I’ve been using the MyPlanet series of environmentally friendly fabric and household care products for more than a year, but it hadn’t occurred to me to write about them here, because I just assumed that they were imports. Laundry detergents, window cleaners and dishwasher tablets, especially their green alternatives, were the kind of things I (naively) thought were manufactured only by multi-nationals. What Greek company, or for that matter any SME, would be crazy enough to try to gain a foothold in a market dominated by the Goliaths of a few deep-pocketed conglomerates?
It turns out that the David that produces the MyPlanet series is Rolco,a Greek company that has been making fabric and household detergents for more than half a century. The company also has a track record of environmental friendly manufacture. In the 1970s it became the first Greek company to introduce fully biodegradable surfactants (a component that breaks up stains) in its detergents and in 2003 it began to use natural gas to heat the boilers in its factories. Incidentally, it’s been included in the “Strongest Greek Companies” list of the most credit-worthy firms published each year by the business consulting firm ICAP.
Introduced in 2008, the MyPlanet line features laundry powder, fabric softener, hand dishwashing liquid, all-purpose household cleaners and window cleaners. Its products today are all boron- and phosphate-free, and use, where possible, pant-based active ingredients and alternatives to petrochemical components. Naturally, the products come in fully recyclable packaging (as do many conventional detergents). The Planet line is not entirely chemical free, however. Some chemical substances, such as perfumes and antimicrobial agents, are used but within the limitations set by the EU Eco-Label guidelines in terms of toxicity and biodegradability. (That said, the hand dishwashing liquid does contain methylisothiazolinone, a commonly used biocide that some studies have shown to be allergenic, although after reviewing relevant studies in 2004, the European Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for Consumers concluded that its use as a preservative in cosmetics and other products at concentrations of less than 0.01% (100 ppm) in the finished product does not pose a consumer health risk.)
Data on market share are not available, but MyPlanet seems to have gained a toehold, judging by the amount of shelf space given Planet products in the supermarkets I shop at (admittedly not a representative sample). It seems fitting that Rolco won the 2009 Effie Hellas 2010 David vs. Goliath award, a distinction in the field of marketing communications given to “smaller, new or emerging bands making inroads against big, established leaders.”
There’s certainly room for the firm to increase its market share, not only in Greece but also in the export markets it’s begun to be distributed in. The percentage of the population who believe that the state of the environment influences their quality of life is higher in Greece (92%) than anywhere else in the EU. And although three-quarters of Greek respondents in a recent Eurobarometer survey stated they intent to buy environmentally friendly products in the future (a figure close to the EU average), only 16% actually had bought at least one such product in the last month (again, on par with the EU average).
Some of the difference between intent and action is due to the price differential between green and conventional products. But in a recent comparative survey of Athens supermarket prices of laundry detergents, I could find Ariel at a best price of €18 for a 68-wash bag and MyPlanet at a cost of €20.76 for a 67-wash bag, which works out to be only a four-cent difference per wash. The supermarket price obviously does not factor in such environmental costs as eutrophication, energy waste and the disposal of non-biodegradable ingredients that are part of the “invisible costs” of conventional products.
And effectiveness? In a comparative test of five green laundry detergents conducted by the daily newspaper Kathimerini, MyPlanet, outperformed the other products in cleaning difficult stains.