In 1996, Växjö, in Southern Sweden became the first city in the world to set the goal for becoming fossil-fuel free by 2030. Since then, the city has made an impressive effort to become one of Europe’s greenest cities. In 2014, Växjö had 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per capita which was significantly less than the EU average of 7.3 that year. Some of the reasons behind Växjö’s success is from the trees that heat half of the city. They have found novel ways to reuse waste from the local forest industry which is burnt to generate heat and power. But Leif Löf, Kemibolaget’s Vice President and Founder sheds light on the bio-based commercial scene in Sweden. The chemical company has become a family business which was first launched by Leif in 1977. 40 years on the firm now has 23 employees. They produce a range of cleaning products under their brand, Ocean supplying washing detergents, dishwashing tablets and personal hygiene products. In this interview, Leif provides an insight the company’s recent activity in the North American market and his vision for the future of the business.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What first led you to your role?
Leif Löf (LL): I have always had my concerns about the environment and the importance of growing businesses sustainably. There were many problems in the past and even more now. I first entered the industry working in a company with a focus on the green ways of doing things. However, I decided that I wanted to set up my own business where I could do things my way. When Kemibolaget first started, we delivered products to improve the environmental working conditions; like those working in car garage for example. But as the business progressed we started to concentrate on the wider environment, not just in the workplace. We became very concerned by the polluted air and water and realised that something needed to change. Therefore, it is our aim to try and minimise how Kemibolaget can minimise the damage on the environment and reduce the number of harmful chemicals in so many day-to-day products.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
LL: I always like to make some interesting developments in the company by seeking ways to make the company better than others in the market. So recently we have been working with climate neutral production to find ways to calculate carbon footprint. I won the "Global 100 Eco-Tech” award back in 2006 – it is these moments of recognition that reconfirm why I love working in this industry which can make a positive difference.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
LL: One of the biggest challenges that I have encountered on this journey is trying to make a product that works just as well, if not better than petroleum based alternatives which are obviously more popular in the market. Whilst you can try your best to make a product which is good for the environment, it has no use in the market place if it does not work! It has to be efficient otherwise consumers won’t buy it.
What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable/bio-based industry?
LL: It is important to be confident in your business idea despite some of the barriers that you may encounter along the way. Try your best to research the market beforehand so you can be assured that your business can survive. The sustainable and bio-based industry can be difficult to enter because some consumers are disillusioned by the effectiveness of the products, but the more you trial and test it, the more confidence you will have.
EOD: How has the bio-based space in Sweden changed?
LL: Regrettably, the bio-based industry is not as big as the sustainable industry in Sweden. There is more concentration on renewable energy rather than bio-based solutions. This means that the industry in moving slower in comparison to other countries. At Kemibolaget, we target the bio-based cleaning market, which is still very niche. We are one of the first businesses to have produced bio-plastic bottles for our products. Luckily for us, competition is very slow and not as efficient. Therefore, I think we have a good chance to become a key player in the market. Whilst climate change is heavily recognised across the world, a lot of people do not understand enough about bio-based substitutes. Some consumers still aren’t aware of the challenges facing our environment which means that the Swedish economy is still very petroleum based. As a result, the consumer doesn’t know what they can expect from bio-based products.
EOD: Where would you like to see your company in 5 years’ time?
LL: I am very excited about the future of Kemibolaget because I think we will be in an even better position in the market. We have already started working in North America and I believe we can extend this success into more global markets and develop more presence in the US. Most of the challenges we face are in Sweden so it is important that we widen our market and fulfil our potential.
EOD: What is your favourite bio-based/sustainable product aside from your own product range?
LL: I’m always a fan of any bio-plastic products. I particularly like the bottles made from Braskem. They have the same standard and the same efficiency but without the negative impact on the environment. These are the same standards that we always hope to meet.
EOD: Thank you for giving us an insight into your company Leif, good luck!
Bio-Based World News will bring this new 5 minute feature to our readers every week. This will able to put a face to the brand and provide established businesses and new start-ups the crucial advise they need in this industry. If you would like to be interviewed about your own bio-based/sustainable business then please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week's 5 minutes with... 5 minutes with... David Anderson, Global Vice President of Marketing for Green Biologics.
Next week's 5 minutes will feature... Marina and Irina, Co-Founders of Ecooutfitters
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