Reckitt Benckiser carries out first water impact study

Reckitt Benckiser (RB), the global health and hygiene consumer products company, has announced that for the first time it has carried out research to identify its water footprint and how to reduce the company's impact.

The research, carried out last year, has identified where the company needs to concentrate its efforts on water consumption and how to measure progress towards its target of reducing consumption by 1/3 by 2020.

Reckitt Benckiser’s director of global sustainability, environment, health and safety, Dave Challis, told edie: “Our water impact study showed us that there are key areas we have an opportunity to address –like the water used for handwashing in India.  So we will use this information, combined with our new Sustainable Innovation Calculator, to develop more sustainable products.”

Like carbon, the company is looking at the whole product lifecycle through its new sustainability strategy, Betterbusiness, launched in 2012.

However, unlike carbon, where total global emissions are the focus, it has highlighted the need to look at where water is used, as water availability varies by location.

“It is vital to focus our efforts where water is most scarce. We calculate how much water our products use and which stages of the lifecycle are most significant. That is the global water use footprint,” the company’s 2012 sustainability report states.

“We’ve then developed a measure of water impact which takes account of where there isn’t enough to go around,” it continues.

Its water impact applies location specific scarcity factors to the footprint to derive ‘equivalent litres’, which the company aims to use to measure progress towards its goal.

According to the report, two-thirds of the company’s total water use footprint is associated with manufacturing raw materials and packaging. However, when taking scarcity into account, the company says “it is clear we need to concentrate more on consumer use of our products”.

Challis said: “Almost 900 million people don’t have access to clean and safe water. And as many of RB’s products need water to be used, and all of them require water to produce, water scarcity is now a priority for us. 

“As we grow our business in developing markets where water is often more scarce than other areas, we need to understand our impact and then develop products and services that enable better health and hygiene but also require less water.  But we’re not forgetting about other environmental issues – and we’ve set global 2020 targets in carbon, energy and waste to ensure we keep improving,” he added.

Between 2000 and 2012, the company reduced water use by 31% per unit of production. However, because of increased output its total consumption has risen by 17%.

Total consumption reached 6.7million m3, an increase of 1.4% from 2011. In 2012, it used 0.95 m3 of water for every 1,000 consumer units (CUs) of production, a 6% reduction from 2011.

The report also shows that in 2012 the company reduced total lifecycle carbon emissions per dose of product by 4.6% since 2011. In total, the company reduced total lifecycle emissions per dose by 25% against a 2007 baseline.

Leigh Stringer

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