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The Water Cluster

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  • Gas, Water & Multi-utilities
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Katie Hiscock
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Case Study: Crowd Sourcing to reduce water footprints – Unilever

  • Subsectors:
  • Utilities
  • Gas, Water & Multi-utilities
  • Water

Unilever is one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world, with 2 billion people using at least one of its products every day, across its 400 different brands. Therefore their products affect nearly one-third of the earth’s population daily, with that activity, they have a very large water footprint, one they are keenly looking to reduce.

In 2012 Unilever launched its ‘Sustainable Living Plan’ which incorporates plans to reduce greenhouse gases, waste, packaging and water use through the production, supply and domestic use of their products.

Of Unilever’s water footprint, 39% comes through the domestic use of soaps, shampoos and shower gels. So to try reduce this astronomical figure a crowd sourcing competition has been released in which people can submit ideas to create a more ‘enjoyable yet sustainable’ shower with a prize of €5,000 for first place.

It is an indirect manoeuvre from the management team, as Unilever don’t even manufacture or sell showers themselves, but with Unilever’s vast experience in open innovation it seems a very clever move. A competition of this sort has not been done before (aside from Danish water company Aarhus Water), the main issue though is that Unilever claims all intellectual property (IP) rights upon submission. It remains to be seen which entrepreneurs are willing to give up IP for just €5,000.

Besides the issues with prize money, crowd sourcing with user engagement has actually been proven to be successful in creating new and exciting products, and in this case it could be a product that could aid in reducing the indirect energy and water consumption of one of the largest companies in the world.


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