Unilever challenges consumer behaviour on water use

Unilever is embarking on the next phase of its consumer-facing behavioural change programme to encourage families to lead more sustainable lifestyles.

As part of its Sustain Ability challenge, the company is trialling new ways in which consumers can use less water and energy in the bathroom, by making small changes to their personal hygiene routines. This includes spending less time in the shower and turning off the tap while brushing their teeth.

In addition, each of the 12 households involved in the challenge will be given useful tools to better understand their bathroom habits such as ‘water pebble’ shower timers and tap aerators to reduce flow rates.

Research has shown that one-fifth of a household’s carbon footprint comes from heating water for baths, showers and washing up – making up around 23% of the average UK domestic heating bill.

Speaking to edie, Unilever’s R&D development director Richard Wright said the challenge should hopefully highlight which type of tools and behaviour changes are most popular and effective.

“One of our biggest impacts is through consumer use of our laundry business, the products we sell for showering and for washing clothes. We are looking for motivating ways that will help reduce our environmental footprint,” he explained.

Wright added that one of the hardest bathroom issues was framing water-saving habits in a way that didn’t detract from the indulgence aspect.

“It’s a tremendous challenge – we don’t want people to lose that shower experience. But I think we can help them appreciate that a shower can still be enjoyable without spending so long in it. People tend to lose track of time, and don’t realise the cost aspect of heating water – it’s an incredibly large part of the heating bill.”

As part of the exercise, Unilever is also asking the families involved to recycle at least half of their bathroom waste to establish whether they adopt different recycling habits when in the bathroom or kitchen.

This builds on the first phase of the challenge which was around recycling in the kitchen, where households aimed to reduce their monthly food bill by 15% and food waste by 25%.

The findings from the project, which runs until May 2013, along with quantitative and qualitative analysis and recommendations, will be published later in the year.

Wright said Unilever would be looking to scale up any activity that proved particularly successful, either through brand communication, product innovation or strategic partnerships.

Maxine Perella

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