The lifecycle of products is a central element of the circular economy. What is Henkel’s approach, and how has it changed in recent years?
Traditionally, Henkel had what is called a “cradle-to-gate” approach: We integrated sustainability thinking into our raw material selection, manufacturing processes, and logistics. But everything that happened to the product during the consumer use phase, including waste disposal, was not taken into consideration. This approach overlooked the opportunities we have to influence the way consumers use and recycle our products. Today, Henkel has a “cradle-to-grave” view to contribute to the needs of a circular economy, where waste disposal and recycling are crucial in order to complete the cycle. We try to integrate sustainability into every stage of the products’ life.
What are the challenges in implementing a “cradle-to-grave” approach?
The circular economy concept is a big topic in the EU right now, and I think companies should promote it very strongly. However, the fact that each country has a different waste disposal and recycling system is a challenge. Henkel as a brand owner can only contribute to a certain extent. Closing the circle is a joint effort of many parties involved in this eco-system. It needs to be regulated and steered by every country, but also on a cross-national level. We already see the progress, but there is still a long way ahead. However, one thing is clear: Innovation does not happen in isolation. Therefore, Henkel is going to work even more closely with its suppliers to further develop sustainable packaging that significantly contributes to our focal areas of our sustainability strategy.
How exactly does this cooperation work?
We have to test new packaging materials to find out which one delivers the best sustainability performance, without compromising on functionality and quality. We are working in many fields to provide our consumers with information that helps explain topics like recycling. Together with our suppliers, we are also targeting innovations that are invisible to consumers, e.g. increasing the amount of recycled plastic resins in our products, which helps us to achieve our corporate sustainability targets within the next years.
Some of Henkel’s products use aluminum—although producing aluminum requires a lot of energy. What is the advantage of aluminum compared to plastics?
An estimated amount of 75% of the aluminum ever produced is still in use and stays inside the system. Aluminum can be recycled endlessly without losing its quality, making it a great material for the circular economy. The recycling process itself takes less than 10% of the energy, compared to the initial production of aluminum. Henkel is significantly contributing to these aspects by introducing the world’s first ReAl® (Recycled Aluminum) deodorant cans, which were launched in 2013. This joint development initiative with our supplier helped us reduce the CO2 footprint to about 14.000 tons.