Ecover and Algal Oil

This Spring, we shared something exciting with you - algal oil, as a potential replacement for Palm Oil.

Now, algal oil may at first sound odd, and to be fair it is, seeing as it is made from algae.

Here at Ecover we use RSPO Certified Green palm oil for all our products, so we know it’s come from sustainable sources, although this is only part of the answer.

In life it’s all about balance right? Well the same applies to how we should look at the sourcing of ingredients.  Palm oil in itself is no bad thing, it’s how we as mankind go about getting it.

Please read on for further developments in Ecover's Algal Oil journey. 

Update on Ecover and Algal Oil - 27th June 2014

For nearly 40 years, Ecover has taken great pride to act as green pioneers and look at new ways we can take inspiration from nature and support a more sustainable planet.

Recently, we have received criticism toward a trial we carried out using algal oil as an alternative to petroleum and palm oil based ingredients.That’s why following our initial trial, we are leading a phase of consultancy with key NGO’s and stakeholders to have an informed, science-based discussion about the responsible use of biotechnology. Only after this debate has happened will we then decide what our future plans are regarding the possible usage of specific types of biotechnology.

The criticism we have received to date infers that the algae is produced by a process known as ‘synthetic biology’, that the process causes deforestation and potentially dangerous environmental release, and that better alternatives exist. Several of these claims are factually inaccurate, others are misleading, and all of them unfairly characterise Ecover as irresponsible. This is our response to these inaccuracies.

Synthetic Biology          

The assertion that the algal oil we used at trial used “human altered DNA" or “synthetic biology” is factually incorrect. Synthetic biology is the process of creating DNA from scratch or inserting human-made DNA into an organism. This is not what is being done. The genetic modification process used by the supplier of our algal oil employs the natural mutation process of algae and standard industrial fermentation. Our supplier uses microalgae strains that have been in existence longer than we have, and they work within their natural oil producing pathways using decades-old molecular biology techniques to produce algal oil.

Deforestation

The implication that Ecover is using sugar that causes deforestation is untrue. The sugar cane used in the process is certified sustainable by Bonsucro. Bonsucro certification ensures that the sugar cane is grown on existing agricultural land, and that no new land is converted to agriculture. We are not, however, claiming that sugarcane is the ultimate alternative to palm oil and a diversification of crop sources will still be needed in the near future.

Environmental Release

The assertion that Ecover and our suppliers release algal oil into the environment is untrue. Both Ecover and our supplier have full chain of custody over the algae from start to finish of the process, meaning, from raw material to final product the algae are fully contained. After the algae produce algal oil, they are incinerated in a cogeneration facility that produces power. This process is fully traceable.

Better Alternatives

Ecover believes coconuts are best used for their highest value use — food. Global demand for coconuts is rising and that will continue regardless if they are used to make chemicals. We believe we need to rethink the chemical supply chain from resource use by using ingredients, like algal oil, that do not compete with food. We believe that continuing to put hectares of land under cultivation for chemical production while ignoring technologies that significantly reduce environmental impacts is unrealistic and irresponsible. That is why we think that our efforts in identifying sustainable agricultural sources, like sustainable coconut oil, locally grown rapeseed oil, and agricultural waste streams, are just as important as finding alternative sustainable technologies.

For nearly 40 years, Ecover has operated in an industry that has no regulation or oversight whatsoever, and yet we’ve proven that with the right ethical framework, diligence, and scientific rigour, a company can create real, lasting environmental and social benefit through more sustainable product design and enlightened business practice.

Ecover remains committed, as we have always been committed, to pioneering a sustainable future. This is an important debate and we are happy to lead it and listen to all fact-based data. We ask that all parties are open to the same approach. We will listen and respond to all considered arguments as we progress along this journey.

 We welcome everyone’s views on this complex subject, and encourage anyone who would like to know more to contact us directly through info@ecovercareline.co.uk and we would be really happy to talk further. 

The Ecover Team