In November 2010, as part of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we made a commitment to halve the water associated with the consumer use of our products by 2020.
Understanding our footprint
Our analysis has helped us to see which of our product categories are more water-intensive than others, and therefore yield the biggest opportunities for reductions. For example, around 38% comes from the laundry process – a significant proportion of this is washing laundry by hand in the developing world. A further 39%of Unilever’s domestic water footprint in water-scarce countries comes from showering, bathing or washing hair with our products.
To see the data behind the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan we have devised a Product Analyser that shows the environmental impact of a selection of our products across their lifecycle. This provides the greenhouse gases, water or waste impacts of a representative food, home or personal care product on a 'per consumer use' basis. So, at the touch of a button, people can find out the greenhouse gas emissions associated with one cup of tea or the water used for one wash with laundry powder or the waste associated with one use of a roll-on deodorant. See the Product Analyser(Link opens in a new window) for more.
We recognise that our metric needs further development. A key part of this is calculating the water use associated with the sourcing of our raw materials. In 2012 we calculated the irrigation water used to produce our key agricultural materials, using tools from the Water Footprint Network. This identified tomatoes and sugar as key crops from a water use perspective, and also identified priority locations. We are developing plans with our suppliers to reduce water use where this can have the greatest impact.
We are also investigating the water used to produce our key non-renewable raw materials We are contributing to research in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to develop better data on the virtual water used in producing industrial products and have assessed water use across the lifecycle of a laundry detergent, including the virtual water in raw materials.
Feedback and external scrutiny is important in helping to strengthen our analysis. We invited an external panel of environmental LCA experts to review our approach.
The panel was led by Professor Roland Clift, Professor of Environmental Technology at the University of Surrey’s Centre for Environmental Strategy. The outcome of the peer review exercise has been published. See Peer review of metrics for more.