• Bastian Hosan
  • 25.10.2023

What does detergent packaging have to do with innovation, Gabriele Hässig?

Detergent packaging and innovation - probably not necessarily two things that one would connect at first glance. This is also because detergents are products that corporations like Procter & Gamble (P&G) have now almost perfectly integrated into our everyday lives. Gabriele Hässig, Director of Communications and Sustainability at P&G, talks here about how to find out what customers need and how to implement it.

There are things that one simply does not pay much attention to. Detergent packaging is such a thing. You take it off the shelf, put it in the shopping cart, and forget about it. Yet, behind every step of use - from purchase to consumption at home - there is a process of efficient optimization that is most people are hardly aware of. We talked to Gabriele Hässig, Director of Communications and Sustainability at Procter & Gamble, exactly about this. She explains how packaging design can make products not only more usable and sustainable but also more inclusive.


robotspaceship: Innovation and detergent - is this an obvious combination for many?

Gabriele Hässig: For many, detergent is an absolute everyday product. What many don't know: A lot of innovation is in the new detergents - especially with regard to sustainability. In our research center in Brussels, 600 scientists and engineers are driving a lot forward. And precisely because of the high everyday relevance, there is a special lever for sustainability here.

What does innovation look like here in particular?

Our expert teams mainly look at two areas: the product itself, i.e., the detergent, and in parallel the packaging.

Then I would say let's go in order. What does innovation mean for the detergent itself?

Here I have to elaborate a bit. For our detergents, we have looked very closely at the ecological balance of laundry washing. Because only with this holistic view can we find out where the most effective levers for more sustainability lie. In other words: It's about impact and about how we can enable people to care for laundry as sustainably as possible.

Now I am curious!

The clear result of the ecological balance: When washing laundry, the washing temperature has the biggest impact on energy consumption. Up to 60 percent of the CO₂ footprint of laundry washing is due to the actual washing cycle, mainly due to the heating of the water. That's why we are developing our Ariel and Lenor detergents to deliver reliably hygienic clean washing results even at low temperatures like 30°C.

That sounds exciting. How exactly does it work?

Well then, innovation deep dive: In the formulations of our detergents, we rely on surfactants as well as enzyme proteins. Why does this make for more sustainability? Enzymes work in a wide range of temperatures - even at low temperatures like 30°C. The enzymes used in Ariel have different tasks. One of these proteins is, for example, responsible for dissolving the connections between dirt. It works similarly to when you remove the mortar from a wall, then the wall collapses. In the case of laundry washing, dirt can be easily removed from the laundry. This works with all our Ariel and Lenor detergents. However, our most sustainable form is the All-in-1 PODS, the detergent capsules.

What makes the PODS so sustainable?

PODS are our most compact form of detergent. This means we get more wash loads on every truck leaving our factory - and thus we save truck kilometers and of course CO2 emissions. In addition, we need less packaging material for PODS due to their compactness. So here we achieve significantly more with less: hygienic clean laundry with little detergent at low temperatures. This also incidentally protects the textiles, especially colors remain significantly more beautiful at lower temperatures. Washing with PODS is also much easier. Because such a POD is perfectly pre-dosed for a full load of four to five kg of laundry.

But honestly: Do we really need that? I can dose my powder or liquid detergent much more precisely.

We talk very often with those people who use our products in their everyday life. That's why we know that many struggle with dosing. And that's not ideal. If I use too little detergent, the laundry may not get clean, and I have to wash again. If I use too much, I waste detergent and unnecessarily burden the environment. PODS are a very good solution for that.

How do people accept the PODS?

Market penetration is at around 20 percent. We are continuously working to increase this share. Especially because we know that PODS are our most sustainable form of detergent. But most importantly: Washing with cold water is the biggest lever for saving electricity and reducing CO₂ emissions. Of course, this is also possible with Ariel powder or liquid detergent.

I would then like to talk about the packaging - what's that all about?


The question always arises of how we package our laundry detergent. And with the PODS, this question was posed anew, because the detergent had to go onto the supermarket shelf in a new form.

How do you approach that?

We first clarify the conditions that we must meet. In the case of the PODS, this means: The PODS must be protected from moisture, and the packaging must be childproof. With the first plastic packaging, we then learned that some people don't always seal the packages because they find them difficult to reopen. However, many households have small children who grab everything within their reach. That's why we clearly say that all washing and cleaning agents should always be stored so that children have no access. With the PODS, it was important to us to add an extra safeguard: with childproof packaging.

That sounds quite trivial if I may say so!

Not everything that sounds simple is also simple to implement. If packaging is childproof, it is often not very easy to open. If adults therefore find it difficult to open, then they may leave it not properly sealed. So, it's always about finding the right balance between child safety and user-friendliness.

That means you've optimized the packaging in this regard?

Exactly. We have developed a mechanism that is easy for adults to handle but difficult for children to open. You need a certain amount of strength and a complex movement that children in the target age group usually can't perform. Of course, the packaging must still be tight enough to protect the PODS from moisture after opening.

And what does that look like now?

The current packaging has a “press and turn” mechanism that needs to be handled simultaneously. It’s similar to childproof caps on some medicine bottles. It takes a bit of practice at first, but it offers safety. We have also made the containers from more sustainable materials, such as recycled plastic, and we are constantly working on reducing the amount of plastic used.

What other sustainability aspects are there in packaging?

We are always looking to improve the recyclability of our packaging. That means using materials that can easily be recycled and re-enter the production cycle. For our cardboard boxes, for example, we use as much recycled material as possible, and we design them so that they can be fully recycled after use.

Is there also a trend towards using less packaging?

Definitely. We want to reduce our packaging materials across the board. With products like PODS, we are already on a good path because they require less packaging than powder or liquid detergents. We are also considering refill options and how we can make packaging that is not only recyclable but also reusable.

So, if I understand correctly, the innovations in laundry detergents and their packaging are not only about cleaning performance but also about contributing to sustainability?

Absolutely. For us, it's about offering products that deliver excellent cleaning results while also being easy to use and having the smallest possible ecological footprint. This includes both the contents and the packaging. It's a continuous process of improvement and innovation to meet our sustainability goals and the needs of our customers.

Who is Gabriele Hässig?

Gabriele Hässig is the Managing Director of Communications and Sustainability at Procter & Gamble. She is responsible for all aspects of communication for P&G and the brands that the corporation encompasses.



Bastian Hosen is a business journalist and content consultant. He was trained at the German School of Journalism. Before starting his own business, he worked at Business Punk and Capital.

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