Case Study Persil: Our Philosophy in Word and Action

Many rankings and awards acknowledge Henkel as a global leader in sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR). As we embraced these ideals many decades ago, we are in fact already working on solutions to the problems of our age, such as the growing threat of climate change. With this in mind, we are consistently optimizing all of our brands and technologies in three phases of their life cycle: research and development, production, and use.

The limited availability of water, energy and other resources has been recognized as a global challenge. We have taken up this challenge, and we confront it by taking action locally in more than 125 countries. We aim to make a valuable contribution to society. The basis for this is our vision to make people’s lives easier, better and more beautiful with our brands and technologies. Our way of achieving this in a sustainable and socially responsible manner is to combine excellent performance with responsibility toward people and the environment.

Responsibility as Part of Our DNA

We put the highest priority on acting responsibly throughout the value chain. The crucial factor here is how a company behaves in generating its profits, and whether it conducts its business in a responsible manner. This fundamental attitude is not new at Henkel, but has been part of our DNA ever since the company was founded in 1876. Fritz Henkel’s ambition was to produce laundry detergents that would take the drudgery out of doing the wash. Together with his sons, Fritz Henkel, Jr., and Dr. Hugo Henkel, he accomplished this “washday revolution” in 1907 with Persil – the world’s first self-acting detergent. It washed and bleached without using chlorine. Persil not only did away with the physically strenuous task of rubbing the laundry by hand, which caused the fabrics to wear, but also improved household hygiene. These were directly tangible contributions that Henkel made to social progress. Since then, the members of the Henkel family have constantly inspired both top management and the company as a whole to follow the model of a naturally profit-oriented entrepreneur who is also aware of the ecological and social dimensions of his actions and careful to fulfill his obligations as an employer. We regard this tradition as a distinguishing characteristic of Henkel and as a competitive advantage.


“Water is the gold of the 21st century.” This statement expresses the growing worldwide concern regarding water resources and their conservation. This topic has long been of vital importance to Henkel. As long ago as 1958 – 50 years ago - we started to analyze the water in the Rhine and its tributaries systematically to determine the levels of washing active substances. Beginning in 1959, we introduced regular ecological quality checks for all our laundry detergents and household cleaners. Our innovative pioneering spirit was also demonstrated by the launch of phosphate-free Persil in 1986, after our researchers had discovered that phosphate in laundry detergents can result in nutrient-rich surface waters. This encourages excessive growth of algae, which may seriously disrupt aquatic ecosystems. A research program was started, which eventually resulted in the development a phosphate substitute. This was a milestone in the history of laundry detergents. We have used the knowledge gained to develop high-performance and more environmentally compatible laundry detergents. Today, the accumulated data tell the story of how Henkel innovations have contributed to keeping our surface waters clean. We also use these data internationally, to enable computer programs to simulate the pollution of surface waters in Europe.

Energy and climate

Everyone who opens a newspaper or watches the news on television knows that ensuring the provision of adequate energy supplies will be a major challenge in the future. Closely connected with this are emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the threat of climate change. Henkel has always been aware of the relevance of these issues – not least in the context of production costs and the electricity bills of customers and consumers. One major contribution to reducing energy consumption in the household is the pioneering work in enzyme research that we have carried out since the 1970s. In fact, the high performance of modern laundry detergents at low washing temperatures would be unthinkable without the help of highly effective enzymes: Laundry used to be washed at 90 degrees Celsius. Our laundry detergent Persil for example now achieves the same level of cleanliness and removes stains better than ever at just 20 degrees Celsius. Overall, lower washing temperatures have helped to halve electricity consumption per machine load since the 1970, thereby decreasing carbon dioxide emissions by 1.5 million metric tons in Germany alone.

Raw materials and packaging

The needs of a continuously expanding world population and the sharp increase in world market prices of raw materials have drawn attention to the future availability of raw materials. From the very beginning, the responsible handling of resources has been standard practice at Henkel. This includes our systematic approach to waste management. Our motto for waste has always been “avoid, reduce, recycle.” We have consistently used ingredients derived from renewable raw materials in our products. In the early 1920s, for example, when faced with a shortage of the adhesives that were essential for closing our Persil packets, Henkel researchers quickly developed new starch-based adhesives, which were used within the company beginning in 1922 and marketed externally beginning in 1923. Starting from this emergency situation 85 years ago, we have now become the world’s biggest adhesives company. Time and again, our researchers have worked on developing innovative raw materials and increasingly efficient formulations for our products to achieved savings in raw materials. One example: Whereas 280 grams of conventional washing powder were needed for one wash cycle in the 1970s, just 68 grams of Persil Megaperls now suffice – about a quarter of the former amount.

Employees, neighbors and customers

The safety of our employees as well as customers, consumers and the communities in which our sites are located, is a key component of our promise of quality. In 1927, we were the first chemical company in Germany to hire a safety engineer to systematically promote accident prevention and occupational health and safety. Since that time, we have continuously improved safety in the workplace. The occupational accident rate has now been reduced to just 1.7 per million work hours.

Today for tomorrow

Our history points the way to our future. For Henkel, quality and responsibility are inseparably linked. Our adhesives are helping to make modern cars lighter to reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. And our modern laundry detergents and cleaning products perform excellently even at low temperatures, enabling households to lower their energy consumption. These are just some examples of many smart solutions from Henkel. But the impact of such innovations ultimately depends on the collective responsibility of individuals, with each person making a conscious decision to buy the more sustainable alternative. Customers and consumers can rely on our products to deliver first-class performance. They have been extensively tested for safety and are environmentally compatible. They are made using water and energy efficient processes by qualified employees working in good conditions. We as a company, and all our employees worldwide, are aware of the requirements of sustainable development. We act in conformity with these requirements and embrace our responsibility. Sustainability is and will remain what we stand for – today and tomorrow.