Unilever leads the way in sustainable water management

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Wednesday, April 25, 2012

South Africa is a water scarce country that is heavily dependent on water sources outside its borders. Climate change research predicts that the South African climate will become drier and hotter causing our water sources to be even more unpredictable. Most organisations are highly dependent on water for their everyday operations, and a lack of water will have a negative impact on productivity levels. Many organisations are aware of the impending water scarcity but are not aware of how they can make changes to their organisations to become less dependent on water sources. Unilever has taken a big step in planning for water scarcity through the development of a water conserving manufacturing plant in Durban which serves as an example for other manufacturing plants that are aiming to conserve the amount of water that they use.

Unilever’s first green manufacturing plant

Unilever’s “Indonsa” plant is the first green manufacturing plant in South Africa and was built with the three pillars of water neutrality, energy efficiency and zero waste in mind. The Indonsa plant was completed in 2011 and produces savoury dry food products including those from brands such as Knorr, Robertsons, Knorrox, Aromat and Rajah. The plant’s current capacity is 65 000 tonnes of product per year. Although the Indonsa plant does not use much water in the manufacture or packing of products it does require water for cleaning, heating of equipment and ablution facilities.

Applying reduce, reuse and recycle to water management

Unilever applied the three R’s of “reduce, reuse and recycle” to their water consumption and implemented innovative technologies to minimise water use.  After an initial injection of a set amount of water from the Municipality the Indonsa plant is no longer dependent on the Municipality for its water supply. The Indonsa plant recycles 70% of its effluent water and relies on rainwater and condensate for the balance.  During the design phase of the factory, many options of water saving opportunities were investigated with various designers and consultants. The most beneficial and appropriate options were incorporated into the factory's final design.


In order to reduce the amount of water that is used at the site waterless urinals and low flow showerheads were installed in the bathrooms. In addition technology has been implemented that caps the amount of water that is delivered to clean the manufacturing lines. Water meters have been installed around the plant to monitor consumption and identify any anomalies that would need to be rectified or improved.


Another innovation that has been employed by the Unilever Indonsa plant involves the reuse of water. Condensate from the air-conditioners is collected and is gravity-fed to sumps where it is pumped to the water storage tank before being treated through a simple filtration process. This water is then reused to flush toilets on site.


All the water that is used in production and for showering is sent to a water recycling plant. Here the water goes through a more intensive biological, membrane and reverse osmosis treatment which produces clean water. 70% of the water that goes through the plant is recovered.

Water collection

Since not all water needs could be met through recycling and reuse of water, rainwater is channelled from a 22 000 m2 roof and captured in a 1.5 million litre collection tank. If insufficient rainwater is captured, municipal water is used to top up the system.  Municipal water is only expected to be used in an unusually dry Durban winter period.

The roof of Unilever’s Indonsa Manufacturing Plant has been specifically designed to capture and channel rainwater into a 1.5 million litre rainwater collection tank decreasing their reliance on municipal supplied water. Source: Unilever 2011

Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan

Unilever is following a global strategy to double the size of its business while not expanding the Company's environmental footprint.  The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) is a comprehensive sustainability program that has been developed to support this strategy and water conservation forms part of this program.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan states that “All newly built factories will aim to abstract less than half the water of current ones”.  This broader plan influenced Unilever’s decisions when planning for the Indonsa plant and served as a guideline to constructing a water neutral facility.

For more information on Unilever's Indonsa plant contact Unathi Mgobozi on 031 570 3000 or email Unathi.Mgobozi@unilever.com


Amanda Botes