Unilever Innovation Strategy: Launching New Open Innovation Space to Support Sustainable Growth

by | Mar 20, 2012

Unilever's Open Innovation team today launched a new online platform which offers experts the opportunity to help the company find some of the technical solutions it needs to achieve its ambition of doubling the size of its business while reducing its environmental impact, as part of the broader Unilever innovation strategy.

The global consumer goods manufacturer has extended its collaborative approach with partners to help it deliver a range of important innovation projects which support the company's sustainable growth strategy.

The details of a range of research projects have been published online to invite potential collaborators to work with Unilever's Research & Development team to design the innovation breakthroughs which will create a better future for its consumers, the environment, its business and its partners.

While Unilever has a long track-record of partnering to develop products, it is the first time that its research projects have been shared so publicly in an open forum.

Each Open Innovation project at Unilever is defined by its "Want" - the technical solution the company is looking to work with external collaborators to develop. The "Wants" listed on the new platform span across Unilever's commitment to both reduce its environmental impact and increase its positive social impact. For example:

  • Technologies that can bring safe water to the world's poorest people - for less than one cent per litre.
  • New active ingredients for our cleaning products which inactivate viruses - without relying on bleaches, strong acids, or alcohols.
  • Lighter and more sustainable packaging which 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 which allows us to further reduce the amount of sodium in food - without affecting our products' great taste.

Roger Leech, Unilever Open Innovation Scouting Director said: "Our global research and development teams consistently make innovation breakthroughs which keep Unilever at the forefront of product development and design.

"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.

"Smart collaboration with partners gives both parties the freedom to do business in new and invigorating ways - creating shared value along the way. It brings together the expertise and experience of our sustainable innovation capability with new thinking and creativity from partners, creating new business models in which ideas flourish.

"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."

Some of the Unilever's most important innovations have been developed through the Open Innovation model, and in 2011, the company 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, bringing safe drinking water to more than 30m people. The device has also been launched in Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and other countries facing a shortage of affordable clean water.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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