Environmental safety

Ensuring Unilever’s chemicals are safe in the environment.

SEAC uses the latest science and technology in its work, constantly looks to develop through embracing new scientific developments and working with the best scientists externally.  We publish our findings in peer-reviewed journals, and regularly present our research at international conferences and seminars. Some examples of our work within environmental safety are given below.

Environmental Risk Assessment

SEAC's environmental safety team assesses the risk of toxic effects occurring in the environment as a result of the use and disposal of ingredients used in Unilever’s home and personal care products. These assessments consider the total use of an ingredient in all Unilever products marketed in a given country. Since most products are disposed "down the drain" assessments usually consider the fate and effects of ingredients in sewage treatment systems and subsequently in the aquatic environment. Assessments are country specific to account for national differences in population density, connection to sewage treatment systems and discharges into the environment, for example, effluent to rivers, sludge to soil. Our primary focus is on the consumer use phase of the value chain. However, where required we assess the environmental risk associated with the manufacturing process.

Unilever aims to double the size of the company while reducing its environmental impact. Much of this growth will come from rapidly expanding markets such as China and India. Consequently our environmental safety research programme reflects our aim to refine risk assessment methods for chemicals used in consumer products in these countries.

SEAC workshops

Bringing together creative scientific minds

In 2010, the Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre, Lancaster Environment Centre and the Chinese Academy of Sciences organised a joint workshop in Shanghai. The workshop gathered experts in academic, industrial, and regulatory institutes from China, Europe and North America to discuss the scientific development needs to underpin environmental risk assessment of chemicals used in consumer products that are discharged in household wastewater in China. The workshop drafted plans for research priorities, future collaborations and identified further international activities and needs in chemicals management and risk assessment.

As a follow-up to the workshop, SEAC experts were invited to contribute to a training course on exposure modelling, risk assessment and chemical management in China in April 2011 that was co-organised by Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences. These activities demonstrate international collaboration between research institutes and the development of tools and guidance that support the application of good science within chemical management frameworks.