Q&A: Accelerating sustainable innovation with the help of academic institutions

This article is sponsored by Procter & Gamble.

At P&G Fabric Care, we have committed to decarbonize the laundry process at every step. Our goal is to achieve this without compromise, meaning detergents should deliver impeccable cleaning results that are safe for people and sustainable for our planet’s future.

Partnering with academia is proving to be one of the most effective methods of making breakthrough discoveries using cutting edge technology that help shape sustainable innovation in our Fabric Care products.

To learn more about how P&G Fabric Care is partnering with universities and how this is helping us to accelerate towards a low carbon future, I recently connected with Neil Lant, research & development senior director research fellow at P&G.

Katrin Meincke: Which areas of scientific research are you working on with academic partners?

Neil Lant: Fundamentally, we study the problems faced by consumers when doing laundry. My background is in organic chemistry, and I collaborate closely with academics on the biotechnology aspect of our Fabric Care products. This is an exciting area of research, as I truly believe that nature holds the key to unlocking the secrets to achieving more sustainable cleaning.

In Fabric Care, bioscience — or the study of living organisms — is a scientific pathway to better understanding consumer issues; essentially, how nature has evolved to overcome certain challenges. Taking nature’s processes as inspiration, we think about how to apply the same principles to our products. When an interesting discovery is made, our close relationships with universities mean we can accelerate the journey from hypothesis into a fully tested, scaled solution that is integrated into our products.

Meincke: What is the biggest challenge facing future sustainable innovation?

Lant: For our P&G Fabric Care team, the challenge lies in creating safe products that are sustainable, without compromising on product performance in cold temperatures.

Life Cycle Assessments, or LCAs, conducted for our brands, such as Ariel and Tide, reveal that most of a product’s environmental impact occurs during the in-use phase, due to the energy required to heat the water. It means the single biggest way of reducing the environmental impact of each wash load is to wash cold. But consumers will only turn the temperature dial down if they trust the clean will not be compromised. So, the main goal for us was to find a means of delivering great results in cold water.

Meincke: If you had to choose the most promising nature-based solutions that academia has led to for our products, what would it be?

Lant: Understanding how nature cleans in cold water has been one of our most significant academic breakthroughs. Not only because it revealed a whole new way of cleaning, but because it led us to a completely new "start point" in our search for new enzymes.

Scientists at the University of Newcastle approached us after observing that seaweed stays remarkably clean in cold water oceans. Research showed that this was due to an enzyme, released by bacteria, which breaks down sticky particles on the seaweed surface — and works at its best at lower temperatures.

What was so different about this observation was that it considered the soiling bacteria leave behind. Up until this point, we had focused on cleaning solutions targeting dirt caused by humans — skin flakes, food stains, sweat and so on. But by targeting the dirt caused by bacteria we had discovered a whole new way to approach cleaning.

The question then became, can we mimic this natural process to utilize it in cleaning? Once it was clear we could, and that it was effective at tackling issues like malodor as well as deliver outstanding cleaning results even in low temperatures, we accelerated its integration into all Ariel products. Consumers in Eur

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