Unilever challenges UK households to waste less and save more

Unilever uses new research to understand barriers to reducing food waste and help consumers to live more sustainably

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Unilever has launched a nationwide consumer challenge to help UK families lead more sustainable lifestyles and save money on household bills, it was announced recently.

Developed in partnership with insight and innovation consultancy The Futures Company, the challenge aims to bust the myth that environmentally-friendly living costs more, and prove that sustainable living can in fact help families to save money, at a time when disposable incomes are under pressure. According to new research by The Futures Company, seven out of 10 (68 per cent) of UK adults say the main barrier to living a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle is that it costs more – an erroneous perception that Unilever wants to overturn.

The challenge has also been designed to address the findings of new Fabian Society research, supported by Unilever UK & Ireland, to understand consumer attitudes to food waste, which showed that more than 60 per cent of adults recognise that food waste is a problem that needs to be solved. More than half (53 per cent) of adults said they would waste less food if it could save them money and over a quarter (28 per cent) would change if they found it easier to do.

During the next six months, 12 families across the UK will take part in Unilever’s Sustain Ability Challenge. They will test practical ways to adapt their daily routines in order to reduce their impact on the environment and cut their household bills. With 62 per cent of adults saying a lack of knowledge about what they can do to live more sustainably prevents them from living a more environmentally-conscious lifestyle, Unilever will provide a series of tools, advice and inspiration to help the families achieve this goal. Their progress will be independently measured by The Futures Company and published in 2013.

The Sustain Ability Challenge is Unilever’s latest project to support the company’s Sustainable Living Plan, which sets out a series of time-bound commitments to help Unilever increase its positive social and economic impact while reducing its environmental footprint. At present, more than two-thirds of Unilever’s environmental impact results from consumer use and disposal of its products – underlining the need to help consumers change their behaviour in the home if the company is to succeed in its long-term aim to halve its environmental footprint.

Amanda Sourry, Chairman, Unilever UK & Ireland said: “We know that nearly 70 per cent of our environmental impact occurs when consumers use our products at home so changing consumer behaviour is one of the biggest challenges we face in achieving our Sustainable Living Plan goals.

“We are committed to making sustainable living commonplace and in order to help our consumers live more sustainably and help their household budgets go further, we need to understand the triggers, barriers and motivators to inspire people to adopt new behaviours. We are excited to be working with families on this new challenge and gain insight that we can feed back into the business, so we can provide practical ways for consumers to make sustainable choices easy, rewarding and habitual.”

Focus on food

With the average family throwing away £680 of food waste each year, the families’ first area of focus will be on food. Throughout November and December 2012, they will aim to reduce their monthly food bill by 15 per cent and their household rubbish by 25 per cent.

Unilever has built the food challenge around financial savings in response to the findings of its project with The Fabian Society to understand how Unilever can help consumers reduce avoidable food waste. The advice and support that Unilever will provide to families will focus on increasing confidence and skill in the kitchen which will address the top three barriers which the research highlighted to reducing food waste: food going off quickly; throwing away leftovers; and preparing too much food.

In addition, new supplementary research carried out by Unilever1 has shown that unavoidable food waste, the biggest culprit of which is tea bags – a 370,000 tonne-per-annum issue produced by the 165 million cups of tea we drink a year – needs to be addressed through awareness raising. Four in 10 stated that they did not know that tea bags can be recycled, yet an overwhelming 82 per cent of people might or would be inclined to recycle their used tea bags if they knew how. Unilever has already begun to tackle the issue this year through an awareness-raising pilot with WRAP and two Essex councils which showed consumers that tea bags can easily be recycled in kerbside food waste collections or on domestic compost heaps.2

Emma Marsh, Head of Love Food Hate Waste, WRAP, commented: “Food waste is a major issue for the UK - we throw away 7.2 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year; most of this could have been eaten, costing us £12 billion. With practical help and advice, this is a pioneering experiment with the power to help people waste less and save more. It’s fantastic to see Unilever taking action with the support of Love Food Hate waste, to help families in a way that benefits the environment as well as consumers’ bank balances.”

Natan Doron, Senior Researcher at the Fabian Society said: "Our research shows that in Britain we are not a nation of callous food wasters. People overwhelmingly recognise that food waste is a problem and when they find out about the environmental damage that food waste does, they are even more willing to do their bit to help tackle it.

“Policy makers, though, must understand that food waste behaviour is complicated. We need to support people through measures such as making food waste collections universally accessible. Business must also play its part and in that sense, the work that Unilever does as part of its sustainable living plan is encouraging.”

© 2012

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1A qualitative discussion was undertaken with 91 consumers on the “At Home with Unilever Community Panel” to explore attitudes and behaviours around making use of leftover food and recycling teabags. This is an online, moderated, interactive discussion, following a discussion guide containing open ended questions, which allows members to respond in their own time by adding their own answers and contribute to the views of others. The moderator prompts and encourages additional response to a specific set of research objectives throughout. Participants were a mix of age, gender and socio-economic group.

Polls were used alongside the discussion to provide basic quantitative information to complement the qualitative element of the research. The polls covered knowledge of tea bag recycling (n = 311) and consideration of tea bag recycling (n = 281).

2For further information about Unilever’s tea bag recycling pilot, visit www.unilever.co.uk/aboutus/newsandmedia/2012pressreleases/recyclingteabags.aspx