While some of our environmental impacts relate to our own direct operations and those of our suppliers, a substantial impact occurs when our products leave the shelves and go home with our consumers – what we call the ‘use phase’.
This is particularly evident in our targets on greenhouse gases (GHG) and water. Take our laundry detergents. Wash your clothes at 30oC rather than 60oC – as consumers can with our concentrated liquid brands like Persil, Surf and Seventh Generation – and the GHG emissions drop by as much as 50% per load. The same is true for shampoo and shower gels: colder and shorter showers lead to fewer emissions and, of course, less water.
Over recent years, demand for sustainable products and services has grown, albeit at an uneven pace across different markets. At Unilever, we have responded by launching a range of eco-efficient products. A recent new addition, for instance, is ‘The Good Stuff’, a stay-in hair conditioner that helps users save 460 litres of water per bottle. Love Beauty and Planet, meanwhile, now offers a fast-rinse conditioner that cuts vital seconds off shower times.
In a few cases, we have seen product innovations like these really take off and become mainstream. When combined shampoos and conditioners first came on the market, for example, people were a little sceptical. Yet, today, the idea of a product that both cleans and conditions your hair (thus saving water and energy for heating) is very normal.
Even so, despite positive uptake in some categories, we underestimated how challenging it would be to help the majority of consumers change their behaviours to embrace more sustainable ways of living. Even where we have seen some success, we misjudged how long this transition would take.
Unilever Chief Sustainability Officer Rebecca Marmot explains the challenge: “The truth is that these innovations and others like them have not been enough to make significant progress on reducing the water and GHG impact of our products at the consumer use end.”