Products & consumers

Every year, almost a third of households worldwide use Unilever laundry products to do their washing – around 125 billion washes. This adds up to a large environmental footprint, but also a big opportunity to make a difference.

Our impact

USLP logoLaundry products alone account for more than a tenth of our total greenhouse gas footprint. The Cleaner Planet Plan (CPP), developed by our laundry brands, aims to reduce the impact of laundry on the environment by designing innovative products, manufacturing them efficiently and motivating consumers to improve their laundry habits. The CPP is crucial in helping us achieve our Sustainable Living Plan greenhouse gases targets which include:

  • Concentrating our liquids and compacting our powders.
  • Reformulating our laundry products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2012.
  • Encouraging our consumers to wash at lower temperatures and at the correct dosage in 70% of machine washes by 2020.

During 2009–2010, we embarked on an ambitious global roll out of the Cleaner Planet Plan to countries including Turkey, Brazil, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Greece, Germany, Bolivia, Central America and Paraguay. 

Technology & product innovation in laundry

The CPP vision builds on our long-standing work to innovate products that have lower environmental impacts. In particular, we have been at the forefront of the development of concentrated liquid detergents and compacted laundry powders, which both deliver significant reductions in water, energy, packaging use and transport.

We have been compacting our washing powders since 1998, while maintaining their effectiveness. Compaction helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5%-20% per wash. Compaction of powders in Turkey, for example has saved the equivalent of around 250 million plastic carrier bags.

Small and MightyOur concentrated liquid laundry detergents such as Omo/Persil use fewer raw materials and packaging, are less energy-intensive to manufacture, cost less to transport and are effective at lower wash temperatures compared with ordinary liquid products.

For example, Persil small and mighty is a super-concentrated liquid that is one third the volume of equivalent detergents. When it was launched in Europe in 2007 we reduced water and waste per bottle by half, halved the number of trucks required to transport it and reduced greenhouse gas emissions per wash compared to powder detergent. This resulted in savings to date - in Europe alone - of the equivalent of 30 Olympic size swimming pools of water and half a billion plastic bags.

Communicating with consumers

Laundry habits vary in our different markets. For example, in some countries people generally handwash their clothes; in others, using washing machines is the norm.

Based on these differences, between 25% and 68% of the total greenhouse gas footprint of our products, and 95% of the water footprint, occurs during consumer use.

The Cleaner Planet Plan enables our brand teams to communicate with consumers on how they can adopt better laundry habits to reduce their own environmental impacts; habits such as correct dosing and low temperature washing. This is displayed on our packs and is supported by ‘better habits’ tips found at www.cleanerplanetplan.com

In Turkey, people tend to wash laundry at higher temperatures (above 60oC) and around 44% of households use pre-wash cycles (compared to a European average of 7%). This has big impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and water. In 2009 Omo worked in partnership with WWF to run an education campaign in Turkey. In the campaign consumers were encouraged to wash with fuller loads and avoid pre-washing to save water and energy. Pre-washing has declined from 44% of consumers in 2004 to 27% in 2010.

  • OMO became the leading brand in environment friendly attributes — with more than three times as many people agreeing that it "it makes me feel I care about the environmental issues when I use it" compared to the nearest competitor.

  • Unilever widened the gap with our nearest competitor, growing both corporate and market share.

In 2010 we introduced the Cleaner Planet Plan in Brazil. All our laundry products now have information on-pack about better laundry habits and the CO2 emission reductions resulting from the new concentrated formula. Our on pack labelling on OMO and Surf in Brazil highlighted how consumers were contributing to saving 130 000 tons of CO2 every year — the equivalent to taking 37 000 cars off the road. Unilever also partnered with the Environment Ministry of the Brazilian government in a joint initiative to encourage consumers to adopt more environmentally friendly habits.

In the UK our Persil small & mighty team supported retailer Tesco’s Energy Saving Week in October 2010. Persil helped to communicate the money savings Tesco customers could achieve by washing at low temperatures. We also ran an in-store campaign to give consumers energy saving tips and educate them on the benefits of using concentrated liquids.

Growing market share & enhancing our reputation

We have seen success in countries that have launched the Cleaner Planet Plan.

For example, since moving to Persil small & mighty and communicating the savings in packaging, water and transport compared to a dilute product, Unilever now holds more than 40% of the concentrated liquids market in the UK. The CPP message has reached over 1 million consumers through advertisments in best-selling lifestyle magazines.

