DuPont Industrial Biosciences: The Challenge of Going Green

Smithers Apex: As consumers continually push for more sustainable products, what do you think is the biggest concern among sustainability awareness?

Annemarieke Van Heeswijk: It is mainly the younger consumer that really pushes for more sustainable products and shows a willingness to tryout products promoting sustainability benefits. Unfortunately, there is also a relatively large group of consumers out there that do not push for more sustainable products as they still have a feeling that it comes at extra cost or with a compromise on performance.

When we relate this concern of performance compromise specifically to the laundry detergent category, we see a few dominating barriers returning in the research that we have done. The consumer is not confident that the more heavily soiled clothes get cleaned well enough. Additionally, the consumer does not feel confident that at lower washing temperatures, clothes get fully sanitized and that the risk of unpleasant odors after washing increases. 

In other words, a product must perform well for consumers to choose to use it again, however it must be balanced against the impact on the environment. There are consumers that simply do not believe the sacrifice in performance is offset by sufficient impact on the environment. Kind of a “too little to matter, so why should I bother” mindset.  We do believe that in general consumers do not appreciate the cumulative nature of their individual and our collective choices to choose more sustainable options. Translating green concerns into green behavior does remain a challenge.

Smithers Apex : What do you think is the biggest challenge in creating a more sustainable product?

Annemarieke Van Heeswijk:  At DuPont, we embed sustainability in our innovation process and challenge all products in our pipeline to contribute to a safer, healthier, more sustainable world. But true innovation takes time. Additionally, true innovation comes at a cost. The laundry detergent industry is a competitive industry and is challenged to balance investment in innovation and sustainability. Luckily, there are a number of great companies that are doing that well and taking the lead in this space. I believe that the key lies in the fact that all players in the value chain must contribute to the solution. Therefore, improving the collaboration in the industry is the biggest challenge that we should take on in our efforts to create more sustainable products for the laundry detergent segment.

Smithers Apex: What are some of the most interesting and/or innovative solutions regarding sustainability, at this time?

Annemarieke Van Heeswijk: For a market that is viewed by most consumers as a low interest category - detergents and doing laundry is not the most exciting thing in the world – there’s a whole lot going on. I like to share some examples that are close to my heart.

A while ago we announced that Dupont can produce cellulosic ethanol, which is the second generation of bioethanol and, in this case, is derived from agricultural waste: corn stalks, cobs and leaves leftover from the harvest. Ethanol has long been used in detergents allowing for process ability, stability and better washing performance. The goal now is for the cellulosic ethanol produced to replace traditional ethanol and deliver a more sustainable product.

Next, we have several low temperature profile enzymes in our innovation pipeline. These enzymes will allow for better cleaning results when the consumer washes at the recommended lower temperature. We all know that the oily soils are the ones that annoy the consumer most as they are the hardest to remove at lower washing temperature. Our goal is to, soon, deliver a solution to that problem.

Smithers Apex: What are you looking forward to hearing at Cleaning Products US?

Annemarieke Van Heeswijk: It is critical that we stay on top of what is happening in the world and how that impacts the end-consumer. Therefore, I am especially interested in the sessions on trends in e-commerce and the developments in the machine and packaging area. However, to me the sessions are only one aspect of the Cleaning Products conference. The real value for the DuPont team are in the discussions during and in between the sessions as well as the networking over the course of the 3 day conference.