innovation routed to science is the only way forward as Europe looks to deliver on its Green Deal targets. It is also the best approach for companies to achieve their sustainability targets and keep serving the world’s consumers.