evidence and ideas. applied



The Unilever Sustainable Living Lab is an online moderated dialogue to co-create solutions to sustainability challenges. The aim of the Lab is to inspire a dialogue where experts and practitioners from businesses, NGOs, academia and governments can learn from each other, share leading-edge ideas and promote best practice. The Lab is hosted by Unilever and facilitated and moderated by GlobeScan.

This year, the Lab dialogue took place on 24 April 2013 – to coincide with the publication of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Progress Report 2012. The objective of this Lab was to find tangible solutions to the challenges of reducing environmental impacts in the home.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Lab was designed to stimulate co-creation through conversation. Moderated discussions were held to unlock solutions to three priority areas of impact: greenhouse gases; water; and waste. The Lab ran for a total of six hours, split across two sessions in order to accommodate participants from the widest possible range of time zones.

Discussions were held simultaneously in two virtual solution rooms, with a new challenge question posed every hour:

  • The People Room – focused on product innovation, marketing and consumer behaviour change solutions
  • The Systems Room – focused on public policy, infrastructure and solutions involving wider collaborations.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Lab was an invite-only event. Nearly 1,000 sustainability leaders and experts across 80 countries registered for the event. More than 500 people participated on the day.

Twenty-nine guest speakers gave their expert perspectives and were active participants in the conversations. Sixteen contributors from Unilever helped drive the discussions towards solutions to specific challenges faced. Four moderators from GlobeScan led the discussions and explored the different threads.

A total of 1,750 comments were posted over the six hours of the Lab – that’s one post every twelve seconds.


The aim of the April 2013 Lab was to drill down into specific areas that are among the most vital for delivering on the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan goals and targets. In contrast, the 2012 Lab was a longer discussion with a broader audience, to uncover solutions across the whole value chain.

To realise Unilever’s goal to halve the environmental impact of its products across the value chain by 2020, it was clear from the Lab discussion that cross-industry standards must be elevated and new social norms and sources of satisfaction for consumers unlocked.

Hundreds of ideas and case studies were identified throughout the six hours of the Lab – some of these ideas can be taken forward by Unilever, while others are appropriate for a wider group of stakeholders in sustainable living. This is a small selection of the ideas generated – there are many more in the Highlights Report:

  • Applying branding and marketing sophistication to create consumer movements and tribes
  • Adjusting advertising to positively portray efficient water use
  • Making sustainability core to design briefs rather than peripheral (e.g. through procurement requirements)
  • Deploying messaging on the benefits of less frequent hair washing to hair health etc.
  • Professionalising and supporting informal recycling systems to improve their efficiency and the livelihoods of informal recyclers
  • Changing showering norms (average shower times and water temperature) by giving people new ways to evaluate quality and enjoyment from their showers
  • Supporting grey water recapture from showers and elsewhere for re-use (e.g., toilet flushing)

Working with institutions, such as universities and hotels, to demonstrate the viability of new water reducing technology and products to consumers.


Unilever staff from across the business participated in the Lab discussions, to help drive the conversations towards actionable ideas and solutions.

Ideas from the Unilever Sustainable Living Lab will feed into the work of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan Steering Team, which is made up of senior leaders from across the business.

Overall, the input from the Lab amounts to a call to create a collaborative movement that unlocks the business case not just for Unilever, but for companies worldwide – one that lays a foundation for systemic change, new business models, and a common vision of the future. Changes in consumer behaviour and to the systems that businesses and customers operate within are needed, to nurture what is already well underway in an increasingly connected world, particularly in growth markets. Lab participants called on Unilever to set an example, bring others along, and deliver better livelihoods to those whom business serves – citizens and the society in which they live.

Read the Highlights Report for a summary of the Lab and a distillation of many of the ideas generated.


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“Everyone on the GlobeScan team was energised by the fast-paced global dialogue and the flow of new ideas, innovations and partnerships emerging from the Lab. It was inspiring to use our evidence-led approach to crowdsource solutions to the real challenges Unilever and others face in changing consumer behaviour to be more sustainable.”

Caroline Holme



“We co-developed the Lab with GlobeScan and they have been our trusted advisers from the start. We value their perspective, experience and commitment to engaging stakeholders effectively to address sustainability challenges. The 2013 Sustainable Living Lab delivered an even greater number of ideas and solutions that will help us achieve our goals.”

Miguel Pestana
VP Global External Affairs & Media Relations