Over the past 40 years the world's population has doubled, and the amount of water we use has quadrupled.
According to the United Nations, 663 million people worldwide now lack access to safe drinking water. And it’s not just a problem affecting developing countries – the water crisis affects every continent.
To mark World Water Day on 22 March, here are a few of our key initiatives to help preserve one of the earth’s most precious commodities across our value chain – from the sourcing of our products to our manufacturing, and all the way through to consumer use..
Reducing water use in agriculture
Agriculture accounts for around 70% of water consumption worldwide. In the hot Spanish climate, irrigation is essential to help crops stay healthy and hydrated – but establishing how much water to use has always been a challenge.
As part of its commitment to invest €1 million a year in sustainable agriculture partnerships, Knorr has been working with tomato supplier Agraz to introduce more efficient irrigation in tomato fields.
Cutting-edge sensors and soil probes now let farmers know exactly how much water is necessary for the healthiest, tastiest tomatoes to flourish. And not a drop goes to waste.
It’s a move that has reduced the amount of water required by 30%, increased yields by 20% and improved the quality and flavour of the tomatoes.
The Agraz partnership is just one example of how Unilever brands are working with the agricultural sector to raise awareness of the importance of conserving water, and investing in technology to facilitate lasting positive change.
Managing water waste in manufacturing
Brazil is also affected by the global water shortage. That’s why Unilever teams at our Indaiatuba Homecare plant introduced measures that have eliminated wastewater leaving the factory.
An upgraded water recycling system, installed in 2014, pumps all the wastewater generated by the site back into operations – saving some 20,000 m3 per year on average. It’s great for the business, reducing costs by €29,000 per year, and it’s good news for the environment too.
In fact effluent treatment processes at the plant, alongside action by other industries and the government, have also contributed to a stretch of the nearby Junidaí River being reclassified with a grading that means its water may be clean enough for human consumption.
Elsewhere in Brazil, our Valinhos factory has introduced several measures designed to identify and reduce wastewater and reuse water throughout the plant. Highlights include a project to allow treated wastewater to be used in cooling towers, and regular inspections to find and fix leaks.
Meanwhile, our Cuernavaca site is introducing equipment to harvest and treat rainwater for use in the factory. According to research, new storage tanks and technology will mean that harvested rainwater will be able to provide 24% of the total water the plant needs each year, reducing our groundwater abstraction.
In Mumbai, India, we’ve opened a sustainable purpose-built community centre which addresses the hygiene needs of low-income urban households who lack access to water at home.
The Suvidha Water Centre (suvidha means ‘convenience’ in Hindi), provides 1,500 people living in the area with a place where they can use a flushing toilet, take a shower, do their laundry and enjoy clean, safe drinking water from our Pureit water purifiers – all for an affordable cost.
Suvidha uses circular economy principles to reduce water use. Fresh water is first used for brushing teeth, bathing, handwashing and laundry. The wastewater from these activities is then used for flushing toilets. It’s an approach that will save an estimated 10 million litres of water per year.
The Pureit water purifiers make safe water accessible at an affordable cost without the need for electricity or a tap water supply. By providing these purifiers in a community setting, Pureit is able to reach those in most need of clean drinking water and who would otherwise find the cost of a Pureit unit beyond their economic reach.