Water shocks matter. They endanger people’s health and wellbeing, and pose a threat to people’s livelihoods. When people are unable to wash or work, when energy supplies are disrupted, the economy suffers.
Increasingly severe and widespread water shortages should be a concern for everyone. They are certainly a concern for Unilever. We depend on water in many ways: for our agricultural raw materials; to run our factories; and for people to wash, clean and cook with our products. Above all, we thrive when people and economies flourish.
So for the good of our business, as well as for the health and prosperity of communities, there is no longer any question of whether we should act. The question is now, how fast?
Taking collective action to tackle water scarcity
At Unilever, we believe in collaborative actions to make sure everyone, everywhere has access to clean water. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan sets out our ambition to halve the water associated with consumer use of our products. A vital part of this involves taking action in our direct operations, and we are making good progress: since 1995, we’ve cut the water abstracted by our factories per unit of production by 74%.
But we are also working with partners beyond our factory gates. Together with growers and farmers in our supply chain we’ve implemented more than 4,000 water management plans. We engage local communities in market-based solutions to manage water in water-scare regions. Our Sunlight Water Centres created in partnership with Oxfam and TechnoServe to provide access to clean water and support women’s livelihoods in Nigeria are one such solution.
Alongside these efforts, our R&D teams are working on water-saving products for laundry, household cleaning, skin cleansing and haircare because these everyday needs account for 99% of the consumer element of our water footprint. Our dry shampoos are a great example of these efforts.
Taking partnerships on water to the next level
In September 2015, as part of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN agreed Goal 6 to ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation’. Achieving this goal will be a daunting task and working with others will be essential to create sustainable water solutions at scale.
This is why, on World Water Day, we are delighted to announce a new partnership with UNICEF, designed to promote handwashing in schools and improve water management in countries across sub-Saharan Africa. This partnership builds on our existing work with UNICEF on sanitation and will bring our hygiene behaviour-change education programmes to more people across the continent while also supporting better access to water.
The theme of today’s World Water Day is ‘Water and Jobs’ – reflecting how essential water is, not just to economies, but also to lives and livelihoods. So today, I call on everyone to work together and bring their commitment, resources and skills to the task of ensuring universal water access is a reality for our generation and for those to come.
We have a job to do.