Consumers and sustainability

Connecting with our consumers is not only essential to our business success, it’s also vital to deliver our sustainability ambitions.

Consumers and sustainability

We know that growing numbers of people want to live more sustainably – our Making Purpose Pay (PDF | 2MB) research found that one in three people already purchase products with sustainability in mind. Consumers are becoming much more conscious of the positive difference they can make through their everyday shopping choices.

That means they, like us, are looking at the impacts of our products across our full value chain – at how our products are designed, sourced, made, transported, sold and used. We need to make sure that they are engaged by our ambitious drive to reduce the environmental impacts of every aspect of our business while increasing our positive social impacts. We want them to share our purpose for a world in which sustainable living is commonplace – and to help us build a better way of doing business with our brands.

What people want

Shaking hands

Of people already purchase products with sustainability in mind and a further 21% would like to

We believe sustainable growth is best delivered through brands that offer great performance and have a genuine purpose. Washing shirts whiter, making foods tastier, or making hair healthier and shinier is still vitally important to people, but product performance by itself is no longer enough. People are looking for more.

We’ve found marketing and market research to be powerful forces for behaviour change, and many of our brands have built successful campaigns in areas such as handwashing, or oral health, that have had real impact on people's lives – often driven by consumer insights.

One of the ways we track consumer sentiment is through our 27 People Data Centres around the world, which use insights to help shape our innovations.

Our response

Our Research and Development teams then search for ways in which to translate trends and needs into new technologies for incorporation into future products. The result is products such as Day2, our dry wash spray launched in 2018. It was developed to appeal to people wanting their clothes to look, feel and smell ‘just washed’ in between washes, saving both time and water.

Consumer insight has also helped us understand the need to give people detailed information about our ingredients, and to produce brands that align with people's personal, cultural or religious beliefs. Products such as Sunsilk Hijab ranges, vegan Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and non-dairy Ben & Jerry’s have all been created with this in mind.

Along with consumer preferences and tastes, we also have to meet consumer needs – some of which are affected by some of the world’s most challenging issues such as drought or hunger.


Domestos spray

Water stress in Cape Town

Over the last few years, Cape Town has been experiencing the worst drought conditions in over a century, with local government imposing a water restriction of 50 litres per person per day on inhabitants in 2018.

This meant people were having to prioritise certain needs above others such as whether to wash themselves or their clothes and whether or not to flush their toilets. In direct response to this, we launched Domestos Flush Less, a toilet spray that disinfects and eliminates malodours to offer a solution to people to eliminate bacteria build up without using water.

Purpose-led brands

We encourage our brand managers and marketers to take a stance and make a positive difference to society. Purpose defines a brand in people's minds and is best delivered through action. It's only through action that consumers will see purpose as more than marketing.

The growth of digital gives us the opportunity for people to connect directly with our brands in many ways. In 2018, we communicated Every U Does Good, our goal to make our environmental footprint smaller, to support our employees, partners and local communities to lead fuller lives and to help everyone do a little good for the world. Every U Does Good, with the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan at its heart, provides a platform which helps address the growing need for our brands to generate content that resonates with people’s values.

And we can also use our marketing influence to address challenges, such as harmful stereotypes in advertising. In 2017, we formed the Unstereotype Alliance to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand-led content. Both the social and the business benefits are clear, as we describe in Challenging harmful gender norms.

Leading the way with Sustainable Living brands

In the future, every Unilever brand will be a brand with purpose.

Alan Jope, CEO Unilever

Putting sustainable living at the heart of our brands is inspiring the people buying our products and growing our sales. While the concept of ‘purpose-led’ brands is not new – brands such as Lifebuoy and Ben & Jerry’s have had a social or environmental purpose at their heart since they were founded – it is more important than ever. And it must be authentic. Brands cannot do social good while harming the planet, or improve the lives of women who buy their products while ignoring the working conditions of the women who make them.

Many of our brands are leading the way on combining consumer engagement with a real contribution to our USLP. And we have created a definition of what makes a true ‘sustainable living’ brand. Such a brand must not only have a clear purpose that, over time, helps to tackle a social or environmental concern. The product itself must also contribute to one or more of the targets we have set in our USLP. We developed a methodology to help us determine how, and to what extent, each brand delivers against the product and purpose criteria.

Increase bar chart

Our Sustainable Living brands grew 69% faster than the rest of our business

In 2018, our 28 Sustainable Living Brands grew 69% faster than the rest of our business. That's up from 46% in 2017. They also delivered 75% of our overall growth. And over 2014 – 2018, they outperformed the average rate of growth at Unilever. Our seven brands with the highest turnover – Dove, Knorr, Persil/Omo, Rexona, Lipton, Hellmann’s and Wall’s (known as Ola, Algida, Kibon and Langnese in different parts of the world) – are all in our Sustainable Living Brands line-up, as our Brands with Purpose video shows.

Sustainable innovations that benefit people

Our product design teams turn unique insights into the products that consumers want and need. This could be perfecting a formulation so that it’s effective and lasts, provides micronutrients to address malnourishment or developing packaging that reduces environmental impact.

