On World Water Day 2018, the big question we ask ourselves is - how can we lead with purpose?
Our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) gives us a clear purpose and roadmap to reduce our environmental impact through water conservation initiatives. Our goal is to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of products as we grow our business by 2030. This includes specific global commitments on water reduction, that is, halving the water associated with the consumer use of our products by 2020.
We are happy to report that we are on our way to achieving our global commitment: by 2020, water abstraction by our factory network will be at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher volumes.
Climate change and water scarcity
Climate change is causing changing rainfall patterns globally, impacting cities across the world.
For instance, a three-year drought in the Cape Town region of South Africa has compounded the city’s water supply problems. In February, the authorities projected “Day Zero” (or when water levels in the city’s dams would fall to 13.5 percent) to be in July 2018. This once-in-a-century drought is possibly the result of climate change.
Closer home, technology hub Bengaluru is facing a looming threat. With a drought in Karnataka in 2017, unchecked construction of bore wells, polluted lakes, and an outdated water supply and sewage system, the city is slowly heading toward a water crisis.
A holistic approach
According to estimates, by 2030 the supply of water in India will be half its demand. This calls for an urgent need for water conservation undertakings across the country.
We believe that effective water management must take into account all facets of water use. This is why our efforts are geared towards water management through product innovations, efficiency in production processes and supply chains as well as community projects.
Product innovation: Rin detergent bar
Our R&D teams are working on water-saving products for laundry, household cleaning, skin cleansing and haircare since these daily needs form a substantial part of the consumer element of our water footprint.
Around 38% of Unilever’s water footprint comes from the laundry process. In India, where washing clothes by hand is common, a significant amount of water is spent on rinsing clothes.
Our Rin detergent bar’s “smart-foam” technology reduces the foam generated during laundry. This reduces the number of rinses and helps save up to two buckets of water in every washing cycle.
Safe drinking water: Pureit
Safe drinking water is a basic human right. We are providing people with access to something that many of us take for granted – affordable, safe drinking water.
In the developing world, 80% diseases are water-related. The World Health Organization states that the provision of safe water alone will reduce diarrhoeal diseases by up to 50%.
Pureit’s most affordable range of purifiers provides safe drinking water at a running cost of just 30 paise per litre without the hassles of boiling, or need of electricity or a continuous tap water supply.
In India, Pureit has provided over 74 billion litres of safe drinking water till date.
Community first: Suvidha Centre
In 2016, we built a first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre in one of Mumbai’s largest slums in partnership with Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and Pratha, a non-profit organisation. This community centre provides handwashing, safe drinking water, sanitation and laundry facilities at affordable rates to more than 1500 people.
Suvidha Centre adopts circular economy principles to reduce water use. A rainwater harvesting unit supplies fresh water during the monsoon which is first used for brushing teeth, bathing, handwashing and laundry. The waste or “grey” water is then recycled to use for flushing toilets.
Improvements in manufacturing: Rainwater use
Each year, our factory network increases rainwater consumption and usage for various processes and utilities. With the latest effluent treatment technologies, water abstraction from natural resources has been reduced as well.
Water usage (cubic meter per tonne of production) in our manufacturing operations has reduced by 53% compared to 2008 baseline.
Hindustan Unilever Foundation
Since 2010, Hindustan Unilever Foundation’s (HUF) ‘Water for Public Good’ programme has been making a difference with programmes focused on water conservation, community-based governance of water resources and efficient use of water in agriculture across India.
We work through collective action in collaboration with NGOs, communities, and partners, and our programs reach out to 57 districts across India.
So far, our efforts have created a potential of more than 450 billion litres of water.
Our partnership with NGOs includes ambitious programmes such as:
- Revival of 700 traditional rural water tanks in Tamil Nadu.
- Adoption of farming practices that reduce water consumption in agriculture while increasing yields for farmers such as System of Root Intensification in paddy and wheat.
- Non-pesticide management based paddy cultivation to reduce input costs for farmers.
To reach our programme’s objectives, we establish community institutions that govern water resources and usage in villages.
Additionally, our knowledge initiatives guide farmers to adopt practices that promote efficient use of water in agriculture. We also support various water research centres and studies that can improve water management in India.
HUF: Key partnerships
As one of the key partners in Maharashtra’s Village Social Transformation Mission (VSTM), we are implementing water conservation projects in 35 villages in Nandurbar and Amravati districts.
Besides this, we have partnered with over 20 NGO partners in geographies that represent the spectrum of rain-fed, irrigated and drought-prone regions of India. Through these collaborations, we seek to establish water security and promote well-being of rural communities.
Goals for 2020
The USLP target is to halve the water associated with the consumer use of our products by 2020.
We continue to engage with our partners and drive programmes that will help to reach our targets on schedule, and remain committed to safeguard this precious resource. Water, after all, is the driving force of nature.