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ACI Is Going Strong


At 93 years old, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) is showing no signs of its age. The trade association for the cleaning products supply chain represents more than 140 companies, including household and industrial and institutional (I&I) cleaning product formulators, soap, detergent and fabric care product manufacturers, chemical producers, packaging suppliers and chemical distributors. ACI has hung its hat in Washington, D.C. since 2000, but actually was a bit of a late arrival to the nation’s capital, where most trade associations had set up or had gravitated towards in decades past.


“A Tale of Soap & Water”—dating back to 1928—was published by the Cleanliness Institute, which was part of the Association of American Soap and Glycerine Producers—the forerunner of today’s ACI.


The History of ACI


ACI was established in New York City for the first 74 years of its history. As recounted in a chapter from the book The Evolution of Clean that was authored by ACI, “In 1926, a few years before the dawn of the Great Depression, a group of U.S. manufacturers banded together in New York City to promote the benefits of cleanliness and hygiene. That organization was known as the Association of American Soap and Glycerine Producers, Inc. (AASGP), a forerunner of The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA). Mr. Roscoe Edlund was the first manager of the association, and by 1931, there were 84 members.” From its humble beginnings in 19261, the Association of American Soap and Glycerine Producers recognized the importance of providing science-based approaches in cleaning products to consumers that would keep them healthy, safe and living fulfilled lives. One year later, the Cleanliness Institute was founded by the Association to teach the value of hygiene.


The name was changed to The Soap and Detergent Association around 1960 to reflect the evolution of cleaning products from strictly soap-based to include those based on synthetic surface active agents. SDA relocated to Washington, DC in 2000. As the cleaning products industry evolved, so too did the SDA from a relatively homogenous group of manufacturers of formulated products to the heterogeneous mixture of manufacturers of finished cleaning products, ingredient suppliers, and producers of finished packaging materials that it is today.


In 1962, membership was opened to ingredient suppliers, although ten years earlier fatty acid producers had preceded them into the association. The suppliers and the fatty acid producers along with the formulator manufacturers were organized into discrete divisional groups that mapped out their programs and budgets for the approval of the SDA Board of Directors. The divisional structure was replaced by the current organizational scheme in June of 2000.


An early example of ACI’s collaborative efforts: this circa 1930s publication was a joint project between the association’s Cleanliness Institute and the National Safety Council.


Promoting Scientific Concepts and Standards


The rapid globalization of business and commerce further enlarged SDA’s scope of operations but in a different way. The international harmonization and environmental and health initiatives involving chemical products threatened the ability of manufacturers to make products in the U.S. that could meet consumer needs economically. SDA understood the negative potential of these initiatives and devoted significant intellectual and material resources to promoting the use of scientific concepts and standards that are recognized by both the industry and the U.S. government as well as by international entities and organizations. While the SDA underwent many changes since its humble beginnings, it demonstrated an ongoing commitment to consumer and caregiver engagement, service to providing current and viable information in an ever-changing industry, and opportunities for partnerships with stakeholder organizations that share its high standard of excellence and vigorous practicality.


Of the many successful outcomes credited to SDA, none exemplifies these qualities better than the fat salvage campaign project during World War II. Under SDA leadership, about 1.5 billion pounds of waste fats from households were collected for making soap. However, the real success of the campaign lies in the fact that soap alone, among all of the other necessities of daily life, avoided being rationed during the war. Given the conditions on the battlefields, the availability of soap to soldiers undoubtedly saved lives.


2010 and Beyond


For decades, SDA had represented more than just soap and detergent manufacturers. It represented the interests of cleaning product manufacturers and their chemical suppliers. So, in 2010, when it moved to a new office building in DC and moved the location of the Annual Meeting after 38 years, it was clear that it was time for a brand refresh. After consulting with experts from within the industry, talking extensively with long-time member company executives as well as external stakeholders, SDA came out with a new name that truly represented who the association is and what it represents: the American Cleaning Institute.


“Clean and Neat” was an SDA publication from the 1960s that was distributed to Head Start offices, schools, and child welfare agencies, and it described ways to teach cleanliness and health habits to preschool children.


‘American’ made sense, because, well, that explains where the association is based. ‘Cleaning’ made sense to become the association’s “middle name”. And ‘Institute’ reflected the scientific and technical expertise that the organization had come to be known for over the course of many decades. In the years since the re-branding, ACI continued to tackle the major policy and marketplace issues confronting the supply chain, including the industry’s efforts to provide more information than ever before about cleaning products and their ingredients; producing a series of award-winning sustainability reports that reflect member companies’ commitment to operating sustainably and responsibly in communities and around the globe; and better telling of the story of how the industry’s products and chemistries have improved health and quality of life worldwide.


Under the leadership of Melissa Hockstad, who joined ACI as the President & CEO in 2017, and an active and engaged Board of Directors, ACI’s purpose became crystal clear: ACI serves the growth and innovation of the U.S. cleaning products industry by advancing the health and quality of life of people and protecting the planet. ACI achieves this through a continuous commitment to sound science and being a credible voice for the cleaning products industry. To better showcase that growth and innovation, ACI commissioned a report in 2018 that examined the economic impact of the cleaning products industry on the U.S. economy. The report found the industry has a direct impact on the U.S. economy totaling $59.1 billion, supporting 64,000 jobs and including $8.3 billion of labor compensation. Approximately 53 percent of total cleaning product sales are from purchases by other industries. The data also show that the total economic impact of the cleaning products industry—including upstream suppliers and downstream distributors—is $192 billion in output and encompasses 756,000 jobs.


Among ACI members, business is front-and-center at the annual convention. The 2019 convention hosted more than 1,040 attendees from 180 companies and 27 countries. This annual event provides attendees the opportunity to network, attend business-to-business meetings and learn about new trends and developments taking place within the global cleaning products supply chain.


ACI has a strong history. Whatever challenges lie ahead, ACI will continue to build on the foundation of its past to support the future growth and innovation that lies at the heart of member companies and the industry at-large.


By Brian Sansoni, ACI Senior Vice President, Communications, Outreach & Membership