Around 39% of our domestic water footprint occurs when people use our soaps, shower gels and shampoos and they can be slow or reluctant to change their habits. We have undertaken several studies in different countries to improve our understanding of people’s showering behaviour and how it can be influenced.
For example, our shower study of 100 households in Australia gathered data on shower habits and the relationship between consumer behaviour and product use. We installed sensors to measure the duration, water use and frequency of showers.
We found the average shower lasts about 9 minutes, longer than the average UK shower of 8 minutes. We have also introduced two innovations that provide consumer benefits and encourage less water use: dry shampoo, which refreshes the hair without water, and Lifebuoy foam handwash which can cut water use by 18%.
Our dry shampoos allow women to refresh hair between washes, saving time and extending their style. They may also encourage people to wash their hair with hot water less often. 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. We are the market leader in the US with 75% share and in 2012 launched the product under the Dove brand.
We will continue to improve our products so that they demand less water for their use as well as promoting behaviour change. Our Radox brand of shower gels in South Africa gave consumers a free aerator when they purchased two products. These can be fitted to shower heads to reduce water.
Water management in India
In India more than 50% of the population lives on less than 10 litres of water a day. Demand for water resources will increase significantly as populations, economies and consumption rates grow. Estimates tell us that by 2030, the supply of water in India will be half the demand for it.
Given the enormity of the challenge that faces India on the availability of water and its nexus with food and livelihood security, we have set up the India Water Body. Acting in partnership with governments and NGOs, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) aims to implement a holistic approach towards mitigating the economic, health and social problems caused by water scarcity.
By 2015, we hope to create a water conservation capacity of a hundred billion litres to enable a better future for a million people. We are working across the value chain using our products, such as Comfort One Rinse and Pureit as well as communicating with consumers about behaviour change.
We have also established several initiatives to improve water management. For example, in Maharashtra, HUL has partnered with BAIF to build bunds, structures to harvest spring water for domestic use and a check dam in Nasik and Ahmadnagar districts.
This initiative aims to improve water availability through run-off water harvesting measures and to conserve fertile soil through moisture conservation, thus improving production from the landscape and subsequently generating more employment opportunities for the local population. About 574 litres of water will be harvested at the end of project which will bring an additional area of 287 acres under irrigation. Crop production is expected to rise by 50%.
Another example is a project in Tamil Nadu which aims to revive indigenous rainwater harvesting systems. This began in 2010 and is a partnership between HUL and the DHAN Foundation and involves reviving tank cascades (a traditional method of water storage) in the Gundar Basin, Tamil Nadu. After renovation, the tank cascades can capture and store excess run-off during monsoons.
The project area covers 13 tank cascades with 250 tanks, serving many across almost 70 villages in Madurai, Ramanad, Sivagangai and Virudhunagar districts. It will create the capacity to conserve 11.3 billion litres of water in the project area, increase crop production and generate additional net income for the farmers.
Understanding showering in the UK and Australia
In 2011 our UK business undertook a study to better understand shower habits. The aim of the research was to use the findings to encourage consumers to save energy, water and money.
Using a shower sensor, an innovative technology, researchers were able to monitor actual showering behaviour, rather than relying on self-reporting which until now has been the only way of understanding shower habits. The study monitored 2,600 showers taken by 100 families over ten days – totalling 1,000 days of research.
Results, published in the Sustainable Showering Study, 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]. The study helped us to understand the triggers for changing people’s behaviour. The methodology was rolled out to a showering study in Australia in 2012.
Tackling water scarcity in Saudi Arabia
In January 2012 we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi Arabian National Water Company (NWC) to address water scarcity. A water study by NWC identified that laundry, household cleaning, personal hygiene and dishwashing – all areas where our products are used – accounted for 83% of Saudi Arabian domestic water use. The project’s aim is to educate children and families about the importance of water conservation.
Our commitment to water sustainability also extends to the quality of water once products have been used by consumers. This is reviewed by our Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre in line with our policies on ingredients and materials in products. See Environmental safety for more information.
In addition to this, our Pureit water purifier provides high-quality drinking water for our consumers in India and elsewhere. It improves lives by providing people with safe, affordable drinking water where supplies are of poor quality, without the need for gas, electricity or a pressurised water supply.
In our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan we have set ourselves an ambitious target to reach 500 million people with the Pureit in-home water purifier by 2020. We believe our technology has the potential to bring safe, affordable drinking water to millions more people in the developing world. So far, a total of 45 million people have gained access to safe drinking water from Pureit since its launch in 2005. See Providing safe drinking water for more information.
We have also been working with the Royal Society of Chemistry and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa to investigate the possible uses of ‘greywater’ (water that has been used for washing dishes or laundry).
Greywater is a potential source of water and nutrients which could aid plant growth, but it also poses a challenge because of its salt content. The project is evaluating the suitability of greywater for growing vegetables in South Africa. Initial results are encouraging and show that laundry greywater does not inhibit plant growth.