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New ingredients produce a cold-water wash

When consumer products giant Procter & Gamble develops a new product – or re-engineers an existing one – it sorts though thousands of potential ingredients, looking for what’s safe, what works and what consumers will buy.

The company has a long, successful history of evaluating these ingredients. Ultimately, its decisions impact millions of households.

Such evaluations are sometimes called an alternatives analysis, and are designed to identify the most effective combination of ingredients. The concept will be a cornerstone of DTSC’s draft Safer Consumer Products Regulations.

Procter & Gamble turned to the process when it redesigned a traditional laundry detergent to work with cold water.  The re-engineered product aligned with a broad corporate goal: to trim the carbon footprint of hot and warm-water machine washes.

“Seventy percent of the energy use comes from heating the water,” said Don Versteeg, an environmental toxicologist at Procter & Gamble. The Ohio-based company maintains that a nationwide shift to cold water washing will annually cut up to 14 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and enough natural gas to eliminate up to 12 million tons of greenhouse gases.

Procter & Gamble’s redesign is a case study in everyday product development, where companies weigh one alternative ingredient against another, hit roadblocks, overcome them, test results with consumers and eventually begin manufacturing. The work can take years and involve the entire global supply chain, whether it’s about designing safer products or products that use less water or energy.

“It’s hard work. It’s difficult. It takes experts. It takes lots of experts,” said Versteeg, addressing a recent Grocery Manufacturers Association symposium in Sacramento on product development and alternatives analysis.

DTSC’s goal for alternatives analysis is safer consumer products.

Chemists at companies like Procter & Gamble start with similar goals.

“They have a vision of what they want to do, and then they look for new materials,” said Versteeg. “Does this new material have the chemical properties we want? Does it dissolve in cold water? Does it lift stains off the fabric in cold water the way we hoped it would?”

Beyond the lab are other questions. How does the new raw material smell? Is it safe? Can a manufacturer supply it? How does it ship? Will the cost affect the price of the product? Will consumers buy it?

At Procter & Gamble, this evaluation process is so routine they don’t have a name for it.

“It’s our normal product development process,” said Versteeg. “We’ve been doing this for over 100 years.”