The collective effort for sustainable consumption

Protecting the planet by changing the way consumers choose and use products

Responsibility Responsibility Oct 20, 2021
Bicycle with storage in a wooden box, with vegetables in the reusable cotton bag

The human population is growing – but our planet is staying the same size. If there are 9.6 billion people on Earth in 2050, the planet will not be able to provide enough resources to maintain our current living standards. That’s why we all urgently need to switch to more sustainable lifestyles that save resources and use products for longer, while also cutting CO2 emissions and reducing waste. And every individual and organization worldwide can make an important contribution.

The term “sustainable consumption” first entered the world’s vocabulary in 1994, when representatives from government, industry and NGOs met in Oslo, Norway. Together, they provided a clear definition: “Goods and services that enhance quality of life while limiting use of natural resources and noxious materials”. Since then, sustainable consumption has gathered prominence as part of the global effort to cut the link between modern lifestyles and environmental damage. In 2015, for example, the United Nations introduced its 17 Sustainable Development Goals – with Goal 12 focusing on “Ensuring sustainable consumption patterns”.

Criticism of the term “sustainable consumption” tends to argue that it gives consumers the blame and responsibility for our planet’s problems, and overlooks the role of companies and governments. Instead, sustainable consumption should be understood as a call to action for individuals and organizations to join forces and protect the planet. But consumers do have a big part to play in this shared task because many everyday products generate the majority of their environmental impact when they are used.

Big leaps for awareness, small steps for changing behavior

To step up to this challenge, consumers need to believe that sustainability is a top priority – and evidence suggests attitudes are shifting in this direction. In the 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 50 percent of over 8,600 respondents worldwide said they had become more eco-friendly since the previous survey in October 2020. This indicates a big leap in the level of focus on environmental issues when people choose products and services.

However, what consumers say is often very different to what they do. “Environmental concern is definitely growing among people in most markets around the globe,” says Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Hahn, Chair of Sustainability Management at the Heinrich-Heine-University in Düsseldorf. “But this is just one of several factors involved in purchasing decisions – alongside price, quality, convenience and many others. That means increasing environmental awareness doesn’t always result in more sustainable consumer choices or behavior. We call this the intention-behavior gap.”

Innovative products for a more sustainable lifestyle

Companies can help to close this gap by designing innovative products that last longer, require less energy, and generate less waste and emissions. At Henkel, sustainability criteria are anchored into every element of our product development process. We have also set ourselves the ambitious goal of helping our customers and consumers to save 100 million tons of CO2 by 2025, and we actively encourage sustainable behavior through our brand communications. In this way, we aim to tap into the huge potential positive impact of our products – which are used millions of times worldwide every day.

Low-temperature detergents are a great example. Heating up water is the most energy-intensive part of the laundry process, and emissions are generated to produce that energy. Lowering the temperature from 40 to 30 degrees Celsius can cut energy use per wash load by up to 40 percent. Our product development activities place a particular focus on removing stains at lower temperatures to achieve outstanding cleaning results, even when using cold water.

Washing at low temperatures can save a lot of energy.

Washing at low temperatures can save a lot of energy.

Sustainable haircare products from Henkel also help consumers to use less warm water and reduce the related emissions. Leave-in conditioners and dry shampoos from brands like Schwarzkopf and Syoss do not need to be rinsed out with warm water. In 2020, the products we sold in this category enabled consumers to save around 200,000 metric tons of CO2.

Our innovative adhesives make another valuable contribution to supporting more sustainable lifestyles. Easy-to-use glues make it possible for consumers to repair products and household objects, instead of throwing them in the trash and buying a replacement. Loctite 60 Seconds, for example, is extra strong and works on a wide range of different materials within just one minute.

Our adhesives make repairing household items easy for consumers. This saves money and resources.

Our adhesives make repairing household items easy for consumers. This saves money and resources.

Partnerships for sustainability

We also support sustainable consumption patterns by creating connections between companies at every step in our global value chain. This includes working with retailers to promote environmental responsibility at the place where people buy our products. Refill stations for our detergents, cleaning products, shampoos and shower gels are enabling consumers to reduce waste by reusing packaging. Customers simply buy a container, fill it up, then bring the empty bottle back to the store and refill it.

Experts from across our teams also share their knowledge with partners to encourage sustainable innovations in a wide range of industries. In 2020, we hosted the Henkel Packaging Adhesives Sustainability Forum, a virtual conference that aimed to boost progress toward smarter and more sustainable packaging solutions. Almost 2,000 participants from more than 700 companies attended the two-day event, including representatives from every stage in the value chain – from raw material suppliers through to packaging producers and converters, brand owners and recyclers. After the successful debut in 2020, this event was taking place again in an expanded format in November 2021.

Promoting sustainable consumption

Education is the key to more sustainable consumer behavior, because people will only take steps to adapt their lifestyles if they know what steps will really make a positive impact. “Everybody, everywhere can reduce their environmental footprint every day,” says Prof. Dr. Hahn. “There are lots of easy ways to save energy and cut waste – and those small changes add up to make a big difference.”

Henkel is committed to promoting ways for consumers to reduce their footprint. One example is our Footprint Calculator, which helps people to calculate their personal carbon footprint within just a few minutes by answering simple questions about their lifestyle. We also run campaigns and initiatives to raise consumer awareness about potential ways of boosting sustainability. The “Be smarter.” initiative from our Beauty Care business shares information about saving warm water and recycling packaging. Similarly, the #RethinkFashion initiative from our Perwoll brand aims to address the trend for “fast fashion” by encouraging more responsible behavior when buying and taking care of clothing.

Change today, transform tomorrow

As the global population rises, it is now urgently necessary to protect the earth’s resources and the environment by shifting to more sustainable consumption patterns. Successfully meeting this need will require a collective effort from governments, companies, organizations and individuals. Together, we must embrace ways of saving energy, cutting emissions and avoiding waste. Every little change made today can have a huge impact on living standards for future generations – and we can all make a contribution by joining forces and embracing more sustainable lifestyles.