Water partnerships

Collaboration with others on water efficiency and water quality helps us achieve our goals.

Water Footprint Network

To increase our expertise in measuring water impacts, we co-founded the Water Footprint Network (WFN) in December 2008 with organisations from the private sector, the International Finance Corporation, WBCSD, WWF and UNESCO. The Network aims to develop a measurement framework that assesses the total water used across the lifecycle of a product and the impact of that water use.

Unilever conducted two pilot studies, on tea and margarine, to help to develop this methodology.Our results show that over 99% of the water footprint of a 500 g tub of Rama margarine is from agricultural ingredients, notably the irrigation of sunflowers. The figures are similar for tea.

In 2012 we used the crop and livestock databases of the Water Footprint Network to assess the irrigation water used to produce our key agricultural materials.The assessment identified tomatoes and sugar cane as priority crops from a water perspective, and we have initiated further work on these.

CEO Water Mandate

We also remain committed to the CEO Water Mandate which brings together companies, leading campaigning organisations, governments and the United Nations. The group was established to stimulate collective action by setting industry-wide measures for accounting for water and to encourage good business behaviour in managing water.Through our membership in the group we also advocate for changes by government that will help address the global water challenge. For example, in June 2012, Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman and the leaders of 36 other participating companies, signed a communiqué to the heads of government attending the Rio+20 Summit.

The communiqué called for governments to make global water security a top policy priority. In particular it urged policy makers to develop policies to improve water efficiency, infrastructure and valuation as well as addressing water issues in conjunction with other global environmental issues such as energy, food / agriculture and climate change.

Unilever Foundation

Through the Unilever Foundation, launched in 2012, we are partnering with five leading global organisations – Oxfam, PSI, Save the Children, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

With PSI (Population Services International) we are working to make a tangible contribution to improving the health of children and families, by delivering behaviour change interventions that focus on hand washing, clean drinking water and sanitation.Unilever is partnering with PSI (Population Services International) on Waterworks™. The programme was launched in June 2012 as a pilot in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. Waterworks™ is a not-for-profit programme that provides safe clean drinking water technology, Pureit, to communities in need.

As part of this initiative, PSI trained 75 Waterworkers who educated the neediest people in Bhopal about the need for 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 largest and most difficult challenges we face.

Water quality initiatives

In 2002, Unilever South Africa funded the establishment of the Unilever Centre for Environmental Water Quality within the Institute for Water Research at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

The objective of the Centre is to contribute to the understanding and sustainable management of water resources in Southern Africa. This is pursued through partnerships with industry, local and national government, water resource management forums, communities and other academic institutions.

The Centre has produced numerous research publications focusing on exploring the ecological, chemical and toxicological effects of pollutants on aquatic ecosystems and this knowledge is used to guide national policy through the National Water Advisory Council.

In collaboration with industry, catchment partners and local government, academic research is applied to real situations within the context of Integrated Water Resource Management. An example of this is the Boksburg Lake Project, a stakeholder-driven process aiming to restore the Boksburg lake back to a valuable ecological site and public amenity. Through Unilever's influence, the local municipality agreed to dredge the Lake in 2011.

Unilever, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa have teamed up to investigate the possible uses of 'greywater' (water that has been used for washing dishes or laundry). Greywater is a potential source of water and nutrients which could aid plant growth, but it also poses a challenge because of its salt content. The project is evaluating the suitability of greywater for growing vegetables in South Africa. Initial results are encouraging and show that laundry greywater does not inhibit plant growth.