Ecover captures world market

18th February 2013, Comments 0 comments

Since the takeover of its American competitor Method last year, Ecover can now call itself the world’s biggest manufacturer of environmentally friendly cleaning and care products. It all started with a humble beginning in a garage in Malle 34 years ago, when a group of ecologically driven pioneers led by Frans Bogaerts decided to produce a phosphate-free washing powder to soften man’s footprint on the environment. Even though their original products were more eco-sensitive than conventional washing powders, they did not manage to clean as thoroughly and Ecover had to come up with serious product innovation to get rid of their poorer cleaning power image. Says Tom Domen 38, who has worked as Ecover’s long term product innovation manager for the past two years: “In the nineties we evolved from a ‘no’ code to a ‘yes’ code, adding natural ingredients to our products which worked instead of avoiding ingredients which were bad for the environment. Research and Development manager Dirk Develter played a key role with his diamond model to ensure products met with certain criteria, designing a matrix that started off with five parameters and has since grown to 13. Each product is tested against its conventional equal in terms of efficiency, impact on health and the environment, origin of raw materials, transport, packaging, lack of petroleum derivatives and VOCs volatile organic compounds like solvents which can be harmful to one’s health and the environment. Nowadays Ecover’s products mainly consist of vegetable components 75 to 100%. Conventional products contain around 40% to 50% of these components. Ecover is currently collaborating with Fisch the Flanders Innovation Hub for Sustainable Chemistry partnering with the Flemish Institute for Technological Research Vito, and Flemish universities on steps to develop alternative raw materials. More conventional brands have meanwhile also become more ecologically correct, with the phosphates that were commonplace thirty years ago now being banned in washing powders and soon also in dishwashers. One could well ask whether this would cause Ecover to lose ground as green innovator, but Domen is ready with an answer. “For now we have not reached the stage where everyone is using fully biologically degradable and raw materials totally plant-based without any risks to health or the environments. Unlike conventional brands we do not want any optic brighteners in our washing powders or solutions and no foaming enhancers in our dishwashing products. We have also gone one step further with sustainable procurement, avoiding food crops and choosing recycled waste streams instead.” As R&D manager, Domen believes the future is locked in biomimicry or biomimetica, an innovative method based on the premise that products and processes should follow nature’s 3.8 billion year research and development track record as its inspiration. Says Domen: “Before we were happy to use natural resources, but now we know that we need a better understanding of natural processes in order to use them. Our long-term vision involves that we apply biomimicry principles on our products, production processes, packaging and organization.”

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