Interview with Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum, Member of the Henkel Sustainability Council for the Laundry & Home Care business sector

At Henkel, every new product must make a contribution to at least one of Henkel’s focal areas. Why is this so important?

Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum: In my view, the key to sustainable development lies in innovation. We want our innovations to set new quality standards in the market. Alongside premium product performance, responsibility toward people and the planet is now the yardstick for determining what makes a product a good product. For us in the research department, that means taking a close look at the entire value chain of a product, from the selection of raw materials, production and transport right through to use and disposal. This is how we identify suitable ways of improving our products and making contributions to our focal areas.

How do you keep track of all the many factors that could be adjusted?

Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum: To do that, we have systematically integrated our focal areas into our research process. This means that at a given point in the innovation process our researchers must demonstrate the specific advantages of their project, not only in terms of product performance, but also in regard to economic, social and ecological sustainability criteria. The questions asked here are: Does this innovation perform better than the predecessor product, or does it do something completely new? Can this product be manufactured more efficiently? Will it be possible to reduce the temperature in the washing machine or dishwasher without compromising on performance? Will intelligent chemistry allow us to use less resources or switch to renewable alternatives? We consider the entire value chain in this way and identify the added value that a product offers, including the reduction in its ecological footprint. We then feed all the results into our SustainabilityMaster®. This is an assessment tool developed by Henkel which allows us to see if products and processes are more sustainable relative to the starting situation.

That sounds very intricate …

Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum: It does involve a lot of effort, but it is very worthwhile. And the process is naturally a continuously ongoing one. We collaborate very closely with raw materials suppliers, other manufacturers and external research establishments to integrate the latest trends and technologies into our product development process. Anyone who wants to lead the field in both innovation and sustainability must be able to do one thing even better in the future than it already does today – enter into partnerships with all participants in the value chain, going beyond our own direct customers and suppliers to include other players as well. Experts call this kind of collaboration “cross-industry innovation,” which goes even farther than “open innovation.” As one example of many, we work intensively with manufacturers of household appliances, for example, with a view to making our products even more efficient in combination with washing machines and dishwashers.

My Report
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