Providing safe drinking water

We are providing people with access to something that many of us take for granted – affordable, safe drinking water.

A global imperative

In November 2002, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted General Comment No. 15 on the right to water. On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation. It acknowledged that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to full enjoyment of life and all human rights.

Unilever recognises the human right to water and sanitation. We operate our business in a way that fulfils the human right to water, as defined by the UN Human Right to Water Policy. Our strategy on water can be found on the page Water use and on sanitation can be viewed on the page Toilets of tomorrow. We have also signed the WBCSD WASH Pledge to ensure Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in all our factories, plantations and workplaces.

The lack of safe drinking water is a major public health issue, particularly in developing countries where around 80% of diseases are water borne. According to a WHO/UNICEF report1, globally over 2 billion people have poor or no access to safe drinking water.

Our approach

We spent five years developing a solution that we could take to scale. The biggest issues were to remove harmful germs from water in line with stringent international standards, and at a price that was affordable to the consumers who needed it most. This led to the development of Pureit, our in-home water purifier.

Pureit provides drinking water that is ‘as safe as boiled water’™ without needing gas, electricity or a pressurised water supply. It removes harmful viruses, bacteria, parasites and pesticide impurities to give you safe drinking water. An independent scientific study by the National Institute of Epidemiology2 in India has shown that Pureit reduces the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by up to 50%. It also meets the US Environmental Protection Agency’s strict criteria for microbiological safe drinking water from germs.

Pureit’s unique technology represents a critical breakthrough because it meets international ‘germ-kill’ requirements at extremely affordable prices. There are environmental benefits too. We have carried out a detailed lifecycle analysis of Pureit, which shows that its total carbon footprint is at least 80% lower than boiled or bottled water.3

Refining our target

In order to strengthen the measure of Pureit’s ongoing health impact, we revised our key performance indicator in 2014. The change means we now capture the number of litres of safe drinking water provided to our consumers, with a target to to provide 150 billion litres of safe water by 2020. ^

Lower cost

We have launched various models that appeal to consumers at different income levels across markets. The most affordable model costs just €20 in India (INR 1,500). This has an ongoing running cost of one euro cent for around two litres of safe drinking water - lower than the cost of boiling water and significantly less than buying bottled water.

We are working with a range of microfinance and NGO partners across countries in Asia and Africa to improve the affordability of the purifier for those people for whom the price remains a barrier to purchase. Strong partnerships are crucial to help unlock these barriers for low-income consumers.

Responding to consumers’ needs

We are broadening the appeal of Pureit by offering a range of products to meet different needs. Our product offerings now include self-fill water purifiers, auto-fill water purifiers and purifiers with the capability to remove any excess salts which may be harmful to health. We are also working on products that can address the issue of arsenic pollution in groundwater that is used for drinking water.

We are sharpening our marketing messages to increase the relevance of safe drinking water across consumer groups. This will also help create awareness of Pureit’s additional benefits beyond safety, such as great taste, lower cost and lower environmental impact.

Extending our reach

Pureit is now available in 12 countries around the world, including China. In March 2014, we acquired Qinyuan, a leading Chinese water purification business. We continue to evaluate the potential to enter new markets.

1 UNICEF - Joint Monitoring Program Report 2012: Progress on Drinking Water & Sanitation 2012 (PDF | 10.2KB) 

2 Randomised trial by the National Institute of Epidemiology based on 430 children in Chennai, India, 2005-2006.

3 Pureit technology provides safe water in a more environmentally-friendly way than other options. Pureit’s GHG impact (as measured by way of carbon dioxide emissions or equivalent) per litre of water is 80% less than boiling water or bottled water.

^ Litres of safe water provided is captured basis measuring sales of water purifiers, consumables and their installed purification capacity. The original target in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan was to make safe drinking water available and affordable to 500 million people by 2020 and measure progress by counting one-off sales of our water purifiers and this was re-aligned in 2014 to strengthen the measure of ongoing health impact and therefore revised to capture the litres of safe drinking water provided to our consumers, with a target to provide 150 billion litres by 2020.

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