Unilever is focused on finding ways to provide people with an affordable source of water

Safe drinking water is a scarce resource in many countries. Water-borne diseases can be life-threatening so we are focused on finding ways to provide people with an affordable source of water.

A global imperative

In 2010, the United Nations declared that access to “safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right essential to the full enjoyment of life”. One of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

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 report, worldwide over 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water. One issue is the affordability of water purifying systems. Many people rely on boiling water or bottled water, which can be expensive.

We spent five years developing a scalable solution to the problem of providing access to safe, clean drinking water. The biggest issue was to create a solution that removed harmful germs in line with stringent international standards, at a price that was affordable to the consumers who needed it most.

The result is the unique in-home water purifier, Pureit, which provides water ‘as safe as boiled’ without the need for gas, electricity or a pressurised water supply.

What makes Pureit unique?

Pureit removes harmful viruses, bacteria, parasites and pesticide impurities. An independent scientific study by the National Institute of Epidemiology1 in India has shown that Pureit can reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease by up to 50%. It also meets the US Environmental Protection Agency’s strict criteria of safety from germs.

Pureit’s new technology represents a critical breakthrough because it meets international germkill requirements at prices that low-income consumers can afford.

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.

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

Targets & performance

Provide safe drinking water (M)

  • We aim to make safe drinking water available and affordable to 500 million people through our Pureit in-home water purifier by 2020.
  • 45 million people have gained access to safe drinking water from Pureit since its launch in 2005, of whom 10 million were reached in 2012.
  • achieved
  • on-plan
  • off-plan
  • %of target achieved

During 2012, Pureit focused on distribution expansion in existing markets – India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico and Brazil – and also launched in new markets such as Sri Lanka and Nigeria.

Expansion in India was the biggest contributor to performance in 2012, where consumers have been attracted to our wider product range.

We have produced various models to appeal to consumers at different income levels and in different markets. The most affordable model costs just €20 in India (1,400 rupees), with an ongoing running cost of just one euro cent for about two litres of safe drinking water. This is 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 to improve the affordability of the purifier for those for whom the price remains a barrier to purchase.

Our ambition to reach 500 million people remains demanding. To achieve our target we plan to expand into more new markets in Africa, while continuing to grow in existing markets.

† Independently assured by PwC - see Independent assurance.

Waterworks programme in India

Unilever, through the Unilever Foundation, is partnering with PSI (Population Services International) on Waterworks™. It was launched in June 2012 as a pilot in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Waterworks™ is a not-for-profit programme that provides safe clean drinking water technology to communities in need around the world.

As part of this initiative, PSI trained 75 Waterworkers who educated the neediest people in Bhopal about the importance of clean water and its opportunity to improve the health and wellness of their community.

In March 2013, Waterworks achieved its interim goal of delivering free Pureit water purifiers to 15,000 of the most at-risk poor households, giving access to safe, clean drinking water to 75,000 people across 50 villages and 25 urban slums of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

Through Waterworks™, the Unilever Foundation is showing that the right combination of people and technology can lead to social solutions that effectively combat some of the biggest and most difficult challenges we face.

Waterworks is one particular programme that aims to accelerate progress towards our target by building sustainable models to reach households in need with Pureit technology.

External recognition

Pureit received the accolade for Best R&D and Technological Breakthrough at the 2011–12 UNESCO Water Digest Awards. The judges singled out our water purifier for its first-of-its-kind Advanced Alert System. The system gives consumers an advanced warning on the need to change the reverse osmosis membrane before the water starts turning salty. Its technology effectively removes even high levels of total dissolved solids from ground water, offering drinking water that is tasty and safe.

The UNESCO Water Digest Awards are organised by the international magazine Water Digest and supported by UNESCO and the Ministry of Water Resources in India.

Back in 2008 and again in 2011, Pureit won the Golden Peacock Innovative Product/Service Award in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. The award is made to the product that uses breakthrough technology to achieve maximum customer satisfaction at minimum cost and which is also sustainable.

In 2009 Pureit received external recognition in the UK government-backed innovation awards (the iawards), winning the consumer product category for an innovation which supports society and positively impacts the lives of consumers.

Pureit was also the subject of a Harvard Business School case study published in 2011 and revised in June 2012: Hindustan Unilever’s Pureit Water Purifier, 9-511-067 by VK Rangan and M Sinha (1 February 2011).