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Responsible innovation

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Science with objectivity and integrity underlines our approach to responsible innovation.

A woman and a man wearing Unilever lab coats looking into a fumehood in a lab

Innovation, Science and Technology with objectivity and integrity

Science and scientific research are crucial to enhancing our knowledge and understanding of how Nutrition, Ice Cream, Home Care, Beauty & Wellbeing and Personal Care products can benefit our consumers’ health, confidence and wellbeing. They are also key to understanding how we can improve the environmental, societal and economic impact of our products.

We invest in science and scientific research, and champion responsible research and development (R&D). We’re committed to applying high standards of quality to all our scientific activities.

Bringing benefits to people and the planet through biotech

Biotechnology is the application of biological systems to develop ingredients and products. People use biotechnology in a number of areas, including healthcare, crop production and agriculture, for non-food uses (such as in biodegradable plastics, vegetable oils and biofuels), and for environmental uses.

We believe that biotechnology can play an important role in the development of affordable, innovative products and sustainable ingredients at scale – benefiting both consumers and the environment. For instance, new biotechnology-derived ingredients and processing can improve cleaning performance across different water qualities and temperatures, delivering better hygiene and environmental performance.

For decades, we’ve used biotechnology produced enzymes in our Home Care business, and more recently we started using algal oils in soap bars. Future innovations using biotechnology-derived ingredients are also being explored.

Our priority is to provide safe products that meet our strict safety standards and the regulatory requirements of the countries in which they are sold. We only use biotechnology-derived ingredients and processes in products if they meet the latest scientific and technological standards for safety and environmental stewardship. This applies to all our biotechnology supplier partnerships too.

We use controlled and contained production methods for all biotechnology-derived ingredients - this means that after fermentation no active ingredients are released into waste streams. And we actively apply and support a robust regulatory framework wherever we operate, for Unilever and our suppliers.

Our sustainable biotechnology approach

In our application of biotechnology, we aim to use sustainably sourced materials as feedstock for production of the ingredients and apply methods, which have a superior life cycle assessment (LCA). This involves studying the environmental impacts of a product or process throughout its lifespan.

There is also no conflict in our support for biotechnology and our commitment to enhancing livelihoods for smallholder farmers. We assess the risks and challenges to smallholder farmers on a case-by-case basis. We take into consideration, for example, the competition for land use to generate food versus land use for chemicals, and assess the pressures on supply and demand. In addition, we take steps to ensure that alternative sourcing of ingredients through biotechnology does not disadvantage smallholder farmers who make similar ingredients. We use waste from agriculture, industry and society to support biotechnology.

We are open, transparent and committed to engaging with stakeholders to promote the responsible development of new biotechnology approaches for our products. We provide information about the processes applied in a way that is meaningful for our consumers and enables them to make informed choices. And we comply with regulatory requirements on disclosure.

We work with biotechnology industry partners, such as Novozymes and Solazyme (now TerraVia), to explore new materials to use in our products. Our partners use established and proven biotechnology methods in a controlled and contained environment.

Responsible stem cell research

Given their unique regenerative abilities, stem cells offer many potential therapeutic benefits. This applies not only for health (helping to heal diseases such as leukaemia and Parkinson's), but also for beauty.

Stem cells are important research tools to model aspects of human biology (such as skin and hair) that are difficult to study in detail by other means. They are also used to investigate the effects of ingredients on specific biological processes.

We support research using adult human stem cells and plant stem cells. However, we won’t undertake any research with embryonic stem cells. We conduct all our research and innovation responsibly, in full compliance with the highest safety, ethical, legal and regulatory standards and requirements.

We also work in partnership with leading scientific experts to investigate the potential applications of stem cell technology, including health and beauty benefits for consumers.

The exciting world of the human microbiome

The human body contains trillions of micro-organisms. They are present all over the body including on the skin and in the digestive system. The collection of these organisms is called the microbiome and it is unique to each of us.

The microbiome is an exciting area of scientific discovery and understanding. A balanced microbiome containing a diversity of organisms helps to maintain health. It’s essential for human development, immunity, health and wellbeing. Each of our individual microbiomes adapts throughout our lifetime and people can achieve a healthy microbiome in different ways.

We’re working to support people to have a healthy and balanced microbiome, ensuring the microbiome is resilient and stimulating the growth of good bacteria.

We work with world-renowned experts to understand the microbiome and develop products that are specifically designed to support it. For example, good hygiene practices such as hand washing and mild cleansing can help to preserve a balanced microbiome and enhance the skin’s natural defence immunity. A healthy oral microbiome helps to prevent gum disease. And a balanced gut microbiome can positively affect our metabolism and how we process energy from food.

We have a global team of expert microbiologists who are dedicated to this area of research. We quickly adopt new techniques once they are validated and develop new techniques ourselves. We’re supporting research to build even more knowledge and understanding of this vast and continuously developing area of science. All of our products are thoroughly assessed to be both effective and safe.

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