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Eco-friendly Detergents Boosting Unilever’s Sales

laundry.jpgUnilever’s eco-friendly detergents started as a way to boost the company’s green credentials, but is now driving growth in the company’s once-lackluster laundry unit, BusinessWeek reports.

The company says much of its know-how in creating more environmentally-friendly products comes from its experience in developing markets. In 2004, Unilever launched Surf Excel Quick Wash in India. The detergent uses half as much water as traditional brands, saving an estimated 14 billion liters of water each year. That’s an important innovation especially for consumers in the dry southern states of India, where water is scarce. The company says sales of the brand are up 27 percent in the first six months of 2008 in India.

Now the company plans to use that knowledge to boost growth of its laundry business in Europe and emerging markets. The company has a five-year growth rate of 8.3 percent in emerging markets compared with just 0.6 percent for developed markets.

Although mainstream consumers are taking notice of eco-friendly laundry products, Martin Wolf, director of product and environmental technology at Seventh Generation, a maker of eco-friendly laundry detergent, told Fox News that consumers should be wary of greenwashing.

“One of the problems in determining the ‘green-ness’ of a laundry product is that unlike the cosmetic industry or food industry, the cleaning product industry doesn’t have to divulge the ingredients in its products… companies can ‘green-wash’ their labels, substituting generic terms for specific ingredients,” says Wolf.

In detergent-related news, Procter & Gamble recently received Champion Level, the highest award given by the EPA’s Design For Environment group, through its Safer Detergent Stewardship Initiative.

Last year, P&G replaced all its $4 billion liquid detergents portfolio in North America with double-strength laundry detergents in packages that are half the regular size.

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