Unilever’s Global Crowdsourcing Quest to Solve Sustainability Challenges

Published Nov-30-15

A water saving shower, a modular water and sanitation infrastructure and an iron deficiency anemia education service were the winners of a global contest to solve sustainable challenges through crowdsourcing.

Unilever, Netherlands

The Story:

Unilever’s Global Crowdsourcing Quest to Solve Sustainability Challenges In June 2015, Unilever's Foundry platform launched a global crowdsourcing community to find new and innovative ways of tackling sustainability problems. Foundry IDEAS will provide a platform for consumers and innovators to collaborate on transformative solutions.

"Because business as usual isn't going to work anymore, we're looking to shift to a more open and collaborative business model," said Karen Hamilton, VP Sustainable Business, Unilever.

Participants can review exiting ideas to the Foundry's Grand Challenges, suggest their own and work together to turn them all into better ones. Community members then vote for their favorite ideas, which are reviewed by Unilever judges. The winners are awarded prizes and their solutions will either be scaled up by Unilever or the British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company will find another business to take on the job.

Inaugural Challenges

Following the June launch, three challenges were issued in the areas of sanitation, hygiene and nutrition, which yielded 150 ideas.

The three grand winners were:

Improving Access to Sanitation category - Saurabh Saraf for WaterHubs. These are modular water and sanitation infrastructure solutions for urban slums. When the modular blocks are integrated they provide community services, including showers, toilets and health services. Other provisions and functions that WaterHubs can offer are water for potable and non-potable uses, public kitchen areas and mobile charging stations.

WaterHubs for neighborhoods can serve between 5,000 and 50,000 people, meaning that city authorities, especially those in the developing world don't have to build costly infrastructure from scratch.

Improving Global Nutrition category - Onyinye Uche for improving nutrition via NYSC - an education service that partners Knorr with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Nigeria. The aim is to reduce the prevalence of iron deficiency anemia in the country by educating people on the importance of eating iron-rich foods.

Imagining The Shower of the Future category - Yehuda Goldfisher for Flush a Shower, which is designed to reduce water consumption. It consists of two buttons. The first releases a burst of water to wet the body prior to soaping and the second releases a longer burst to rinse the soap away.

Harnessing the Power of the Crowd

Nearly every major problem that societies face, from climate change and disease epidemics to traffic congestion and safety and security can benefit from crowdsourcing. This exciting problem-solving approach enabled by modern communications technology draws in both the usual and the unusual suspects, informed smarts with different backgrounds and perspectives trying to work out solutions.

Unilever’s Karen Hamilton, adds: "The big social, environmental and economic issues that the world faces are so huge that no one organization or company or group can solve them alone”.

What’s more, the results of working together can be better and come at a lower cost.

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