Unilever pushes green habits

09 November 2012

LONDON: Unilever, the consumer goods giant, is focusing on educating and engaging shoppers as the company seeks to cut its environmental footprint.

Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer for Unilever, said in the Harvard Business Review that around 70% of the greenhouse gas impact from its products results is due to buyer use.

"Any consumer goods company trying to reduce its environmental impact faces this challenge: your footprint is largely determined by what customers do with your products, not what you do directly," he added.

Given this, Weed argued, meeting the firm's more than 50 sustainability targets covering areas like water and energy usage demands an "entirely different approach".

"Fortunately for us, we engage directly with consumers through our brands, and it is these brands that have huge potential to be agents for change," he said.

The first of Unilever's core principles is to "make it understood" by building acceptance and awareness, such as with Lifebuoy soap's "glo-germ" education scheme using ultra-violent light to show children how it removes more germs than water alone.

Secondly, the firm tries to "make it easy" where adopting green habits is concerned. Comfort One Rinse fabric conditioner, aimed at emerging markets where people often wash clothes by hand, only requires a single bucket of water to work, not three.

"But it took live demonstrations and samples, not just TV commercials, to establish consumer confidence that one bucket of water was really all that was needed for effective rinsing," said Weed.

Another goal is to "make it desirable" by supporting shoppers' self-image, by encouraging recycling or tapping into the wish among new mothers to do the best for their baby.

Weed also stated that brands should "make it rewarding" by proving the benefits of being eco-friendly. Suave shampoo thus has demonstrated how to slash energy bills by $150 by going green.

Finally, Weed suggested, it is vital to "make it habit" once sustainable behaviours have gained ground. Lifebuoy's handwashing campaigns therefore run for extended periods to stimulate "repetitive behaviour".

Indeed, he reported that a $3.35 investment in handwashing yields the same health advantages as spending $11 on latrine construction or $200 on household water supply.

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff