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What is really behind Henkel's sustainability initiative

What is really behind Henkel's sustainability initiative
What is really behind Henkel's sustainability initiative

Henkel has been drawing attention to its sustainability campaign for some time now. For some time now, the manufacturer has been promising to come up with a sustainable corporate policy, climate-friendly alternatives and resource-conserving manufacturing processes, thus taking a major step toward ethical and moral business practices. At first glance, the key facts of the well-known manufacturer of heavy-duty detergents read very reasonably at any rate:

"Our mission is to use material from sustainable sources and use intelligent design to complete the circle. By 2025, we aim to have 100 percent of our packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable and to increase the proportion of recycled plastic for consumer goods products in Europe to 35 percent".

Key Facts (Source: Henkel)

The sustainable propaganda machine is running at full speed

Henkel repeatedly refers to its progress in the sustainable packaging industry and boasts the high proportion of recycled material used by the Group last year. On further examination of corporate policy, the vehement reference to recycling alternatives in the company's own facilities is quickly understood, as the Group also uses micro plastics and palm oil for some products. Both of these are ingredients that cause considerable harm to both consumers and nature. The detergent giant therefore boasts plastic-free, recyclable packaging, but relies on micro plastics in the manufacture of its cosmetics line - Schwarzkopf is probably the largest and best-known - but it also uses palm oil in the production of its products.

Why is that?

Employees and the works council repeatedly criticise a heavy workload and the relocation of tasks to Eastern Europe and Asia, reports the "Handelsblatt".

(Source: Orange at Handelsblatt 2018.)

But Henkel has already come up with an answer here, too, and the manufacturer is claiming that it will meet its palm (kernel) oil needs with exclusively certified and mass-balanced oils by 2020. According to the RSPO mass balance model, sustainable management will then be a prerequisite, as will full traceability. (Key Facts, source: Henkel) Ironically, there is no such thing as "green palm oil production", which is why it is more than cynical when palm oil-based products that destroy the rainforest are sold or marketed as particularly "ecological". This is neither sustainable nor consumer-friendly, but in the end it is just deceiving the consumer.

According to a Greenpeace study, no other industry in Indonesia is more involved in rainforest clearing than the palm oil industry. It has ensured that animals like the orangutan, forest elephants and tigers are threatened with extinction there. Despite this, oil production is set to increase to 40 million tonnes by 2025 and the area under cultivation is to be doubled. After all, palm oil is now the third most important export product for the emerging market.

(Source: Spiegel Online 2015)

But apart from palm oil and microplastics, there are still the animal experiments. According to Henkel himself, these are only used if there is no other legal option. NGOs in particular are keeping an eye on the test series of the detergent and cosmetics manufacturer. Competitor brands such as The Body Shop have been campaigning against animal testing for years. Together with the non-profit organization Cruelty Free International, they started a petition against, among other things, the torturing of rabbits in the production of cosmetics. Within a short time they managed to collect more than 8 million signatures. And PETA also refers to animal-free alternatives in the cosmetics industry - so it does work!

Meanwhile, Henkel, in turn, refers with its sustainability initiative to an immense research effort being carried out within the company in order to be able to completely dispense with animal testing in the future.

Why is that?

The reasons for this are manifold, explains Anne Meinert, expert against animal experiments at PETA Germany. "The reasons why corporations still carry out animal experiments and only gradually switch to alternatives are complex: On the one hand, legal requirements play a role, on the other hand, financial interests often play a role". Since 2013 it is actually forbidden in the EU to sell cosmetic products that have been tested on animals. The German government is also officially trying to reduce animal testing in research. But there are loopholes.

(Source: Noizz 2018)


Green is the new black!

So legal requirements definitely play a role, but perhaps not necessarily to the extent that Henkel claims to continue to be bound by animal testing among them. Interesting in this context is the enormous expressiveness of the sustainability campaign, which has given us numerous informative, instructive and proud, albeit very subjective, short clips on YouTube and dominates the homepage of the online presence of the detergent giant. Visitors can expect a harmonious backdrop in the middle of a (rain) forest. The question is whether the forest was cut down after the shoot to increase palm oil production? Surrounded by trees and sunshine, the radiance is perhaps only exceeded by the radiant purity of the protagonist's white shirt. Persil - you know what you have. Or by the reflection of light in her velvety shampoo-washed hair with micro plastics - thanks to Schwarzkopf! The banner "Green is the new black" is displayed next to her in a pose that breathes freely.

Perhaps better: Bright white purity was yesterday - greenwashing is today!

The whole layout of the site and also the other sections look like an ode to nature and don't really let you interpret behind the plastic contaminated and palm oil soaked backdrops. Why should they? After all, the rabbit laboratory must be hidden well enough. Although it is actually no longer a secret. A fact that even Henkel did not escape. Agencies representing the detergent giant are sensitised to these very issues right from the start. After all, at the weekend, NGOs like to stand on the social media mat of brand presence and bring hidden things to light. Of course, this applies not only to Henkel, but to all customers who are dirty. After all, they are aware of the less sustainable and unethical as well as purely profit-oriented management.


Distraction instead of justification.

An interesting marketing strategy. Perhaps the campaign should be based solely on the recycling component and make known its significant and true successes. Especially micro plastics and palm oil are of enormous importance in times of acute climate change and the ever decreasing rainforests and extinction of endangered species. Likewise, animal experiments should actually no longer play a role in our time, in which scientific possibilities are available as never before.

In this case, it was Henkel who was affected, because sadly, the consumer goods manufacturer from Düsseldorf is only one of many examples and thus joins the excesses of supposedly green marketing strategies. Greenwashing has long been the credo in many PR agencies and, according to Wikipedia, "...a critical term for PR methods that aim to give a company an environmentally friendly and responsible image in the public eye without there being a sufficient basis for it.

Yeah, fits.


NADINE studied Romance Languages (B.A.) and International History of the Modern Age (M.A.) at the University of Bonn. Currently she is working as a freelance author, ghostwriter and model, to have enough time for her research, thoughts and her passion, writing. Traveling is one of her greatest passions, as is her love of literature, cultural studies and linguistics. During one of her journeys she found her way to herself through meditation and mindfulness. On her blog and Instagram, as well as on Facebook, she shares these and other personal experiences from her everyday life as a bisexual woman and talks about past experiences from her open relationship.