Innovation is a vital way to respond to new preferences and people’s desires to reduce their environmental impacts or deliver a social benefit. A good example is our compressed deodorants for our Sure, Dove and Vaseline brands. They offer people the same deodorant protection but with 50% less gas and 25% less packaging, cutting the carbon footprint per can by approximately 25%.

Our dry shampoos are another innovation targeting GHG emissions and Water use. Compared to washing hair with shampoo in heated water, using dry shampoo reduces GHG emissions by approximately 85%. In 2018, we sold our dry shampoos in a number of countries under nine brands, including Dove, TRESemmé, Suave, TIGI, Sunsilk and VO5.

Water-savings can also be driven through new products – a key concern for consumers in water-stressed countries. For more information, please see Water-smart products for water-stressed living.

We’re also innovating to reduce plastic packaging, as we describe in Rethinking plastic packaging – towards a circular economy. In 2018, we introduced Simple plant-based cleansing wipes with natural fibres which degrade in the environment.

Producing responsible products

People tell us that they want to know more about where our products come from, how they are made, and the natural and synthetic ingredients we use in them.

Our sustainable sourcing commitments focus on our key agricultural raw materials we use in our products such as palm oil, paper and board, soy, tea, vegetables, cocoa and sugar. Our commitments aim to give consumers confidence that the products they buy contain ingredients from sustainable sources. And we communicate our progress against these targets publicly. See Sustainable sourcing and Enhancing livelihoods.

Consumers are also demanding products with more natural ingredients, so we continue to grow our naturals and organic portfolio. For example, a number of brands have launched naturals extensions including Dove, Sunsilk and Dirt is Good. We have developed a new brand – Love Beauty and Planet – which uses natural ingredients. We have also acquired brands that are well known for their use of more natural ingredients such as Seventh Generation, Schmidt’s Naturals, Mãe Terra, and Sir Kensington’s.

In addition to wanting to know where products come from, consumers are also interested in the technology used to produce them. We believe science and technology hold the potential to help meet the world’s long-term food needs more sustainably – but we believe they must be used responsibly, and we communicate our approach on issues including genetically modified crops, minimising pesticides use, biotechnology and the sourcing of conflict minerals.

Helping people make informed choices

Along with the brands themselves, we have an active role to play around helping people to make informed choices about what they are buying. Transparency around ingredients, for example, is helping consumers make informed choices about what they are using.

People want control of their diets, to know what is in the foods they eat, and understand how they can live healthier lives. We are responding with greater on-pack or brand website transparency, communicating not only about ingredients but also nutritional information and ways in which the products can be used such as Knorr recipes.

For more information, see Nutritional labelling and Nutritious cooking.


Unilever inspiring consumers

Our nutrition labelling commitment

Our nutrition labelling commitment is the following:

  • ‘Big 8’ nutrients on back-of-pack (energy, protein, carbohydrate, sugars, fat, saturates, fibre and sodium).

  • Front-of-pack icon showing energy content as either a % contribution to the daily recommendation or as an absolute quantity.

  • Per portion (preferred option) or per 100g/ml.

  • For small or unusually shaped packs, ‘Big 4’ on back-of-pack (energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat) and energy per portion front-of-pack, provided this is legally allowed. For very small packs, information can often be obtained through websites and carelines.

  • For energy, sugars, fat, saturated fat and salt, the % contribution to the daily dietary recommendation is given as an icon or text on back-of-pack.

In 2018, 96% of our products1 provided nutritional information in line with our nutrition labelling commitment.

1 covering 97% of sales volume

Transparency is important for our Beauty & Personal Care brands too. In 2018, we were one of the first FMCG companies who moved beyond labelling requirements to disclose our fragrance ingredients online for many of our products in Europe, starting with France and the UK by the end of 2018, ingredient information was available across Europe and the US for over 3,000 Home Care, Beauty & Personal Care products including brands such as Dove, Axe, Comfort and OMO.

Our decision to disclose ingredient information down to 0.01% of the formulation was an industry first and has paved the way for other companies to do the same.

Product labelling can also help to inform consumers about what do with packaging once it has been used. For instance, on our Seventh Generation product packs, we’ve introduced the How2recycle logo, which provides clear direction on how to properly recycle or dispose of the pack components. For more information see Rethinking plastic packaging.

Encouraging positive habits

Every day, 2.5 billion people use our products. We're building on our understanding of how and where we can influence how consumers use our brands to tackle some of the most pressing issues in society.

One way we do this is through large-scale behaviour change campaigns. Since 2010, for example, our Lifebuoy brand's handwashing campaigns have reached over 450 million people across Asia, Africa and Latin America – with proven results. So, we've looked at some of our successes, and identified the elements that made them work, to develop Unilever’s Five Levers for Change – both a practical toolkit and a set of principles which we've found increase the likelihood of behaviour change campaigns having a lasting impact.

We aim to engage consumers to reduce environmental impacts, too. Our laundry products, for example, use messages around correct dosing, washing at 30 degrees and using shorter wash cycles to ensure our consumers get the most efficient use out of our products. During 2017 alone, our Comfort One Rinse campaign enabled people to reduce their own water use and donate water to drought-affected regions, reaching 14 million people across Vietnam. In Argentina, we've formed a partnership with leading retailer Walmart called ‘Sumate al EcoLavado’ (Join us at Ecowash) to reinforce our messaging.

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