The problem? The algae producing the oil were genetically modified. “We put everything on hold,” says Tom Domen, global head of long-term innovation at Ecover, following reactions to the 2014 product trial.
Environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Grain were among 17 organisations to sign an open letter calling on the company to “reconsider the false solution of using ingredients derived from the new genetic engineering.”
For Ecover it was a lesson learned. “We had quite detailed conversations with all our stakeholders,” says Domen, “for which the main outcome was that we were a bit clearer on how we would go about deciding on responsible innovation ... and what the principles for use are when going off with more controversial technologies.”
Ecover’s experience highlights just some of the difficulties of finding a viable palm oil alternative. The vegetable oil is ubiquitous in consumer products from food to detergent, prized for its properties including a high melting point and its relative cheapness. But it also comes with hefty environmental and social impacts.
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