Exclusive Interview with Kristine Dorosko of European Commission

Kristine Dorosko, Policy Officer Sustainable Production, Products & Consumption for the European Commission, recently shared her thoughts on sustainable challenges facing the industry, when it comes to labelling, how the Ecolabel will help move the industry forward and where she sees the industry going in the forseeable future. Kristine will be presenting on Europe's Transition to a Circular Economy - EU Ecolabel Criteria on Detergents  on day 1 of the conference.

The EU Ecolabel is a voluntary ecolabelling scheme is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. It is a component of the European Commission’s Action Plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production and Sustainable Industrial Policy. It encourages manufactures to produce goods and services that are more environmentally-friendly. Any good or service that has been awarded the EU Ecolabel meets a set of high environmental and performance standards. Today, nearly 39,000 products and services bearing the EU Ecolabel are available on the market.
In the Circular Economy Action Plan the Commission has pledged to take action to enhance the uptake of the EU Ecolabel. This step will contribute to the continued efforts of providing companies and consumers with a credible ecolabel to promote sustainable consumption and production, enhancing circular economy within Europe.

Exclusive Interview wtih Kristine Dorosko

Smithers Apex: What are some of the biggest sustainable challenges facing the industry, when it comes to labelling, right now?

Kristine Dorosko: We have just finished the revision process for the EU Ecolabel criteria for detergents. From discussions, one could conclude that the biggest challenge is the environmental "profile" of the formula of the product. We need formulas with reduced environmental footprint and that demonstrate excellent performance and effectiveness at the same time. Moreover these formulas should work at low temperatures, at low dosages and promote lower water consumption. Thus, the challenge for chemical engineers is to develop a 'greenmagic formula' that is efficient and environmentally neutral in all aspects. With every revision of the EU Ecolabel criteria, the European Commission is reducing the environmental footprint of formulas that are allowed in EU Ecolabel products and this is not an easy negotiation.

The balance between the environmental performance and consumer demand for specific features can be another striking issue. Producers use scents to differentiate products in many countries, as they consider this to be a precondition for successful sales. At the same time a large proportion of fragrances are known to have a high environmental impact on aquatic toxicity and allergen properties. Changing consumers' habits and culture is not an easy task and therefore producers are reluctant to let go of fragrances despite the ecotoxicological impacts.

Finally, when we talk about sustainable sourcing of raw materials, there is still a high dependence on petrolbased surfactants, because most of the bio based surfactants must compete with the food industry which dictates the prices.

Smithers Apex: What has been the biggest change for labelling, in the past 5 years? AND what do you envision will be the biggest change in the next 5 years?

Kristine Dorosko: Over the past 5 years the labelling world has had to adapt to innovations on the market. For example, we have observed new developments in the chemical industry like the usage of nanomaterials. In addtion, microplastics that are now known polluters of our aquatic ecosystems and that create additional costs for wastewater treatment, plants have not been understood as such several years ago. We have also observed that laundry detergents have been adapted to use in low temperatures and enzymes are more widely used. Therefore, some additional and new criteria sets were developed for the EU Ecolabel, such as a ban on the use of mircoplastics, limits for sensitizers, certain requirements for nanomateraisl and tightening of different limiting values. 

Based on environmental performance there is a general perception that bio based materials are better, which is not necessarily always the case and will need to be assessed in a reliable way in the future. More responsible certification of sustainable origin will definitely be a challenge we need to face in the coming years.

The EU Ecolabel is a tool supportive to innovative and responsible industry players. It may be perceived as challenging to comply with, but it will pay off if we all make use of the instrument proactively offering the buyer truly sustainable products. For this, we should consider more ambitious actions when developing policies and strategies and consequently innovating and producing. In the end, consumers will see the difference: when we say "sustainable", we should be "sustainable". 

Smithers Apex: Sustainability and labelling is at the forefront right now, but in your words, how will this help the cleaning industry move forward?

Kristine Dorosko: Eurobarometer results indicate that 26% of the EUs SMEs offer green products and services and half of those offer products and services are with environmental features such as organic production and eco-labelling or eco design. According to the same poll 77% of consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products - provided that they can be confident that they are truly environmentally performing. It seems that the cleaning industry is already at the forefront of this debate - but much more could still be done. 

Over the past years, there has been a "mushrooming" of labels tha tmake it difficult for consumers to identify products with real reduced environmental impact. With so many green labels and claims lining the shelves, it can be hard to tell which ones to trust. Consumers are therefore looking for reliable and transparent labels. Thanks to transparent ecological criteria, the EU Ecolabel enables consumers to make informed choices, without compromising on the quality of the products. Another benefit of the EU Ecolabel is that it is recognized across the European continent and even in other countries worldwide. 

So there are a lot in it for industry in making use of the EU Ecolabel for the marketing of their product. We will continue the dialogue on how to increase the offer of sustainable products and services that the consumers are increasingly asking for. 

Smithers Apex: What is it that customers are looking for when they check the labels on cleaning products?

Kristine Dorosko: As ecolabelled products are supposed to represent the top 10% of environmentally performant products, they are a :niche: market. 

Several prerequisites are necessary for ecolabelled products to have strong selling power. First of all, education and social wellbeing, and secondly, culture. Some people, unfortunately still often see "eco" products as having inferior cleaning power and they make the wrong assumptions.

Based on studies and market observations, consumers mainly think of themselves and their health first. Sometimes, they just make decisions based on "colour codes" that make assocations of green products. This often misleads the consumer and they buy the products without a good understanding of what the label stands for. 

Knowing that consumers first thinkg about their wellbring and only then about the environment, what we need to offer ot them is a "win-win" situation: a products that is first of all fulfilling its purpose, secondly doesn't contain known harmful substances and thirdly, minimises harmful effects to the environment ; e.g. low ecotoxicity, good bibodegradeability, reducing packaging waste. The EU Ecolabel is focusing on all those elements. Moreover, we have to increase our efforts to communicate that consumers don't need to choose between sustainable products and efficient products. While the EU Ecolabel detergents have reduced impact on aquatic ecosystem and restricted hazardous substances content, they have also been tested for their performance. Therefore, consumers choosing the EU Ecolabel have it "all in one"!

Smithers Apex: What are you most looking forward to hearing at Cleaning Products EU 2017?

Kristine Dorosko: We look forward to hearing a clear commitment from teh industry for its continuous effort towards sustainability and for choosing reliable environmental communication tools, such as the EU Ecolabel. We would be very happy to hear that companies representing the cleaning sector are committed to join the market of 'low carbon' and 'environmental' goods that has been growing at an annual rate averaging 4%, even during the economic recession. 

We also look forward to hearing what the industry expects from the EU Ecolabel in the future and how we can help in this respect. Interesting discussions ahead!