Ecover`s future goal is a natural clean world
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Ecover is a pioneer in eco-detergents and cleaning products as well as the market leader in this segment. The Belgian company can look back on 35 successful years. Today, Ecover products are available in around 40 countries worldwide. For this company, innovation and sustainability are a must not only in product development but also in packaging. So Ecover has developed in the course of its history. Alongside organic and cellulose surfactants, in packaging it has done pioneering work in the use of bottles made from 100% green polyethylene. Organic-Market.Info met Tom Domen, who is head of the Innovation Department at Ecover. (Video)
Picture: Long term innovation manager Tom Domen talks to Organic-Market.InfoTom Domen, hello! You are the long-term Innovation Manager at Ecover. When did you join the success story of the company and what is your job there?
Eight years ago I came to work at Ecover. My background was innovative industrial design and I started at Ecover to develop new range of product packaging. At the time we started to sharpen our future strategy and vision in view of sustainability becoming more and more claimed by mainstream brands. So we started to draft the future of what sustainable cleaning could look like in 10 to 20 years from now. We tried to identify how societal and technological changes could radically improve the act of washing and cleaning and how we can move from being less bad today to being restorative in the future. We are experimenting with new technologies and researching new formats so that we can continue to be a pioneer in the future. Ecover is strongly dedicated to developing a long-term sustainable strategy.
There´s a long list of milestones in the history of Ecover. Which ones have been the most important in your opinion?
Looking back over the 35 years, we’ve had a lot of product improvement and innovation. But for me the founding of Ecover is still the most important and amazing point. The founder Frans Bogaerts was a visionary at that time - 35 years ago! He identified all the bad chemicals in cleaning products and dreamed of environmentally-friendly, natural cleaners. Without consumer demand, he created a new product range and a new market for green alternative cleaning products that simply didn’t exist before. This visionary spirit is still alive in the company. There are, of course, other important milestones like the building of green factories. Again with the dominating idea that we do it in a sustainable way and follow the same strong ecological principles that apply to our product development. Renewable materials were used for our building, and we built the biggest green roof worldwide at that time. Another point that impresses me very much is the fact that Ecover realized that it’s not enough only to avoid all critical ingredients like phosphates and phtalates but that it has to search for natural ingredients, equal in product performance but not harmful to the environment and people´s health. I think the innovative milestone was the insight to develop truly green products that consumers really want and the ability to introduce ingredients from natural sources. The same with packaging: Ecover was one of the first companies that came out with plant-based bottles made from sugarcane.
Sustainability is a journey that never ends. This is one of the guiding principles of the company. How exactly does Ecover define this term that is used so often today?
In fact, there is no exact definition of sustainability, which means the term is often abused when applied to the smallest green initiatives. For us, it’s clear that sustainability is a continuous process of improvement and a search for the best solutions that are possible today. Calling yourself a sustainable company means that you’re on this continuous quest for improvement and that you’re always looking for the best available sustainable technology out there.
“The focus should not be on securing what you have but on preparing for the next big change” - that´s the definition of innovation from the Ecover website. Let´s talk about future projects. What comes next?
For the next innovation we’re trying to understand better how nature works without any harmful impact at all and indeed with only a beneficial impact on the environment. So we’re trying to translate those natural processes into innovative formulas for cleaners for the future. Our goals are efficiency in use with benefits for nature and people. For the near future, we have two main focus areas. One is to identify the most sustainable sources for our raw materials. As we are relying on using plant based resources, we have to make sure they are grown in harmony with people and planet. They shouldn’t deplete soil or water, not compete with food and grown as locally as possible in fair conditions for the workers. In short, plant based materials grown within a restorative cycle. On the other hand, there’s the challenge of the environmental impact caused by packaging. A lot of plastic ends up in the oceans today, so we need to find a solution for this big problem. First we’ll create awareness of the problem, but we’ve also started a programme with local European fishermen to get the plastic waste out of the ocean and to recycle it to make new bottles later this year. We’ve already identified 45 hotspots in Europe where we clean beaches and the sea with special nets. So far, we’ve collected eight tons of plastic. That’s now got to be sorted and recycled.
(Pictures: Eco factory, warehouse, bottling plant)
Ecover is already distributed in more than 40 countries all over the world and is now building a new production site in the United States?
We currently have factories in Belgium and France. But to really address the growing market in the United States we decided to build a factory in Chicago with our partner firm Method. That will again be a step forward in terms of ecological building. We’ll be one of the first LEED-certified factories in the world, and we plan to grow food on the roof. In the second stage, we’ll even try to grow ingredients for our products on the roof.
Ecover is supporter of the GreenTec Award 2013 – why?
The GreenTec Award is Europe`s most important prize for the environment and economy. The prize award ceremony is the perfect stage to draw attention to our visions. This year in May we’ll be celebrating our 35th anniversary at the GreenTec Award Pioneer Lounge. As the award will be the kick-off event at IFAT (International Trade Fair for Water, Sewage, Waste and Raw Materials Management), the spotlight will be on Ecover!
Finally, please tell us how Ecover is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.
The first thing we’ll celebrate is our staff in order to thank all our employees for their commitment. To keep a company moving successfully into the future, I think it’s important to maintain the culture that’s so typical and specific to us. We also want to give back something to our clients and, therefore, we’ll be launching special activities in each country where consumers can win prizes.
(Pictures: Tom Domen, Biomimikry, Natural Born Cleaners, forms of nature)
|Short Company Profile
Milestones in Ecover´s history
1979 Ecover was founded in a small cottage in a rural town in Belgium and the first phosphate free
washing powder was created
1989 first products came to the super market shelves
1991 a brand new eco factory, the first of its kind in the world, based in Malle, Belgium was built
1993 Ecover was the first and only household cleaning brand to win the Global 500 Roll of Honour of
the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
1996 Ecover successfully launched automatic dishwasher tablets without phosphates.
2007 a new factory in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France was built
2008 Time Magazine picked us and our CEO as Eco Pioneers for their Hero of the Environment
2009 launch of a new range of Hard Surface Cleaners with revolutionary Eco Surfactants,
developed by Ecover scientists, using a completely natural fermentation process
2011 a green bottle, made from plastic derived from sugarcane saves 2.500 tons of CO2 a year
2012 Cruelty Free International awarded Ecover with the Leaping Bunny seal
2014 35th anniversary of Ecover with more than 300 employees
2015 opening of a new eco factory in Chicago/ USA