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Kees Kruythoff: Why water scarcity is everyone’s problem


Authored by Kees Kruythoff

To mark World Water Day, the President of Unilever Home Care talks about exciting innovations, a new partnership with Alibaba that could benefit millions and why flushing the toilet has become a hot topic of conversation.

Washing clothes by hand in a bowl

About the author

Kees Kruythoff

Kees Kruythoff

Home Care President and Chair of Unilever’s Water Board

I can’t believe that Cape Town, a place close to my heart and where I live, could become the first major city to run out of water. We have seen many droughts in the country, but never thought an entire city could be restricted to 50 litres of water per person, per day.

That’s a 90-second shower, flushing the toilet only once and not using the washing machine. Having also lived in Brazil and the US – two countries heavily affected by drought in recent years – I’ve seen first-hand the impact this has on families and communities.

But what’s even more alarming is the fact that millions of people on this planet live without access to water every single day, and the millions more who have no choice but to drink contaminated water.

This is wholly unacceptable.

As a business, we must ask ourselves what we can do to address challenges like these and improve people’s lives. That’s why we launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010.

Reaching 2.5 billion people a day, we know we are uniquely placed to use our size and scale for good. In concrete terms, that means working on innovative solutions that help people cope with situations where they have little or no water, and improve the quality of the water available to them for drinking, washing and cleaning.

One example is an anti-foam molecule we have developed to halve the water and time needed for rinsing laundry. The technology is incorporated in our Sunlight 2-in-1 washing powder in South Africa and RIN detergent bar in India.

We also have many products in our portfolio that don’t need water, such as the Cif surface cleaning wipes. And we are coming up with more. Today, we are launching Domestos Flush Less in Cape Town, a toilet spray that disinfects and eliminates malodours. This means most flushing can be avoided, saving huge amounts of water.

Feature image - World Water Day
Helping consumers save water Our deep understanding of what motivates consumers gives us a unique opportunity to encourage people to make small changes in their everyday habits to reduce water use.

And we are well placed when it comes to providing affordable drinking water with Pureit and Truliva in our portfolio – the world’s most advanced home water purification brands. Last week, we announced an exciting new partnership between Truliva – our Chinese water purification business – and Alibaba in China, to create a pay-as-you-go water purification business model. Truliva’s purifiers already help millions of households access clean drinking water. This partnership, which combines Truliva’s technology and Alibaba’s unrivalled Internet of Things capabilities and reach, will help millions more.

Just a few months ago, I became President of Unilever’s Home Care division and Chair of our Water Board, an internal body that drives Unilever’s water agenda. As I take on these responsibilities, I have made a commitment to put our innovation and marketing power at the service of people who face water issues, to help them get on with their lives.

Other companies are doing some great work too and Colgate deserves a special mention here. Rather than promoting a product with their Super Bowl ad a couple of years ago, they used the most expensive advertising slot to encourage people to turn off the tap while brushing their teeth. That shows how seriously they are taking this problem.

So, as today marks World Water Day, it is a timely reminder for everyone – individuals, governments and businesses – to use their power to help address the water crisis. At Unilever, we have asked our employees what they can do to ‘waterproof’ our brands. And so, I pose the same question to you – what can you do?

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