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Unilever Seeks Sustainable Growth Collaborators Through Open Innovation Site

Global consumer goods manufacturer Unilever has launched a new online platform reaching out to experts who may be able to help the company find technical solutions to achieve its sustainable growth strategy.

Unilever's Open Innovation team is publishing the details of numerous research projects online to invite potential collaborators. The company has a long track record of partnering to develop products, but this is the first time that its research projects have been shared so publicly in an open forum.

"A successful Open Innovation model will be absolutely fundamental to us achieving our ambition of doubling the size of our business while not only reducing our environmental impact, but increasing our positive social impact too,” Roger Leech, Unilever Open Innovation Scouting Director, said.

Each Open Innovation project is defined by its "Want," or technical solution. The "Wants" listed on the new platform address either environmental impact or social impact. For example:

  • Technologies that can bring safe water to the world's poorest people - for less than one cent per liter.
  • New active ingredients for cleaning products that inactivate viruses - without relying on bleaches, strong acids, or alcohols.
  • Lighter and more sustainable packaging that will cut the weight, quantity and waste of our product packaging.
  • Laundry products and technologies that allow consumers to get superior washing performance using lower temperatures and less water.
  • Technology that allows us to further reduce the amount of sodium in food - without affecting taste.

"Our global research and development teams consistently make innovation breakthroughs which keep Unilever at the forefront of product development and design,” Leech added. “But we know that the world is full of brilliant people with brilliant ideas, and we are constantly looking for new ways to tap into this potential by working with partners who have a fresh, serious approach to developing exciting new technology.”

In 2011, Unilever says it had one or more activities under development with more than 500 innovation partners. An example of Unilever Open Innovation in action is the company's Pureit range of water purifying products, which was developed in collaboration with a range of technology partners and scientific and public health institutions. Pureit has now been rolled out to all 28 states in India, as well as Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and other countries facing a shortage of affordable clean water.

Unilever R&D involves over 6,000 professionals, six strategic centers for global R&D and 31 major product development centers. The strategic centers are located in Trumbull, US, Port Sunlight and Colworth in the UK, Vlaardingen in The Netherlands, Bangalore in India and Shanghai in China.

Bart King is a PR consultant and principal of Cleantech Communications

Comments

Light-weight packaging and sustainability

Good to see the open innovation but the product focus is lightweight sustainability. The big opportunities for Unilever's social impact on sustainability will be when they seek ideas that can't be patented. Sustainability is about paradigms not products. Packaging for example is sustainable when it takes part in a circular no-waste model. Lightweight packaging is about trying to make the linear less-waste model a bit greener.


Bart King is the principal of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. He is also an associate editor for Sustainable Brands. Follow him @bart_kingGoogle+

[Read more about Bart King]


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