“Water is the gold of the 21st century.” This statement expresses the growing worldwide concern regarding water resources and their conservation. This topic has long been of vital importance to Henkel. Back in the 1950s, for example, textiles and clothing made of fully synthetic fibers were becoming increasingly popular. Nylon, Perlon® and other new materials were the “hit” fabrics of the day. In response to this trend, synthetic laundry detergents were launched and we, too, brought out synthetic versions of Persil. Our researchers developed formulations in which natural soap was replaced by synthetic washing active substances. Synthetic detergents, however, foamed not only in the machine but also in the discharged wastewater, because there were too few sewage treatment plants and the surfactants in the detergents were poorly biodegradable. As a result, rivers and lakes were crowned with mountains of foam. As the market leader in Germany, we reacted promptly. In 1958 – 50 years ago – we started to analyze the water in the Rhine and its tributaries systematically to determine the levels of washing active substances. Beginning in 1959, we introduced regular ecological quality checks for all our laundry detergents and household cleaners.
Our innovative pioneering spirit was also demonstrated by the launch of phosphate-free Persil in 1986. Our researchers had discovered in the 1960s that, although phosphate in laundry detergents acts as a water softener, it can also result in nutrient-rich surface waters. This encourages excessive growth of algae, which may seriously disrupt aquatic ecosystems. A research program was started, which eventually resulted in the development of zeolite (brand name: Sasil), a phosphate substitute. This was a milestone in the history of laundry detergents. Our expertise in water management and the protection of surface waters now stretches back over more than fifty years. We have used the knowledge gained to develop high-performance and more environmentally compatible laundry detergents. Today, the accumulated data tell the story of how Henkel innovations have contributed to keeping our surface waters clean. We also use these data internationally, to enable computer programs to simulate the pollution of surface waters in Europe.