We have just spent a week in Montreux at the World Conference on Fabric and Home Care and I must say the choice of city was inspired. The mountains around Montreux and Lake Geneva were absolutely beautiful and the weather was spectacular.
Focusing on the conference, the key take home message from almost every speaker was that we need to move toward a more sustainable future if our industry is to survive. Since each and every speaker mentioned this, it is obvious that all of the major players in the industry are committed to achieving key goals in this area.
One of the often mentioned reasons for this move towards sustainability was the predicted global population growth reaching 9 billion people by 2050. Based on current estimates it is unlikely that the planet can sustain such a large number of people if industries such as the detergent industry, do not move away from using food sources as feedstocks for the materials we use.
Much of the information provided over the course of the conference was focussed on sustainable materials and thinking outside the box to achieve these materials and utilise them in products. Almost every speaker stated that in order to achieve their development goals it was important to bring in key development partners to either take the place of their development teams where necessary, or to expand and compliment their internal development team.
As an example of using external experts for development projects, Procter & Gamble have recently completed a successful project in association with Dow to develop a process for the production of cellulosic ethanol from corn husks and stalks, rather than from the corn kernels. The success of this project means that ethanol can be produced from a waste product of a food source giving almost 100% utilisation of this specific food source which is needed moving forward to 2050 and 9 billion people.
Of course, these projects are an excellent example of what can be done but such technologies face massive challenges with regard to balancing return on investment and consumer expectation. As usual consumer expectation is that the sustainable products will deliver the same (or better) results as their traditional product for the same price. It appears that all speakers agreed that mainstream consumers were willing to use a more sustainable product but were not willing to pay more for it, meaning greater pressure to find ways to make sustainable products with the highest possible return on investment.
In order to balance the return on investment while still delivering on their development goals, many of the larger manufacturers are utilising development partners to bring in specific expertise for specific projects. The upshot of this approach is that there are no delays while internal teams learn the background information for a given project, nor is there a necessity to maintain experts for each product type with no current projects for them. The expert is only used for the period necessary to achieve the project goals, no longer. This aids in flexibility while maintaining speed to market and reducing development costs through faster project turnaround.
Effectively, this approach means a win-win-win. Projects are completed faster and at a lower overall cost (win!), products are on the shelf sooner to tap into market demands and start bringing in profits (win!) and newer, more sustainable materials are able to be implemented faster helping our environment and the sustainability of our industry into the future (WIN!).