American Cleaning Institute (ACI)
Promoting the science of clean
Business View Magazine interviews Melissa Hockstad, American Cleaning Institute President & CEO, for our focus on the U.S. Cleaning Products Industry
The American Cleaning Institute has been serving the U.S. cleaning products industry for 95 years. First named The Association of American Soap and Glycerin Producers, the institute was born out of a recognized need to provide science-based approaches to cleaning products. As it evolved into the 1960s, the name was changed to the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), reflecting the inclusion of synthetic surface-active ingredients. A few years later, membership in the association was opened to include not only product suppliers, but ingredient suppliers, creating a diverse group reflecting various aspects of the industry. As the cleaning products industry continued to evolve, it became time to rebrand again, beginning with a relocation from New York City to Washington D.C. in 2000, and eventually a change of name in 2010, to what is now the American Cleaning Institute (ACI).
According to Melissa Hockstad, President & CEO of the American Cleaning Institute, “Today, ACI remains committed to serving growth and innovation of the U.S. cleaning products industry, by advancing health and quality of life of people that use our products and by protecting our planet. Sustainability is really a core of ACI as an organization.” With more than 120 member companies, membership of the Institute is divided into categories. Companies whose products would be found in households, hospitals, schools, and restaurants, would fit the formulators category, making up a large portion of the total membership. The ingredient supplier category fits those who make anything from fragrances to surfactants that go into a cleaning product. Smaller membership categories include chemical distributors and packaging suppliers.
Membership benefits include business-to-business engagements, an important opportunity for many companies. The ACI Convention, held annually in Orlando, Florida, brings hundreds of cleaning product producers and supply chain partners together under one roof for networking, consumer panels, and various presentations. Hockstad shares, “We are very excited that it will be back in person in January 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Our convention is the most significant business-to-business event for the global cleaning product supply chain, and billions of dollars worth of business can be done in the span of one week.”
Advocacy is another advantage to membership, with the Institute’s commitment to representing the industry at both the state and federal levels, and with agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. This engagement ensures that innovation can continue in products and ingredients, backed by scientific leadership. With a third of ACI’s employees having science or engineering backgrounds, Hockstad says, “Science is very much at the heart of ACI as an organization. Other benefits would include the ability to shape industry through participation in ACI through various committees and on our Board of Directors, the opportunity to showcase sustainability, and be part of our sustainability leadership – really helping to drive where the industry wants to head collectively.”
Sustainability is a high priority in the cleaning industry, with climate and packaging currently the main areas of focus. Our Future Is Clean, a campaign which showcases the cleaning product industry’s work towards sustainability, was launched in 2020, although this area of focus is not new for the Institute. “As an organization ACI has been involved in sustainability for over 15 years already,” Hockstad recounts. “We were one of the front runners when sustainability wasn’t even on many people’s radars. What we are really focused on is how we as an association can drive bold, collective action. We are working very closely with our members to harness that combined influence, and then seek ways to address the sustainability challenges facing the world today.”
Working with stakeholders to eliminate all cleaning product package waste by 2040 is a strong goal of ACI. As Hockstad explains, “That is a combination of recycling and the types of materials that we are using. We know that cleaning product packaging is very important for safe transportation and storage of our products. Really what we are homed in on, in accordance with the principles of a circular economy, is to address the challenges around product packaging. How do we design out waste and pollution and keep materials in use while maintaining the packaging’s essential functions?”
Ingredient communication is another focus for the organization, an issue which members have been actively involved in for several years. “What that means is providing information to consumers and customers about the ingredients that are in the cleaning products that they’re buying,” says Hockstad, “and not only what the ingredients are, but what they do, and the purpose they serve. What we’re really focused on is how can we make federal legislation for ingredient communication for our products. Our bottom line is, we want to reduce consumer confusion.”
In 2017, the state of California enacted legislation requiring ingredient labelling on cleaning products sold in-state. “We want it so there is no risk of California doing one thing and another state doing something else, and then another state something else. You can buy the same product in three different places and it’s telling you different information and that can be confusing. So, our top issue really is working on federal legislation and ingredient communication space. We brought on some new staff to help us work on that and we are starting to build momentum on Capitol Hill. It will be a longer-term project, but one that our members are very committed to.”
During COVID, many members of ACI had to adjust their production to meet the rapidly growing need for cleaning products. Many member companies shifted their manufacturing facilities to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week – some even building brand-new facilities in record time, just to make sure they could get these critical products out to the consumers and customers that needed them. “I have been so proud of the cleaning products industry, everything that they’ve done to really keep that commitment and focus to keep people healthy and safe, during what I would say were unprecedented times,” shares Hockstad.
In March of 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, hand sanitizer was in short supply across the country. A temporary allowance was made by the Food and Drug Administration to allow distilleries to shift their production to alcohol-based hand sanitizers. ACI is now advocating that it is time to move back to having hand sanitizing products made by regulated industries. Hockstad maintains, “It was meeting a need at the time but, right now, there is a glut of hand sanitizers out in the market. ACI has been communicating our position on it with the FDA, saying it’s time to withdraw the temporary policies, because there’s more than enough in the marketplace.”
ACI also had to pivot their operations during COVID by embracing virtual communication, something Hockstad says they were prepared for. She notes, “Thankfully, we have a phenomenal guy who runs our IT department, so we had a lot of the tools in place, although we were using some of them a little bit differently.” Unable to have the annual convention in 2021 resulted in a virtual summit which was well received by the over 850 members who participated, down only a few hundred from the previous in-person attendance.
“We were able to host a range of educational programs, we had an online trade show type component to it. We felt the numbers were very, very good,” reports Hockstad. Enhancing online education offerings in the way of monthly webinars and regular newsletters was another way ACI stayed connected with members, sharing the continued work on their behalf, while keeping them updated on the latest industry advancements.
Thinking about the next five years, Hockstad sees innovation and growth for the cleaning products industry, with a continued focus on sustainability. “We know many of our companies are very focused on reducing emissions and greenhouse gas, and as an organization we strive for our industry to reach net zero global emissions by 2050. Although that is a long-term goal, I think what we will see over the next five years, are the steps that our member companies are taking, and where ACI can support and really drive them to help reduce emissions overall.” As the American Cleaning Institute moves forward, while continuing to serve the innovation and growth of the U.S. cleaning products industry, they are contributing to a clean and vibrant future for us all.
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AT A GLANCE
American Cleaning Institute (ACI)
WHAT: A membership-based organization serving the cleaning products industry.
WHERE: Washington D.C.