Ecover is a brand that manufactures cleaning products primarily from plant-based and mineral sources. This company is striving to decrease its carbon footprint, produce zero waste, manufacture products from sustainable sources and reduce its water footprint. Ecover is definitely a more environmentally conscious and sustainable alternative to traditional laundry detergents such as Persil or Ariel, therefore consumers are making the right choice with this product. Their brand and website are largely concerned about the environment, their employees, their customers, and the sustainable practices involved across their supply chain. However, there are still some ways in which Ecover can improve, for example by being more transparent with consumers.
Ecover's laundry detergent is made from 10 ingredients, that are described as “plant-based and biodegradable”. The main ingredients include potassium oleate (a plant-based soap from sunflower oil), polypropylene terephthalate (a biodegradable polymer that creates an extra layer over clothes for easy stain removal), and glycerin (to activate the polymer). This product is phosphate-free and fragrance-free, ensuring it not harmful to the environment.
This product also contains 7% algal oil, which is another biodegradable ingredient. In 2014, Ecover substituted palm oil for algal oil (made from synthetically modified algae, through genetic engineering techniques). By eliminating palm oil from their product, they are reducing their greenhouse gas footprint and preventing land clearing. However, algal oil has still come under considerable criticism from environmental NGOs, especially the ETC group. They argue that using advanced genetic technology reproduces economic inequalities, by concentrating knowledge and control on very few socio-economically advanced individuals. Small-scale farmers who would have made a living by selling the biomass from their agriculture are excluded from the process. It is unlikely that Ecover will replace algal oil with a more sustainable alternative such as coconut oil, which would otherwise benefit small-scale coconut farmers in developing nations. Ecover’s use of synthetic biology is a significant risk to the natural environment, and if not regulated carefully, it can evolve beyond our control and potentially harm ecosystems.
In 2020, Ecover redesigned its bottles, ensuring that they are made from 100% recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), typically from used soft drinks and water bottles. The PET bottle can be recycled endlessly, therefore it is an ideal sustainable choice of packaging.
Ecover manufactures its laundry detergent (alongside its other range of products which include washing up liquids) in the world’s first “ecological factory”, located in Malle, Belgium. European pine and wooden beams were used in the construction of the building. The orientation of the building follows the movement of the sun and is designed with rooftop windows, which minimize the need for artificial lighting. The walls are made from Poro+ bricks, a combination of clay, wood pulp, and pit coal dust. Together, these materials provide thermal insulation, reducing the need for heating or air conditioning.
Ecover’s laundry liquid comes in up to 15L refill bags, which can either be bought online or Ecover bottles can be refilled at designated refill stations. In 2016, they sold more than 1.5m refills across Europe, which suggests this is widely successful. However, the majority of these refill stations are located in the United Kingdom, and there is only one refill station located in Bremen, Germany. The refill stations are also more accessible in larger cities such as London. Therefore, accessing and having a refill station close to home could be a barrier, and prevent this initiative from reaching its full potential.
In 2018, Ecover was bought by SC Johnson, a multinational household product company. Ecover has made various commitments to sustainability, and they have received sustainability rewards, such as winning the World Environment Centre Gold Medal Award for sustainability leadership twice. However, since Ecover’s acquisition by SC Johnson, a brand that openly uses animal testing to develop its products, Ecover has faced criticism. Ecover did not lose its cruelty-free status but has pledged to remain cruelty-free. Ecover has since failed to sign up to the Humane Household Products Standard, a global certificate that guarantees that neither the final product nor the ingredients used within the product are tested on animals. SC Johnson owns other popular household brands such as Mr. Muscle and Duck, and SC Johnson is likely using Ecover’s ethical stance to increase their profit margins. It is unlikely that all profits from Ecover are being re-invested to pursue additional sustainable initiatives. Ecover’s website says they are ‘on a mission to pioneer green’, however, this is a vague response as they do not mention how they are striving to improve in the future.