When Going Green Means Going Purple

Unilever SA becomes the first manufacturer in the world to introduce purple carbon into its homecare products 

October was a remarkable month in South Africa. Unilever SA became the first manufacturer in the world to introduce purple carbon into its leading range of homecare products. For the entire month, Sunlight Dishwashing Liquid with purple carbon was used as a demonstrator product, making it a world first in its category.

Purple carbon is carbon that has been drawn from industrial emissions and processed for use in products that currently depend on fossil fuel-based inputs. Its name derives from Unilever’s ground-breaking ‘Carbon Rainbow’ concept, which is at the heart of its worldwide Clean Future initiative. Giving graphic expression to its aim of diversifying production inputs, non-renewable and fossil fuel-based sources of carbon are identified in the rainbow as ‘black carbon’. And Unilever is on a journey to eliminate black carbon from its manufacturing  processes altogether, a process that is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

It aims to replace these with four renewable carbon inputs: purple carbon, which is developed from CO2 drawn from industrial emissions; green carbon, which is developed from plants and other biological sources; blue carbon, which is derived from marine sources such as algae; and grey carbon, which is recovered from waste materials. 

Sourcing of these various types of carbon input will be done under the auspices of Unilever’s industry-leading sustainable sourcing programme, which aims to eliminate black carbon as an input without placing unintended pressure on land use. 

“Most cleaning products today make use of chemicals derived from fossil fuel,” says [Name], [Title], “which is a non-renewable resource. Introducing purple carbon into Sunlight Liquid is the first step towards replacing this source of carbon in all of our cleaning and laundry brands worldwide – and it’s starting right here in South Africa.”  

This is just one aspect of Unilever’s commitment towards a clean future, but it’s a big one. The company’s cleaning and laundry products account for 46% of its carbon footprint across their lifecycles, taking into account all inputs used in formulating the products, the manufacturing process, packaging, and transportation. Replacing black carbon with purple carbon in the product formulation will make a massive difference, reducing the carbon footprint of product formulations by up to 20%. This move is just one of a number of Clean Future initiatives, which are intended to fundamentally change the way in which some of the world’s best-known cleaning and laundry products are created, manufactured, and packaged. 

Clean Future defines the way in which Unilever aims to embed the principles of a circular economy into both its product formulations and packaging worldwide in order to reduce their carbon footprint. 

“A circular economy is an industrial system in which the use of goods and component materials is optimised and their elements returned to the system at the end of their viable lifecycles,” says [Name]. “Introducing purple carbon into Sunlight Liquid represents a deliberate shift away from the fossil fuel economy and is a critical step in our commitment to achieving zero emissions from our products by 2039.

“Clean Future gives expression to our vision of radically overhauling our business because, as an industry, we need to break our dependence on fossil fuels. There is ample carbon in industrial emissions to use it at scale and we now have the technology to do that. It’s time to move away from extracting fossil fuels towards using freely available carbon in the atmosphere.”  

With the advent of Covid-19, Unilever has seen unprecedented demand for its cleaning products and says it is proud to be able to help people keep themselves safe from the virus. Even so, it is not the time to become distracted from the multiple environmental crises the world is facing, such as the climate emergency, pollution and the destruction of natural habitats. The company recognises that earth is the home that we all share and that, as a corporate citizen, it has a responsibility to do its part to protect it. 

Clean Future has already inspired several innovations in areas such as biotechnology, low carbon chemistry, and biodegradable and water-efficient product formulations. The programme has also set the target of halving Unilever’s use of virgin plastic by as soon as 2025. The initiative is supported by a new R15 billion Climate and Nature Fund, which will be used to fight climate change, regenerate nature, and preserve resources.

“A new bioeconomy is rising from the ashes of fossil fuels,” says [Name]. “We know that consumers want access to affordable, sustainable products that do the job they’re intended to do well. Rapid developments in science and technology are providing the means for us to do this and we’re committed to seizing the opportunity to be at the forefront of meaningful change.

“Using sustainable inputs is essential for us to develop without placing undue stress on the planet. Our suppliers and innovation partners will play a critical role in helping us to navigate this transition. Also, by sharing our Carbon Rainbow model, we‘re calling for an economy-wide transformation in how all of us use carbon inputs.”

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