Interview with Alain Bauwens, Member of the Henkel Sustainability Council for the Laundry & Home Care business sector.

Henkel intends to expand its position in the emerging markets of Eastern Europe, Middle East, Latin America and Asia. Where do you see the biggest opportunities and the biggest challenges?

Alain Bauwens: Economically, these regions offer huge opportunities for us. Populations are growing, with steadily increasing numbers of young people. In North African and Middle East countries, for example, 30 percent of the population is less than 14 years old. By comparison, this figure is only 15 percent in Western Europe. Although these populations often have low income levels, laundry detergents and household cleaners are among their basic needs. So products that are adapted to their living conditions and needs have significant business potential. But that brings us right to the challenges: Developing such products demands in-depth knowledge about local customs, consumption habits, retailers and competitors, to mention just a few aspects. We therefore have to do our homework very well in each of these regions in order to achieve long-term success.

Do you also include social and ecological factors in your analyses?

Alain Bauwens: Absolutely. Sustainability is an especially important topic in the emerging markets. The larger populations grow, the more resources they consume, and this of course puts even more pressure on the planet’s resources than there is already. It would be totally unreasonable to expect these up-and-coming societies to forgo prosperity and consumption. Instead, we must offer innovations that help people to achieve a better standard of living, but without increasing resource consumption at the same time. We call this combination “innovative, sustainable consumption.”

That sounds a little abstract. How do you put this strategy into practice?

Alain Bauwens: Well, there are many different approaches. One example is our engagement in the “Laundry Sustainability Projects.” This is a program established by A.I.S.E., the International Association of the Soap, Detergent and Maintenance Products Industry, initially in Eastern European markets and now also in the Middle East and North Africa. As participants in this particular program we have committed to replacing classic powder laundry detergents by modern, efficient compact detergents. This reduces the consumption of chemicals, packaging materials and energy during manufacture, transportation and use – in other words, across the entire life cycle of a product. The program also focuses on informing consumers about resource-conserving washing methods and raising their awareness. Another classic example is the introduction of small pack sizes and refill packs. This saves materials and reduces the amount of packaging waste. The smaller packs cost less, which makes our high-quality detergents and cleaners more accessible to people with lower incomes.

And that in turn helps to improve hygiene standards in these regions, which is and especially relevant point, isn’t it?

Alain Bauwens: Hygiene is a much-discussed topic right now. We, too, want to raise general awareness for this. We carry out campaigns in collaboration with schools, for example, where the children learn how important clean water and soap are in order to avoid diseases. Our brands like Persil and Pril also assist charitable organizations in many countries with product and cash donations. These long-term partnerships help us to position our brands positively, but they also provide valuable and dependable support to the project organizers and thus help to improve living standards, education and promote social progress.

My Report
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