The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for

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Water use

Growing water scarcity is a huge risk to our future growth – as well as a business opportunity to better meet people’s needs.

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2.8 billion people around the world live in water-stressed regions. This number is estimated to increase to 4 billion by 2025. That is expected to be around half the world’s population. 

At the same time, consumer demand for water has doubled since 1950. It is predicted to double again by 2030. The consequences for food security, health and living conditions are substantial. We are focusing our expertise and resources on developing products, devices and services that meet the domestic water needs of our consumers in water-scarce countries. We are working with suppliers to reduce the water used to grow our crops in these countries. We are also reducing water use in our own factories across the world.

We have an ambitious target to halve the water associated with the consumer use of our products in water-scarce countries.


Our Commitment

Halve the water associated with the consumer use of our products by 2020.1


In 2015, our water impact per consumer use decreased by around 1% since 2010.


We have made significant reductions in the water used in manufacturing. However, the biggest impact comes from water used by consumers when they shower, bathe and clean with our products. In 2015 the water associated with the consumer use of our products has only reduced by around 1% versus 2010. 

We have made some progress in designing and rolling out products which require less water such as Comfort One Rinse fabric conditioner and Sunsilk leave-on conditioners. 

Towards the end of 2015 we announced the partnership between our Dove brand and Delta Faucet Company in the US, to reduce consumer water usage during showering without compromising on the showering experience. Together we launched the more water efficient Delta Hydrafall™ showerhead, which when used with Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash, provides a more nourishing skin experience compared with using a standard showerhead, and reduces water use. We have also continued to pilot our Sunlight Water Centres in Nigeria and opened five more in 2015. 

Over the last five years we have learned more about people’s needs in water scarce situations – so we are sharpening our internal strategy. We will be refining our commitment for the water pillar of our Plan so that it better aligns with the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 6 on clean water and sanitation provision. 

As a result of our refreshed strategy, two targets (on easy rinse products and water use in skin cleansing and hairwashing) are no longer included in our Plan to avoid repetition as we intend to drive these actions through our new commitment. We will accelerate our efforts to develop water efficient products which meet the needs of urban consumers in water-scarce developing countries. We believe this group is among the most under-served – and is best aligned to our business growth priorities.

1 Our environmental targets are expressed against a baseline of 2010, as recalculated in December 2015, and on a 'per consumer use' basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product. We are reporting against our five water-using sub-categories (Laundry, Hair Care, Oral Care, Skin Cleansing and Household Care) in seven water-scarce countries: China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey and the US.

Independently assured by PwC.

  • Achieved: 1
  • On-plan: 3
  • Off-plan: 1
  • %% of target achieved: 0

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance (EN) for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.


  • By 2020, water abstraction by our global factory network will be at or below 2008 levels, despite significantly higher volumes.

This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production. Versus a 1995 baseline, this represents a 78% reduction per tonne of production and a 65% absolute reduction.

Versus a 1995 baseline, this represents a 78% reduction per tonne of production and a 65% absolute reduction.

We will focus in particular on factories in water-scarce locations.

  • All newly-built factories will aim to abstract less than half the water of those in our 2008 baseline.

19 million fewer cubic metres of water abstracted in 2015 than in 2008 (a reduction of 37% per tonne of production). 

Compared to 1995 this represents a 77% reduction in absolute terms.

New factories in the US, China, South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia started production in 2015. When fully operational each aims to abstract only half the water for factory operations than those factories in a representative 2008 baseline.


We have reduced the total volume of water abstracted for use in manufacturing by more than three quarters since 1995. 

In 2015, we achieved a reduction of 37% per tonne of production compared to 2008. We have achieved this despite growth in our production volume since 2008. The reduction equates to around 2.5 litres of water for every person on the planet. 

Our progress has been driven by continuous improvement initiatives at all sites to reduce, reuse and recycle water. We do this through a combination of low-cost and no-cost techniques and behaviours, and a water-specific capital investment programme. 

In addition to our longer-term target to reduce total water abstracted, we also set stretching year-on-year targets that keep us on the trajectory required to achieve our 2020 targets.

Independently assured by PwC


We will reduce the water required in the laundry process by:

  • Providing 50 million households in water-scarce countries with laundry products that deliver excellent results but use less water by 2020.

In 2015, One Rinse products were used in 4.9 billion washes in just over 50 million households worldwide.


Comfort One Rinse continued its leading position in a number of markets: for example, in 2015 it accounted for 43% of the fabric conditioner market in Vietnam, and rose to over a quarter of the market in Indonesia. 

As Brazil experienced an unprecedented drought in 2015, we leveraged our understanding of consumers’ habits to raise awareness of water wasted from doing more than one rinse through our #1RinseIsEnough social media campaign. We estimate it helped Brazil save a potential 229 billion litres of water a year. And underlying sales of Omo detergent rose 15% during the period of the campaign, helping the brand grow at nearly double the market rate. This helped us to reach our target of 50 million households early. 

We also have a strong pipeline of future water-saving innovations. This gives us confidence that we will continue to make progress in the coming years.


  • We will develop comprehensive plans with our suppliers and partners to reduce the water used to grow our crops in water-scarce countries.

In 2015 analysis of data from our supplier self-assessments showed that Unilever tomato suppliers in the top five sourcing regions have a lower water footprint per tonne compared to regional baselines calculated by the Water Footprint Network (WFN).


Our supplier self-assessment software system has been in operation since 2011. Our third analysis in 2015 of data collected through this system showed a continued reduction in irrigation water use per tonne of crop grown. 

We studied data on Californian tomatoes, comparing it with predicted values from the Water Footprint Network. The actual abstraction rate that our suppliers reported in California was 20m3 per tonne less than expected, even when using conservative estimates. This suggests that our suppliers in the region are very efficient and the results back up on-the-ground reports. 

With the sale of our pasta sauce business in the US in 2015, the volume of tomatoes that we source in California has decreased, and so the contribution tomatoes make to our overall water footprint has gone down too.


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