Concentration & compaction
Liquid laundry detergents are popular with consumers and have a lower GHG footprint than powders. In 2012 we were the market leader in emerging markets, with market share of over 25%.
The majority of our liquid detergents are now sold in concentrated form. Concentrating our laundry products helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further, and is good for our business – great performance combined with lower material and transport costs.
However, it can take time for consumers to switch to concentrated or compacted products and use the right dosage. Some consumers continue to use larger doses than needed, while others under-dose. By designing our products differently, we can cut out these variations. One example is concentrated laundry capsules, which we are promoting in Europe, as the capsules make it easier for consumers to dose correctly.
We have worked hard to reformulate our products by replacing ingredients that have a high greenhouse gas impact with those with lower impacts. These reduce greenhouse gas impact by up to a third.
Communicating with consumers
Laundry habits vary in our different markets. For example, in some countries people generally handwash their clothes; in others, using washing machines is the norm.
Based on these differences, between 25% and 68% of the total greenhouse gas footprint of our products, and 95% of the water footprint, occurs during consumer use.
Through our packs and campaigns we communicate with consumers on how they can adopt better laundry habits to reduce their own environmental impacts – habits such as correct dosing, lower temperature washing, washing a full load and using shorter wash cycles. We include the Washright logo on-pack to support more sustainable washing.
In Turkey, people tend to wash laundry especially white laundry loads at higher temperatures (above 60oC) and around 27% of households use pre-wash cycles (compared to a European average of 7%). This has big impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and water. In 2012 Omo worked in partnership with all local and international washing machine manufacturers, the key partner being Arçelik. When consumers purchased a new machine, an Omo expert visited them at home to advise on optimal washing performance and which products to use. Consumers were briefed on the best way of using their machines as well as getting a sample of Omo products.
Growing market share and enhancing our reputation
We have seen success in countries where we have implemented initiatives to improve the environmental impact of our laundry products. For example, in Turkey we became the market leader with the move to compacted powders by communicating the efficacy of Omo and also its environmental benefits. Our company received the Water Footprint Award from the Turkish marketing and communications magazine, MediaCat, in its Open Air Advertising Awards for encouraging consumers to use water responsibly.
Working with industry bodies
We take a leadership role in industry bodies that can influence consumer behaviour. Within AISE (the International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products, the industry representative body in Europe), Unilever has been actively involved in sustainability campaigns such as ‘Washright’, which was launched in 1998 to encourage consumers to wash clothes at lower temperatures and use full washes. We also support AISE’s Charter for Sustainable Cleaning which certifies products that meet specific sustainability criteria across the industry.
Promoting the importance of consumer behaviour change
Enabling and inspiring consumers to adopt more sustainable habits is fundamental to achieving many of our goals. Experience has taught us that marketing can be a powerful force for behaviour change. In 2011 we published Unilever’s Five Levers for Change, a set of principles to increase the effectiveness of our interventions. We are now looking to apply this expertise across the business. See Encouraging behaviour change for more.
We also work with a variety of organisations to address the role of the consumer in using and disposing of our products efficiently. For example, our Radox brand of shower gels in South Africa gave consumers a free aerator when they purchased two products in 2012. These can be fitted to shower heads to reduce water use and they can save people up to €450 a year.
During 2009 we contributed to a study by the University of Manchester’s Sustainable Consumption Institute. The study, commissioned by Tesco, showed that in the UK three-quarters of emissions are directly or indirectly influenced by consumers. This supports our own research that for many of our home and personal care products, the largest proportion of CO2 emissions occurs in their use by consumers. It also reinforces our overall approach of supporting consumers who wish to adopt a lower-carbon lifestyle.
In December 2009 we jointly published a report with the Coca-Cola Company at the Copenhagen Business Day (held in parallel with the UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference). This guide sets out an approach for reducing product impacts across the entire value chain and demonstrates the vital role consumer goods companies play in tackling climate change. See Download for more.
Powering hot water washing in developing countries
There is a huge demand for water heating in the developing world that cannot currently be met. The availability of hot water can transform habits, particularly in personal care, so it is in our interests to help people get access to affordable hot water in a climate-friendly way. Electric kettles and paraffin stoves are widely used to heat water in townships in South Africa. However, they are expensive to run and paraffin is polluting and can be dangerous. We are trialling a solar heating project in South Africa which involves installing solar water heaters in homes.
In 2011, working with Standard Bank and Inti Solar (a South African-based solar supplier and installer), Unilever helped facilitate the installation of over 7,500 low pressure solar water heaters across the country. Throughout 2012-13 we will be monitoring water consumption and studying the behaviour in a selection of these homes to better understand how we can contribute to more affordable and sustainable consumer habits.