How Procter & Gamble is saving water, reducing carbon emissions, and eliminating plastic use one soluble swatch at a time

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July 2, 2019

“Relaxed sophistication: Juicy pineapple, along with a blend of frozen citrus notes combine perfectly with masculine woods and icy florals. Modern fougere: Infused with hints of crisp mint, pink peppercorn, and Green galbanum. Rich amber, sandalwood, and elegant musks provide a warm undertone.”This sounds like an amazing Chardonnay that I’d love to get my hands on, but no, this is not a wine. It’s the fragrance profile of something even better: a new line of home and personal cleaning products currently being tested that uses 80% less water in manufacture, reduces carbon emissions by 75%, and replaces plastic bottles with biodegradable packaging.Meet EC30 from Procter & Gamble.

Home and personal care products have a new look.

A decade in the making, P&G’s EC30 product line takes everyday cleaners -- shampoo, laundry detergent, toilet bowl cleaner, for example -- and removes all the water, fillers, and other inactive ingredients not used in the actual cleaning process. What’s left is a rectangular swatch that looks a bit like a miniaturized coaster and packs a powerful cleaning punch.The process to make the swatches -- which are comprised of woven fibers -- is similar to that used to make non-woven materials, but in this the chemicals comprising liquid products are spun into soluble fibers. “Think of them like cotton candy,” says Tom Dierking, Design Director of Transformational Platform Technologies at Procter & Gamble.

Tom Dierking

Tom Dierking, Design Director, Transformational Platform Technologies at Procter & Gamble.

What results from the spinning process are dry sheets that are not only highly soluble but extraordinarily flexible, easy to cut, and extremely accepting of additives like surfactants and the delectable Chardonnay fragrance touted on EC30’s website (actually called “Blue Mist,” it’s one of two fragrance options).The products, split into personal care and home care, mimic branded water-based product, says Dierking So, essentially, the consumer has shampoo in an innocuous, lightweight form rather than a bulky, heavy bottle.If it sounds revolutionary, it’s because it is. “We put ingredients together in a way that had never been done before, and, importantly, put incompatible things together because they’re in a solid state,” says Dierking. Until you add water, that is.

Reducing water use, reducing carbon emissions

The lack of water is the most obvious characteristic of the product, with the easiest to understand implications: no more shipping thousands of gallons of water in the form of laundry detergents, shampoos, and other cleaning products thousands of miles. But, says Dierking, it has also been a source of frustration when introducing EC30 to consumers.“The consumer would look at this and say, ‘what is this, do you rub it on your head?’” says Dierking, chuckling. “But once they experienced the transformation in their hand, every single consumer, the first word out of their mouth was ‘wow.’” Later on they realize other benefits of the product: softer silkier hair as a result of less fillers and other additives, for example.The small size and feather lightness of the swatches are also pretty hard not to notice. Some advantages are immediately obvious: space savings in the traveler’s suitcase or in small living spaces characteristic of our increasingly urban lifestyle. But Dierking likes to translate these implications all of the way through the supply chain.“When you load jugs onto a truck, a certain amount of energy is expended to get that load of liquid product to the market. If we did the equivalent , first of all, we wouldn't need a semi truck, so right away, you see tremendous value,” he says. “I can pick up by myself, virtually an entire year’s supply of laundry detergent in this form; obviously I can’t do that in liquid form. And I can pack more on a truck, which means fewer trucks on the road, which means less emissions.”

A culture of sustainability

So, less water, less carbon emissions -- it’s easy to see that the core of P&G’s new product line is sustainability. Even the name, EC30, adheres to the theme: EC stands for enlightened clean, and reflects the equity of the brand.P&G has been discussing sustainability at length for many years, and their efforts are showing. They are striving to increase the number of plants that have zero waste to landfill, for example. And the company doesn’t plan on stopping there -- they’ve developed a list of sustainability goals for 2030 that include achievements like making 100% of their packaging recyclable (the EC30 packaging already fits that bill), using 100% renewable electricity, and creating solutions that mean absolutely none of their packaging ends up in the ocean.Dierking reveals that some have been quick to point out that the company still uses water in the production of EC30 products -- which to me seems like a silly thing to focus on given the tremendous reduction in water usage that the product does achieve.“I am very proud to say that I feel like we are taking the strides necessary . We're trying to do it in a responsible way, both to the planet and to our stakeholders. EC30 came as a result of doing better … and the beginning of even more.”Things like replacing the current ingredients with bio-derived ones.

Being kind to the environment

It’s enough to convince me to consider changing up my household cleaning and personal care routine -- to be completely honest, this is the first product line that I’ve seen that has the potential to really make a dent in some of the biggest environmental challenges facing our planet today. I almost feel selfish not using it. Dierking reminds me that getting consumers to buy into a product isn’t just about what’s good for the planet. There are behavior changes that must happen to use the product. It’s so soluble that you cannot just store it in the shower like regular shampoo, for example -- so people have to get used to bringing a swatch with them into the shower every time, or be creative in how to store it safely in or near the shower without destroying an entire month’s worth of shampoo in one devastating fell swoop. In the end, says Dierking, the experience of being kinder to the environment has to outweigh any hassle associated with the behavior change.I am especially impressed -- and inspired -- by the fact that this product comes from a large corporation that everyone knows and that has been around forever. Most people look at big corporations and feel they aren’t focused on sustainability in meaningful ways. Dierking sums it up: “We have PVPs that really do guide us -- purpose, values, and principles -- and we think so much of them we have them stamped on our security badges. We have extraordinary people working here that have the best interest in mind, there’s no question about that. And I’m so proud of the way we are respectful of individuals, respectful of the communities we work in, and respectful of the environment of the world.”Procter & Gamble is a Gold Sponsor of SynBioBeta 2019, to be held October 1-3 in San Francisco, CA, where Procter & Gamble Open Innovation Manager Amy Trejo will be taking the stage.

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