WEF calls for net zero transformation in household and personal care sector

12 September 2023 | Muriel Cozier

Plastic production alone from the sector generates 3.4% of GHG emissions globally – higher than aviation’s carbon footprint.

A report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) is calling for the household and personal care products sector to prioritise actions that contribute to a ‘nature positive and net-zero future.’ Such a move could generate up to $62 billion in annual business value by 2030, the Nature Positive: Role of the Household and Personal Care, report asserts.

The household and personal care product sector is said to generate $700 billion in revenue each year. However, this ‘sometimes comes at the expense of nature,’ says the WEF. Plastic production alone from the sector generates 3.4% of GHG emissions globally – higher than aviation’s carbon footprint – while the cosmetics industry produces 120 billion packaging units each year. Reusing 10-20% of plastic products could prevent the equivalent of nearly 50% of marine plastic pollution every year,’ the report says.

The scope of the report is defined by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board’s Sustainable Industry Classification System standard for ‘Consumer Goods – Household & Personal Products.’ This comprises companies that manufacture a wide range of goods for personal and commercial consumption, from cosmetics to kitchen utensils. While the products differ, they rely on common manufacturing processes and feedstocks, and so share impacts and dependencies.

Looking at developing sustainable household products, the start of 2023 saw the launch of the Flue2Chem project. Led by Unilever and SCI, a consortium comprising 15 partners is developing a project to take industrial waste gases and turn them into sustainable materials for consumer products such as household cleaning materials.

While companies are increasingly aware of the need to take action that impacts positively on nature, progress is slow. Research indicates that although 83% of Fortune Global 500 companies have climate change targets, only 25% have established freshwater consumption targets, while 5% have targets related to biodiversity, 5% have assessed their impacts on nature, and less than 1% understand their dependencies.

The report sets out priority actions including:

  • Improving water stewardship throughout the value chain
  • Sourcing responsibly and replacing feedstocks with sustainable bio-based or other renewable materials, with careful evaluation of the trade-off
  • Expanding circularity and engaging in progressive collective action and policy advocacy.

‘A nature-positive, net-zero strategy mitigates against escalating risks in relation to the collapse of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity and also provides new business opportunities of up to $10.1 trillion,’ said Gim Huay Neo, Managing Director of the WEF.

‘These reports provide sectoral guidance for CEOs and their senior executives and support them in translating to action the ambitions of COP15 and the Global Biodiversity Framework,’ Neo added.

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