In Turkey, we have become market leader with the move to compacted powders by communicating the efficacy of OMO and also its environmental benefits. Our company received the Water Footprint Award from the Turkish marketing and communications magazine, MediaCat, in its Open Air Advertising Awards for encouraging consumers to use water responsibly.

In Latin America, the Cleaner Planet Plan was launched at a press conference to 150 key opinion formers in which Paul Polman presented our sustainability vision. The conference was also viewed via a webcast by an additional 1 800 people.

Working with industry bodies

The Cleaner Planet Plan builds on the work we have been undertaking in industry forums for many years. For example, we take a leadership role in industry bodies that can influence consumer behaviour. Within AISE (the International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products, the industry representative body in Europe), Unilever has been actively involved in sustainability campaigns such as ‘Washright’, which was launched in 1998 to encourage consumers to wash clothes at lower temperatures and use full washes. In 2006, we participated in the launch of AISE’s Save Energy and Water Campaign to promote sustainable machine dishwashing.

Searching for new solutions in skin & hair care

Skin and hair care products account for around 61% of our total greenhouse gas footprint, compared to laundry at around 11%. We are looking at how we can work with others to find product improvements that offer innovative benefits. In this way we can make it easier for consumers to change their behaviour.

We estimate that 95% of the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with our soaps, shower gels and shampoos occur during consumer use so the largest gains will come from consumers modifying their shower habits.

If we can persuade 20 million people to cut a minute from their shower time, it would save emissions of 1 million tonnes of CO2 a year – equivalent to taking 110 000 cars off the road.

We have a good track record in influencing consumers in their hygiene habits – promoting toothbrushing and handwashing, for example. But while we are determined to highlight the importance of reduced shower times, we know that bathroom habits do not change overnight. So we are committed to long-term strategies, working with others where we can – and a rigorous system of surveys and observations to measure how well our strategies are working with consumers.

By the end of 2011, our ‘Turn off the Tap’ campaign will be launched in the US through our Suave hair care brand, aiming to encourage people to turn off the shower while they lather, saving 30 seconds to a minute of shower time. ‘Turn off the Tap’ will be just one of a range of similar programmes. We aim to reach and persuade 400 million consumers to change their shower habits by 2020, using the power of our brands to reach into households across the world.

Promoting the importance of consumer behaviour change

We work with a variety of organisations to address the role of the consumer in using and disposing of our products efficiently.

During 2009 we contributed to a study by the University of Manchester’s Sustainable Consumption Institute. The study, commissioned by Tesco, showed that in the UK three-quarters of emissions are directly or indirectly influenced by consumers. This supports our own research that for many of our home and personal care products, the largest proportion of CO2 emissions occurs in their use by consumers. It also reinforces our overall approach of supporting consumers who wish to adopt a lower-carbon lifestyle.

In December 2009 we jointly published a report with The Coca-Cola Company at the Copenhagen Business Day (held in parallel with the UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference) to demonstrate the vital role consumer goods companies play in tackling climate change.

The 30-page guide was published for the benefit of managers throughout the consumer goods industry, aimed at encouraging businesses to take a ‘big picture’ approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions rather than focusing on factory emissions alone. ‘Moving Fast to a Cleaner Climate: A manager’s guide – How consumer goods companies can tackle climate change’ looks right across the value chain from the sourcing of raw materials to the way products are used by the consumer. It also covers how consumer goods companies must help and empower the consumer to change their behaviour.

Powering hot water washing in developing countries

There is a huge demand for water heating in the developing world that cannot currently be met. The availability of hot water can transform habits, particularly in personal care so it is in our interests to help people get access to affordable hot water in a climate-friendly way. Paraffin stoves are widely used to heat water in townships in South Africa. However, they are expensive to run, polluting and can be dangerous. We are trialling a solar heating project in South Africa which involves installing solar water heaters in homes.

We have an agreement with a solar water heater installation company to provide 2 000 solar water heaters to new homes in a large housing scheme near Durban that is part of the government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme.

We will also train and employ local salesmen to sell these Sunlight-branded heaters to more affluent homes. Evidence from a similar solar water heating project in Cape Town shows that the use of solar heaters can reduce carbon emissions by up to 2 000 kg per year compared to traditional methods of heating water using wood, coal or paraffin. The heaters also help families save money on fuel.

1 Kuyasa project in Khayeltisha, Cape Town was the first ‘Gold Standard’ CDM (Carbon Development Mechanism) solar water heating project.