Reducing GHG in consumer use

Every year, billions of consumers worldwide use our shampoos, shower gels and laundry detergents in their homes. Almost a third of households worldwide use a Unilever laundry product – around 125 billion washes and a figure that is growing. This adds up to a large environmental footprint, but also a big opportunity to make a difference.

Our impact

Our skin cleansing products (soap and shower gel) and haircare products (shampoo and conditioner) alone account for more than half our total greenhouse gas footprint. The impact comes from the heated water people need when they take a shower with our products. We are developing innovative products that offer new benefits. In this way we can make it easier for consumers to change their behaviour because the largest gains will come from consumers modifying their shower habits.

Targets & performance

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from skin cleansing and hair washing (M)

  • By 2015 we aim to reach 200 million consumers with products and tools that will help them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while washing and showering. Our plan is to reach 400 million people by 2020.
  • While we have made some limited progress, overall this target remains challenging.
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The greatest greenhouse gas impact of our shampoos, shower gels and soaps occurs when they are used by consumers with heated water. During 2012 we continued to explore a range of approaches to help us understand consumer behaviour so that we can influence their showering and bathing habits. Our direct action through our products included the roll-out of dry shampoo under many brands such as Dove, Suave and TRESemmé; a promotional offer of a free aerator with Radox shower gel in South Africa; and crowd sourcing fresh ideas on how to encourage consumers to reduce heated water in the shower.

We estimate that compared to washing with heated water, using a dry shampoo reduces GHG emissions by around 90%. The dry shampoo market is still quite new and the number of users is relatively low. However, quantitative consumer panel data from the US shows that for those who bought a dry shampoo, it replaced a wet wash in 60% of uses. This suggests dry shampoo is a way in which the amount of heated water used in the shower can be reduced: the beauty benefit that the consumer is offered is accompanied by more sustainable, energy-saving behaviour.

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 saving energy in the home, 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.

Dry shampoo sales grow 19%

Hair stylists often advise women to wait between washes to help extend their colour and maintain general hair health. Our dry shampoos allow women to refresh hair between washes, saving time and extending the period that their style lasts. Quantitative consumer data in the US suggests that dry shampoos replace a wet wash with heated water in 60% of uses.

We have now rolled out our dry shampoos to ten countries under nine brands, including TRESemmé, Suave, TIGI and VO5. Sales grew by over 19% in 2012. In the UK, our dry shampoo sales have doubled in since 2011. We are the market leader in the US with 75% share and in 2012 launched the product under Dove brand.

Understanding shower habits

In 2011 we undertook a study to reveal what British people do in the shower. The aim of the research was to use the findings to encourage people to save energy, water and money. Using a shower sensor, our researchers were able to monitor actual showering behaviour. The study monitored 2,600 showers taken by 100 families over ten days.

Results showed that the average shower is eight minutes long – three minutes longer than the received wisdom of the ‘five minute shower’ – and costs the average UK family £416 a year (around €500).

In 2012 we conducted a similar study in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, chosen because some parts of the country, like Melbourne, have suffered from a decade-long drought. We installed sensors to measure the duration, water use and frequency of showers and gathered data on shower habits and the relationship between consumer behaviour and product use.

These small-scale studies showed that the average shower in Australia is longer than in the UK, lasting 9 minutes 11 seconds, but with Melbourne taking shorter showers (at 8 minutes 8 seconds) than Sydney (at 10 minutes 5 seconds). However, despite the longer shower times, the Australians in this study did not necessarily use more water than in the UK because on average the Australians had showerheads with a lower water flow.

These studies will help us to understand the triggers for changing behaviour and will inform the development of new products and collaborations with other organisations to enable people to enjoy showers with less energy and water.


In 2012, our ‘Post it in the Shower’ competition, in association with the Guardian Sustainable Business – an online sustainability forum run by the UK Guardian newspaper, asked readers for ideas on what might incentivise people to take showers with lower GHG emissions. Entries were collated on the Guardian’s Flickr group platform and, after deliberation, the judges published a shortlist of the three best ideas which were then put to a public vote.

