As a packaged consumer goods company serving mass markets around the world for household and personal hygiene products, laundry detergents and foods, Unilever's business is inextricably linked with consumers’ interest in meeting their everyday water needs. Once the basic need for drinking water is met, almost all other “everyday” water needs derive from consumption associated with the type of products Unilever sells. Use of some of these products, such as basic toilet soap, involve “actual” water consumption; others, such as margarine, concern “virtual” water consumption through agricultural production.
Global scenarios for water and sanitation present a major challenge to long-term business strategies that assume sustained economic growth particularly in emerging and developing markets. Responsibility for finding and delivering solutions lies with all major actors in society. For companies such as Unilever, a priority is to help break the link between economic development on the one hand, and increased water use and water degradation on the other. Water catchment level perspectives are central to realising this vision. Unilever uses such a framework, building an experience-based model that demonstrates how a “consumer” company can engage in meeting everyday water needs with a sustained positive impact.