Improvements based on life cycle analyses

Sustainable development demands a systematic approach. With the help of life cycle analyses and the knowledge they have acquired during many years of work on sustainability, our experts analyze the complete life cycle of our products. As early as the product development phase we can assess what environmental impacts occur, and to what extent, in which phase of a product's life. Improvement measures can then be applied where they are most needed and can be most efficiently implemented.

In preparing life cycle analyses, we use our own primary data as well as data from our partners along the supply chain. If such data is not available, we draw on secondary data from existing data bases on life cycle analyses, average values and emission factors. To further develop metrics and indicators, we collaborate with external partners on topics such as product carbon footprints and water footprints. We also participate in international initiatives such as Walmart's Sustainability Consortium and the Consumer Goods Forum's Measurement Group.

Approaches for relevant improvements

A review of the life cycle analyses of our various product categories shows that the impacts on the environment often occur at very different points during the lifetime of a product. Suitable improvements can therefore often take widely differing forms. For example, the life cycle analyses of a laundry or dishwashing detergent show that energy consumption and hence the associated carbon dioxide emissions are highest during use in the washing machine or dishwasher. In such cases, we focus on developing products that can be used in a manner that saves energy and water. Other product categories call for an increase in the resource-efficiency of our own processes. Additional approaches for improving the environmental profiles of our products include the use, wherever appropriate, of renewable raw materials, improving the level of biodegradability, and reducing and enhancing packaging materials.

Henkel-Sustainability#Master

To operationalize the topic of sustainability for our product developers in their daily work, we have developed various instruments that come together in the Henkel Sustainability#Master. At the heart of this is a matrix in which the hot spots are plotted per product category. This makes it possible to compare the sustainability performance of two products or processes and to show very clearly and quantifiably where performance has improved or worsened. In 2011, we used the Sustainability#Master in pilot projects, including one focusing on communication with our retail partners. As an example, the chart below pinpoints the hot spots along the product life cycle of a liquid laundry detergent. Hot spots are fields in which the environmental impacts are the greatest. At the same time, they are the ones with the greatest potential for delivering more value to our customers and consumers. The fields in the "footprint" dimension reflect the results of life cycle analyses, empirical data, and the assessments of external experts. Where appropriate, we have these assessments validated through discussion with stakeholders. Our researchers use the results to continuously improve our products.

Two category examples illustrating hot spots

  • Graph hot spots in the liquid laundry detergent category
  • Graph hot spots in the coatings for print finishing category

Product Carbon Footprint

In order to measure the contribution of products to climate protection, experiments are being carried out worldwide to measure product carbon footprints. Unlike complete life cycle analyses, this involves determining only the climate-relevant greenhouse gas emissions throughout the value chain of a product – from the purchase of the raw materials through production and use to disposal. However, until now there has been no internationally harmonized method for determining the carbon footprint of a product. Henkel therefore participates in pilot projects in Germany and the USA with a view to driving forward the development of a reliable and internationally harmonized method of determining carbon footprints. Since the beginning of 2011, we have also been involved in a project run by the EU Commission to establish standardized methods for calculating the ecological footprint of organizations and products. A case study of Somat 10 was selected for the "Products" category.

A key area of our research in cooperation with the Arizona State University in Phoenix, Arizona (USA), is the environmental impact of laundry washing, taking into consideration the special conditions in American households. The scientific findings reveal how consumers can contribute to conserving resources through the use of efficient washing machines, tumble dryers and laundry detergents, as well as by changing their laundry washing habits.

As a partner in the German Product Carbon Footprint project, we calculated the carbon footprint of various Henkel products. We then contributed the experience gained during the project as input in a working group of the DIN standards organization with a view to developing an international ISO standard (ISO 14067).

Product Water Footprint

The Earth's water resources are unequally distributed and are threatened by increasing pollution and overuse. For us, therefore, reducing water consumption during the production and use of our products is an important aim. In order to identify suitable approaches for achieving improvements, we participate in efforts to develop methods for water footprinting. In 2010, for example, we worked together with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, to study the consequences of the water demand for laundry detergent production at our sites in the Middle East and North Africa. At the heart of this was a consideration of the different amounts of water required for the production of powder and liquid laundry detergents, taking into account regional factors such as water availability, scarcity and quality. We feed the experience we gain from such pilot projects into the discussion on the development of an international ISO standard (ISO 14046) on water footprints.

Last updated: March 8, 2012