Water use

Helping consumers save water

Our deep understanding of what motivates consumers gives us a unique opportunity to encourage people to make small changes to their everyday habits to reduce water use.

Woman washing clothes

We are developing innovative products to tackle water scarcity

We combine our insights in consumer behaviour and water consumption with innovative technology to develop new products and formulations that address water scarcity and so help our consumers save water.

In fast-growing cities with poor infrastructure, water is only turned on at certain times of the day. This means that people, typically women, need to be at home to store it. By developing innovative products that reduce the volume of water needed for use we can also free up time for women to spend on employment, education or childcare, and free up water for other important uses such as washing hands to prevent disease.

We focus our R&D investment on developing innovative products for laundry, household cleaning, skin cleansing, oral and hair care, because they account for the majority of the consumer use of our water footprint.


Washing clothes with sapphire technology
Helping consumers save water in South Africa with Sunlight 2-in-1

In developing and emerging countries where water is scarce, around 40% of domestic water is used to wash clothes, a task which is done by hand. Rinsing uses around 70% of this water, with the removal of soap suds a large contributor to the rinsing process. We have found that consumers are continuing to rinse until there are no visible soap suds left.

To reduce the volume of water used during rinsing, we have developed a new anti-foam molecule that breaks down soap suds more quickly. This reduces the amount of water needed, as well as speeding up the process of rinsing. Called SmartFoam, this patented technology had been years in development.

In 2016, we launched our Sunlight 2-in-1 Handwashing Laundry Powder with SmartFoam technology in South Africa, which is experiencing its worst drought in over 30 years. As part of our work in South Africa, we installed 250 push taps in the Johannesburg community of Tembisa, and ran a campaign to raise awareness and educate residents on how they can save water. We also launched our RIN detergent bar with SmartFoam technology in India, another country experiencing severe drought.

Comfort One Rinse is cutting water use in laundry

Our Comfort One Rinse fabric conditioner reduces the amount of water needed to rinse to one bucket rather than three. This can up to halve the volume of water needed per wash – around 30 litres – amounting to over 500 billion litres of water saved every year (assuming correct use). Sales are growing, we have expanded our range, and have a leading position in some markets.

In 2016, with Vietnam enduring its worst drought in 90 years, in partnership with government authorities we launched our ‘Rinse once to donate clean water to help Vietnam’ campaign. Through purchasing Comfort One Rinse, consumers could both reduce their own water use and donate water to rural communities in the ten regions most impacted by the drought. Within two months, 111,000m3 water had been donated and two water pipelines – to bring clean water into rural villagers’ homes – were being constructed. Additionally, 510 water tanks were provided so that rural communities could store clean water. Throughout the campaign, we updated consumers who had donated water with our progress.

The campaign reached around 17 million consumers through television and over 7 million through Facebook. During the campaign, sales of Comfort One Rinse grew by 27%, compared to the average market growth of 2% over the same period, reinforcing our view that sustainability is good for business.

In parallel in 2016, we also continued our partnership with the Vietnamese Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) to raise awareness of water scarcity in rural areas of Vietnam, educating people to change their laundry rinsing habits and reduce the amount of water needed through using Comfort One Rinse. In 2016, Comfort One Rinse accounted for over 40% of the fabric conditioner market in Vietnam.

Omo’s campaign saves water and drives sales in Brazil

In 2014, Brazil began to suffer the biggest water crisis in 80 years, affecting 70 million people. We discovered that when people were able to do their laundry, most were doing more than one laundry rinse, even though each uses up to 60 litres of water. So, to help people save much needed water, our Omo detergent brand launched the ‘#1RinseIsEnough’ social media campaign in partnership with the Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption. This raised awareness of the volume of water used through extra rinsing. As a result of the campaign, underlying sales increased by 15% compared to market growth of 8%, and we estimate a potential water saving of 229 billion litres per year.

Find out more about reducing laundry water use here.


Reducing water usage during showering
Reducing water usage during showering

In 2016 our Dove brand and Delta Faucet Company in the US worked to address the issue of water usage in the shower. Together, we launched the more water efficient Delta Hydrafall™ showerhead, which when used with Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash, provided a more nourishing skin experience compared with using a standard showerhead.

Delta’s innovative H2Okinetic technology sculpts water into a unique wave pattern, producing larger droplets, yet reducing water use by 0.5 gallons per minute, saving consumers around 2,900 gallons of water per year1.

Dove launched a one-off promotion with US home improvement chain Lowe’s, selling over 20,000 units with Dove samples across the country in 2016. As part of the promotion, consumers learned that switching to more efficient showerheads could lead to water conservation opportunities but still allow for unparalleled performance.

“A challenge that we continually face in helping consumers live sustainably is how to impact their daily habits when it comes to the water usage associated with our products,” said Kees Kruythoff, President of Unilever North America. “We have learned that to create change we need to offer simple, practical solutions. Our partnership with Delta Faucet Company allowed us to do that in a way that not only conserves water, but also doesn’t require a trade off in the quality of consumers’ shower experience.”

Saving water with Lifebuoy sanitizers

Washing hands can also be difficult outside the home, so in 2009 we introduced our Lifebuoy Hand Sanitizer in India. This kills 99.99% of germs on hands without using water, and each 50ml bottle helps save as much as 20 litres of water. Lifebuoy Sanitizers are now sold in South Asia, South-East Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.

Sunlight reduces dishwashing water by one-third

Over 2 billion women spend two hours a day doing the dishes. This is made harder by water scarcity as washing dishes can use up to 20% of daily domestic water.

Market research on dishwashing in India has shown that consumers who use a liquid detergent instead of a bar use one-third less water, equivalent to saving two buckets of water every time the dishes are cleaned. To help save time and water, our dishwash brand Sunlight, has been encouraging consumers to switch from traditional dishwashing materials, such as bars, pastes and ash, to using liquids.

1US Environmental Protection Agency

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