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Unilever renting toilet service

Challenge

Provide affordable sanitation for the 1 billion people who don’t have access.

Problem

As urbanisation increases, a large proportion of dwellings are so-called ‘informal developments’, housing over 1 billion people. These lack adequate sanitation facilities because of space or absence of infrastructure such as sewers. Improved sanitation could greatly reduce diseases such as diarrhoea, which results in over 1 million deaths of children under five every year.

Solution

Unilever is a global consumer goods business with over half its business coming from emerging markets. The company is committed to doubling in size while reducing its environmental impact. Key to this is facilitating new, sustainable consumers in these markets. Unilever aimed to develop a toilet collection service to overcome accessibility issues.

Unilever worked with not-for-profit partnership Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP) and design consultancy IDEO to trial the approach in Kumasi, Ghana – a city of 2.5 million people with less than 20% of the population having access to in-home sanitation. In Kumasi many people walk, sometimes long distances, to a public toilet. Others resort to “flying toilets” (plastic bags that get thrown outside after use).

IDEO helped gain insight into what users wanted from such a service and arrived at a portable toilet with a weekly or monthly fee to remove the waste. The charging structure was set lower than the costs for family use of public toilets.

To grow the service Unilever used the trials to prove the business model, and over time will distribute via a franchise model and leasing of the toilets to operators. Making productive use of the collected waste is also being investigated, for example by anaerobic digestion to provide energy and fertiliser.

Benefits

New customers loyal to branding of the service
Enables local operators to develop a business and grow income
Provides equitable access to much-needed sanitation without major infrastructure

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