October will mark a memorable development in South Africa as Unilever manufactures its leading dishwashing liquid brand, Sunlight, with captured carbon emissions, a first to land in the market. The ground-breaking process is in alignment with Unilever’s global strategy, which has set the target of eliminating 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in its cleaning and laundry products by 2030.
Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid, which was the first product in its category to introduce a fully recycled and recyclable bottle in 2018, will now be the first product in the Unilever SA range to showcase a new formulation using this innovative component. As part of a pilot project, the new formulation will be available in-store for a limited time only, making Sunlight the first dishwashing liquid in the world to use captured carbon emissions.
The captured carbon, also known as ‘purple carbon’, in Unilever’s Carbon Rainbow model, has been drawn from industrial emissions, purified and recycled for use in products that currently depend on fossil fuel-based inputs, termed as ‘black carbon’. Unilever is on a journey to eliminate black carbon from its cleaning and laundry products altogether, a process that is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12 and 13 (SDGs).
The development of purple carbon has been done in partnership with innovation partners, LanzaTech and India Glycols (IGL), introducing a newly configured supply chain between the three companies and facilitating a meaningful shift in production to the use of biotechnologies.
“Most cleaning products today make use of chemicals derived from fossil fuel, which is a non-renewable resource,” says Judisha Naidoo, Director: R&D, Home Care Africa at Unilever. “Introducing purple carbon into Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid is a first step towards replacing this source of carbon in all of our cleaning and laundry brands worldwide.”
This echoes the words Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech: “Our planet is running out of time and how we treat carbon requires urgent revision. By working with Unilever and IGL we can turn waste carbon into an opportunity, keeping fossil fuels in the ground and enabling new circular processes to make the products we use every day.”
Clean Future defines the way in which Unilever aims to embed the principles of a circular economy into both its product formulations and packaging worldwide in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
“Introducing purple carbon into Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid represents a deliberate shift away from the fossil fuel economy and is a critical step in our commitment to achieving net zero emissions from our products by 2039,” says Lethepu Matshaba, CCVP: Home Care Africa at Unilever.
“Clean Future gives expression to our vision of radically overhauling our business because, as an industry, we need to break our dependence on fossil fuels. There is ample carbon above the ground to use it at scale and we now have the technology to do that. It’s time to move away from extracting fossil fuels to make chemicals.”
IGL Chairman and Managing Director, Uma Shankar Bhartia ji, agrees. “At IGL, we have always been focusing on exploring novel ways to exploit renewable resources for making specialty products for our valued customers in different sectors. We are proud of being part of this consortium with Unilever and LanzaTech and creating the world’s first purple surfactant to launch in market.”
Cleaning products play an important role in the fight against Covid-19. “We know that consumers want access to affordable, sustainable products that do the job they’re intended to do well. Rapid developments in science and technology are providing the means for us to do this and we’re committed to seizing the opportunity to be at the forefront of change. By sharing our Carbon Rainbow model, we hope to trigger an economy-wide transformation in the way in which carbon inputs are used,” concludes Matshaba.
About Unilever’s Carbon Rainbow
In September 2020, Unilever announced its Clean Future strategy, featuring the core objective of eliminating 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in the manufacture its products.
Central to Clean Future is the concept of the Carbon Rainbow, which was developed to illustrate the process of diversifying the carbon inputs used in product formulations.
Unilever aims to replace non-renewable, fossil-based sources of carbon, identified in the Carbon Rainbow as black carbon, with four renewable carbon inputs. These are purple carbon, which is developed from carbon from industrial emissions; green carbon, which is developed from plants and other biological sources; blue carbon, which is derived from marine sources such as algae; and grey carbon, which is recovered from unrecyclable waste materials.