Safe and sustainable by design

How we build safety and environmental sustainability into every product innovation

World market-stall scene

We ensure that our products are safe for consumers and workers and have a positive impact on the environment.

Our Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre’s (SEAC) industry-leading safety and environmental sustainability science has been developed and applied in partnership with external experts over many years. We use this science across Unilever, working with our colleagues to ensure that our products and processes are safe and sustainable by design and that our purpose-led brands can be confident in the statements they make about product and ingredient safety, health, environmental sustainability and the planet.

SEAC scientists work closely with other scientists across Unilever at every stage of a product’s life, from discovering and designing new concepts through to fully embedding new technologies in our product innovations and understanding product use and disposal by consumers across the world. By being involved at the very beginning, SEAC scientists can provide essential safety and environmental sustainability guidance throughout the innovation process.

Those partnerships across Unilever allow us to apply the best creative, leading-edge science and to truly design safety and sustainability into our products. This means new Unilever products and processes are always designed to ensure that they are safe for our consumers to use, for our workers to make, and for the environment. Such an approach also helps us to identify how to minimise the environmental impacts of our products and manufacturing processes, notably regarding energy, water and waste across their lifecycle.

Case study: renewable ingredients in Sunlight dishwash liquid

Image from Quix TV ad. Unilever has harnessed a naturally occurring process to develop a first-of-its-kind biodegradable and renewable ingredient for household cleaning products.

A new Sunlight dishwash liquid containing the renewable and biodegradable foaming ingredient called Rhamnolipid is a great example of our safety and sustainability scientists in SEAC working with R&D teams to create safe and sustainable products fit for a cleaner future.

Our safety scientists, computational chemists and mathematicians used detailed knowledge of how people use hand dishwash liquid in different parts of the world alongside leading-edge non-animal approaches to generate new scientific evidence, which allowed us to show that the new Rhamnolipid based product is safe to use.

Our SEAC sustainability scientists assessed the environmental impacts of Rhamnolipids against existing surfactant ingredients in hand dishwash liquids derived from petrochemicals (such as fossil fuel or coal). This work showed that the innovation of swapping to use Rhamnolipid in hand dishwash liquid not only leads to a safe product with better cleaning performance but also one that is sustainable with less environmental impact.

Case study: Cif ecorefill

Cif Eco Refill product

Cif’s new concentrate refill is another good illustration of how we design safety and sustainability into our products. The innovation allows you to refill and reuse Cif spray bottles over and over again. Made with 75% less plastic, Cif ecorefill simply attaches to the current Cif Power & Shine bottles. It seamlessly releases the super-concentrated product into the bottle, which is filled with water at home.

SEAC scientists worked closely with R&D scientists to design a unique mechanism in the refill packaging to make sure that concentrate product is only released when the refill is connected to the Cif spray bottle. This novel mechanism ensures that there is no consumer exposure to the concentrated liquid during the dilution step. SEAC scientists also assessed the safety risks from inhaling the spray during use of the product, as well as assuring safety for the environment; Cif ecorefill ingredients are approximately 98% biodegradable.

Our Sustainability scientists provided detailed impact assessments to understand the benefits of the refill in relation to greenhouse gases and waste improvements compared with the traditional Cif spray bottle. The ecorefill bottle is recyclable and diluting the product at home means 97% less water is transported, resulting in fewer trucks on the road and less greenhouse gas emissions.

Case study: next generation anti-perspirants

Rexona Mens With Water EM1

SEAC scientists applied toxicology, computational chemistry and occupational safety science to the new active Rexona ingredient, Aluminium Sesquichlorohydrate (ASCH), to ensure it is safe for everyone to use and for the people who work with the ingredient in our factories. SEAC chemists, and safety scientists worked closely with scientists in R&D to understand how the ingredient differs from existing active ingredients used in existing anti-perspirants, and to ensure the ingredient can be safely used in deodorant products including sticks, roll-ons and aerosol sprays.

SEAC sustainability scientists assessed the environmental impacts of ASCH, the production of ASCH as well as its incorporation into new formulations and products. This work demonstrated that ASCH is more resource efficient to manufacture and can help lower the greenhouse gas impacts of formulations. For example, in roll-on formulations greenhouse gas reductions of up to 35% can be achieved.

Case study: Knorr future 50

Knorr future 50

The Knorr list of Future 50 Foods, consisting of vegetables, grains, cereals, seeds, legumes and nuts from across the globe, has been developed to inspire greater variety in what we cook and eat. It is intended to make food better for us and better for the planet in 3 ways: 1) a greater variety of vegetables, 2) plant-based sources of protein, and 3) more nutrient-rich sources of carbohydrates.

SEAC sustainability scientists worked closely with colleagues from across Unilever to evaluate the environmental sustainability of more than 170 different foods. By looking at potential greenhouse gas emissions and the land used to grow these foods, SEAC scientists helped narrow down the list of foods, eliminating those with a high environmental impact relative to similar crops within the same food groups. The shortlist of foods was then assessed against criteria that ensured safe consumption of the future 50 foods. The Knorr Future report has reached 95 countries and featured in more than 800 media articles.

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