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Soap’s Opera: Conflict and Resolution on the World Stage

By: Karen A. Newman
Posted: October 10, 2008, from the January 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

It’s clearly a stretch to compare the current soap industry’s challenges to opera. Yet, in much the same way the great composers understood the tension between good and evil and other opposites, soap and detergent organizations today embrace the power of conflict and resolution, effort and change, in securing a future for their member companies. Industry associations around the world are orchestrating efforts on many fronts on behalf of producers and consumers alike.

The world is a very different place than it was even a century ago, when the modern soap associations were being formed. The German Association of Soap, Perfume and Detergent Experts, SEPAWA, has its roots even earlier, in the 18th century Munich soap and boiler guild. Today, it has grown to 1,200 members involved in the production of cleaning and hygiene products with an eye toward the comfort of everyday lives. We live and work in a world of global economies and businesses, and concerns for the future of the planet, its environment and inhabitants of all species are global, too.

Sustainable Development

Balancing a good quality of life with environmental preservation certainly sounds like an important aspiration. It is what is meant by the term sustainable development, and it is a goal that has been embraced by a number of soap societies around the world. Sustainable development seeks integrated solutions to environmental, social and economic issues.

The International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (AISE), headquartered in Brussels, released a statement in September 2005 announcing the implementation of its Charter for Sustainable Cleaning. “An industry such as ours whose products are so widely used by both consumers and professional users has an obligation to demonstrate its commitment to sustainable development. It is critical for the long-term survival of our industry,” said Charles Laroche, president, AISE. “I am delighted with the early uptake of the scheme by our members, and, as more join, hope that together we can really walk the talk when it comes to sustainability.”

When the statement was released, six member companies already were committed to the charter, and another 46 had confirmed strong interest in the voluntary program. Companies signing on to the charter commit to continual improvement in their sustainability profiles—as measured against 10 key economic, social and environmental indicators. Progress must be verified independently on a wide range of management practices designed to ensure that sustainability becomes a way of thinking at the company level.