The winner participated in an online session to evolve and develop her winning idea with the Guardian and Unilever brand marketing experts. We are now looking to see whether we can turn this idea into a reality to help consumers use less hot water with their showering.

Our laundry impacts

Laundry products and their use account for around 11% of our total greenhouse gas footprint. Our aim is to reduce the impact of laundry on the environment by designing innovative products, manufacturing them efficiently and motivating consumers to improve their laundry habits.

Targets & performance

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from washing clothes (M)

Reduce the greenhouse gas impact of the laundry process by:

  • Concentrating our liquids and compacting our powders.
  • Reformulating our 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.
  • 14% of our portfolio in our top 14 countries was made up of concentrated and compacted products at end 2012, compared to our baseline of 4% in 2008.
  • Over 95% (by volume) of our laundry powders in our top 14 countries have been reformulated, achieving a reduction of 15% in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • We communicate the benefits of low-temperature washing on our packs and online and are encouraging our consumers to use the right dosage.
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† Independently assured by PwC - see Independent assurance

Concentration & compaction

Liquid laundry detergents are popular with consumers and have a lower GHG footprint than powders. In 2012 we were the market leader in emerging markets, with market share of over 25%.

The majority of our liquid detergents are now sold in concentrated form. Concentrating our laundry products helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further, and is good for our business – great performance combined with lower material and transport costs.

However, it can take time for consumers to switch to concentrated or compacted products and use the right dosage. Some consumers continue to use larger doses than needed, while others under-dose. By designing our products differently, we can cut out these variations. One example is concentrated laundry capsules, which we are promoting in Europe, as the capsules make it easier for consumers to dose correctly.

We have worked hard to reformulate our products by replacing ingredients that have a high greenhouse gas impact with those with lower impacts. These reduce greenhouse gas impact by up to a third.

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.

Through our packs and campaigns we communicate with consumers on how they can adopt better laundry habits to reduce their own environmental impacts – habits such as correct dosing, lower temperature washing, washing a full load and using shorter wash cycles. We include the Washright logo on-pack to support more sustainable washing.

In Turkey, people tend to wash laundry especially white laundry loads at higher temperatures (above 60oC) and around 27% of households use pre-wash cycles (compared to a European average of 7%). This has big impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and water. In 2012 Omo worked in partnership with all local and international washing machine manufacturers, the key partner being Arçelik. When consumers purchased a new machine, an Omo expert visited them at home to advise on optimal washing performance and which products to use. Consumers were briefed on the best way of using their machines as well as getting a sample of Omo products.

Growing market share and enhancing our reputation

We have seen success in countries where we have implemented initiatives to improve the environmental impact of our laundry products. For example, in Turkey we became the 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.

Working with industry bodies

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. We also support AISE’s Charter for Sustainable Cleaning which certifies products that meet specific sustainability criteria across the industry.

Promoting the importance of consumer behaviour change

Enabling and inspiring consumers to adopt more sustainable habits is fundamental to achieving many of our goals. Experience has taught us that marketing can be a powerful force for behaviour change. In 2011 we published Unilever’s Five Levers for Change, a set of principles to increase the effectiveness of our interventions. We are now looking to apply this expertise across the business. See Encouraging behaviour change for more.

We also work with a variety of organisations to address the role of the consumer in using and disposing of our products efficiently. For example, our Radox brand of shower gels in South Africa gave consumers a free aerator when they purchased two products in 2012. These can be fitted to shower heads to reduce water use and they can save people up to €450 a year.

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). This guide sets out an approach for reducing product impacts across the entire value chain and demonstrates the vital role consumer goods companies play in tackling climate change. See Download for more.

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. Electric kettles and paraffin stoves are widely used to heat water in townships in South Africa. However, they are expensive to run and paraffin is polluting and can be dangerous. We are trialling a solar heating project in South Africa which involves installing solar water heaters in homes.

In 2011, working with Standard Bank and Inti Solar (a South African-based solar supplier and installer), Unilever helped facilitate the installation of over 7,500 low pressure solar water heaters across the country. Throughout 2012-13 we will be monitoring water consumption and studying the behaviour in a selection of these homes to better understand how we can contribute to more affordable and sustainable consumer habits.