A.I.S.E. Annual Cleaning and Hygiene Forum highlights the innovations and challenges driving a greener industry

The 15th A.I.S.E. Annual Cleaning and Hygiene Forum took place on 7 December 2022, bringing together representatives from European Institutions, Member States, NGOs, industry, and value-chain partners to discuss how changing legislation and customer expectations are driving innovation in the sector. Moderated by Jacki Davis, participants discussed how the Green Deal is shifting industry mindsets, the scientific foundations of circular economy, how to work together harmoniously and the role of the A.I.S.E. on its 70th anniversary.

The forum was opened by A.I.S.E. President Nadia Viva, who set out the vision for a "prosperous cleaning and hygiene industry which is a role model for serving society in an innovative and sustainable way.” Recent events have highlighted the critical role played by the industry in Europe, which is now worth €40 billion. She stressed how future growth should be underpinned by the flagship A.I.S.E. Charter for Sustainable Cleaning and praised the diversity of A.I.S.E. members, particularly SMEs, who can drive innovation that guarantees profitable and sustainable growth across Europe. 

The event’s first panel explored innovative cleaning and how technology, chemistry and customer demand will shape a more sustainable future.

Hans Ingels, Head of Unit – Bioeconomy, Chemicals and Cosmetics at DG GROW, champions the ethos of "doing more with less”, creating more concentrated and effective products while limiting the waste and environmental footprint along the way. He championed the role of legislation in levelling the playing field across Europe, and illustrated how individual member countries mustn’t be allowed to work against the single market to their own ends. Fuel prices and tax advantages can present challenges when competing in the global sphere, but it’s important to remain united with a shared sustainable vision.

Thierry Vandenbroeck, Head of Sales and Development at Spechim, discussed the challenges facing SMEs looking to find their place in a rapidly changing market. He reiterated the need for EU legislation to support these endeavours, particularly if businesses want to keep production within the EU. Instead, revised regulations should aim to encourage innovation that meets consumer needs, looking forward to exciting developments in the use of enzymes and even bacteria.

Céline Benini, Secretary General of AMFEP, spoke about the need to address sustainability throughout the product lifecycle and not just manufacture and disposal. She spoke candidly about concerns regarding The Green Deal inhibiting necessary innovation and the necessity of legislature not undermining voluntary initiatives. 

Professor Dr. Birgit Glüsen joined us from Faculty of Applied Natural Sciences at Cologne University of Applied Sciences and reinforced the need for meaningful innovations to be driven by customer needs. Chemistry will play a fundamental role in the next generation of sustainable products, but will need the support of considered legislation and adequate EU funding. Transdisciplinary action involving industries such as the building trade will help to develop greener ways of working.

The second panel was devoted to enabling sustainable products and choices. It opened with Emmanuelle Maire, Head of Unit Circular Economy, Sustainable Production & Consumption (DG ENV), who remains mindful of the myriad of challenges facing EU countries. She praised the invaluable commitment to the circular economy by  reinforced the need for this to continue, and discussed two key initiatives - the sustainable product proposal for regulation incentivising the use of sustainable products in the EU and the recent proposal on packaging to save costs and reduce waste - currently under consideration. She acknowledged the delay in the legislation on harmonised methodology to support greener practices using the product environmental footprint, which remains a priority despite being delayed until next year.

A discussion was raised on the topic of greenwashing, suggesting up to half of the green claims made on products in the EU are unsubstantiated and efforts must be made to change this.

Based in part on KPI reporting from companies signed up to the Charter for Sustainable Cleaning, Director of Sustainability for A.I.S.E. Sascha Nissen believes we are already delivering on fundamental environmental, ecological and sociological aspirations on the sustainable agenda via industry initiatives – admitting that those will have to be further developed. Focus needs to remain on "initiatives that target real impact”, avoiding barriers and burden shifting that may inhibit progress and ensuring that nobody is left behind.

Pedro Oliveira, Director of Legal Affairs for Business Europe, acknowledged businesses leading the charge towards sustainability goals, particularly in the current economic climate. He believes that 99% of businesses are keen to adopt the circular economy but on the back of value chains, fuel prices and wars will require regulations with more breathing space. 

Controversially, he highlighted that rules created at EU level can be the result of political compromise, which can dilute their commitment to the industry. They remain static and revision is slow, while voluntary regulations remain rooted in the trade.

Stephen Russell, Director General for ANEC, opened with how 2022’s extreme weather conditions have reinforced "the need for wholesale change in the way we live and the way we coexist with our planet.” With ESPR putting us on track for the wiser use of raw materials, consumers now need "reliable, comparable and verifiable information on environmental performance,” hinting that ISO 14021 could provide the ideal framework.

He raised concerns about the effectiveness of voluntary initiatives, although not specifically those of the A.I.S.E., suggesting that they’re too slow in driving meaningful change, and even legal regulations will fail to deliver if not supported by adequate surveillance and enforcement. However, he acknowledged that some voluntary initiatives may have some merit in contributing to the sustainability political agenda, but he would need to get a better picture.

The forum was closed by Jacki Davis in conversation with Alessandra Moretti, MEP (S&D, IT) and Rapporteur of Eco-design Sustainable Products Regulation

The EU has made notable progress in furthering the sustainable agenda and the legislation currently in development will further support these goals. The Eco-Design Directive has been driving efficiency gains for energy-related products for over a decade, saving consumers €120 billion in energy bills in 2021 alone.

The end goal, at least for the moment, is to make sustainable products the default choice for consumers in the EU market. She believes that the EU is ready to reap the enormous benefits of a circular economy and is equipped to overcome any challenges that come with it. Continuous engagement and feedback from stakeholders will be imperative to seamless implementation, and a sustainable partnership will require all parties to collaborate.