Safety & environment

Safety is an essential element of a successful and sustainable business. We take our responsibility to protect our consumers, our employees and the environment we live in very seriously.

We have an entire Centre dedicated to Safety and the Environment, the Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC). Its role is to assure the safety and environmental sustainability of Unilever products, and the processes used to manufacture them.

SEAC uses the latest science and technology, constantly embracing new scientific developments and working with the best scientists globally. We publish our findings in peer-reviewed journals, and regularly present our research at international conferences. Some examples of where we are applying our environmental safety capability are given below.

Environmental Risk Assessment

SEAC's environmental safety team assess the risks of adverse effects occurring in the environment as a result of the use and disposal of Unilever’s homecare and personal care products. These assessments consider the aggregated uses of an ingredient in all Unilever products marketed in each country or region.

Since most products, after consumer use, are disposed "down the drain" all our assessments consider the fate and effects of ingredients in the aquatic and terrestrial environments that receive effluents from municipal waste water systems. Assessments are made for a country or region to account for key local factors that influence the amount of ingredient that could reach the environment, e.g. population density, water use in the home, connection to and type of sewage treatment, and characteristics of the environment.

Sewage treatment infrastructure can vary widely and often has a strong influence on the ecological condition of the aquatic environment. For example, discharges of effluents treated by advanced sewage treatment plants generally have little impact on water bodies, whereas discharge of untreated sewage can cause oxygen depletion in the rivers due to all the waste products it contains with subsequent damage to the receiving environment. SEAC has developed approaches that take local water quality/ecological condition into account when assessing the potential impact of consumer product ingredients.

Our research: Bringing together creative scientific minds

We have an active research program to develop new methodology, working with leading scientists around the world. Our research program is centered around the need to improve the ecological relevance of chemical risk assessment.

Key topics include the development of mechanistic underpinning of the links between ingredient exposure and effects, e.g. the mechanisms of how ingredients might cause effects in the environment; the use of exposure models to estimate environmental concentrations of ingredients that account for variation in time and location.

SEAC workshops

Advancing adverse outcome pathways

In March 2014, SEAC experts were invited to attend a workshop in Italy on ‘Advancing Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs) for Integrated Toxicology and Regulatory Applications’. Participants included experts from academia, industry and regulatory organisations from across Europe, North America and Japan. The workshop focused on the use and application of AOPs in regulatory decision making covering research priorities and strategic approaches for AOP development, weight of evidence evaluation to define uncertainties associated with predictive relationships represented in an AOP, regulatory acceptance of AOPs, and the application of AOPs to support informed approaches to testing and assessment.

The workshop provided an opportunity to develop collaborations across key stakeholders to address the main challenges in using AOP approaches in chemical risk assessment.

Developing the ecological relevance of safety assessments

A workshop held in August 2014, led by SEAC Experts, brought together global experts to better understand the effects of ingredients, from products disposed of down the drain, on the health of river ecosystems. The workshop addressed ecological aspects that conventional environmental safety assessments do not consider. Participants shared case studies and approaches on how to best develop realistic scenarios to determine species assemblages in freshwater ecosystems e.g. to create ecological effects models at different level of biological organisation, from individual organisms to ecological food webs. Progressively, the application of ecologically-relevant assessments will allow for more informed decisions.

Find out more

Our concern for Safety and the Environment covers a number of areas including: consumer safety, environmental safety, environmental sustainability, occupational and work place health and safety and science and technology. For more information >>