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Unilever Crowdsourcing Ideas for a Sustainable Shower

Leon Kaye | Thursday August 15th, 2013 | 6 Comments
Unilever, crowdsourcing, showers, sustainable shower, sustainable living plan, Leon Kaye, eYeka, water stewardship, next generation shower

Unilever is on the search for a next-gen sustainable shower

Unilever now asks customers, stakeholders, entrepreneurs, inventors—anyone, really–to submit ideas for a next-generation sustainable shower. Launched this week in Europe, this competition culls ideas for showers that will save water and energy, yet will still offer that refreshing morning, or evening, experience. Submitted ideas will then be crowdsourced so people can vote on the best concepts. The top prize wins €5,000, and four runners-up will split another €5,000. Unilever will work with the creative firm eYeka to find a new shower that will “wow” the multinational “with an original and revolutionary design for the next generation of showers.”

Participants in the contest just have to follow a few guidelines. The shower had better recycle water. Such a contraption must fit in a space where a conventional shower is generally located in a bathroom. It has to be affordable, pleasurable and also “deliver a better sensorial experience.”

Sharing one’s ideas for a futuristic sustainable shower is relatively easy. All a contest participant has to do is allow eYeka to access his or her personal information via enrolling in the contest via one of the major social media channels (there is always a catch!). Attention to function, design and sustainability is paramount. In sum, the experience really should not be different from one is taken in a standard shower, and hopefully, perform even better.

Unilever’s contest, which ends on September 8, is just another example of how organizations are trying to rethink how consumers use water in a world that has less and less of it. The Gates Foundation, for example, has sponsored a contest searching for the next-generation toilet. As the emerging middle class grows worldwide, so has the demand for the Victorian-era invention. In the case of showers, even though they use less water than baths and plenty of water efficient shower heads are on the market, water consumption due to the desire for cleanliness will only increase worldwide. The call to simply take shorter showers is noble, but is not enough in a world becoming more and more thirsty for water.

The shower crowdsourcing contest, part of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, is another cog in the company’s agenda to transform its business model to increase profits while becoming more “sustainable.” Admirable, but as is the case with many multinationals, the devil is in the big picture. Speaking of showers, for example, while Unilever worked on various water stewardship projects around the world, it turned out its profitable shower gel product lines were full of plastic micro beads further contributing to the degradation of the world’s oceans. The company has since pledged to eliminate them by 2015. Let’s also not forget a bevy of Unilever products contain sodium lauryl sulfate, which could have long term effects on human health. Safer personal care products would help this cause, too.

So stay tuned as the fun begins next month. And if you have ideas to discuss, share them—as of yet response to the contest has been tepid.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

[Image credit: Leon Kaye]


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  • Naive Consumer

    Read the rules folks….So, Unilever (turnover in excess of $50B) Want hundreds of people to work in their product development department, unpaid, for the chance of winning €5000, in return for which, their potentially world changing ideas will belong to Unilver, who insist that the IP is ceded to them… Shameless, unethical and blatent. Surprised that triplepundit helps to publicise this scam.

    • yannigroth

      Actually the ideas will only belong to Unilever if they are rewarded (with a prize), as the rules state. Non-winning ideas still belong to their creators!

      • Naive Consumer

        So only the good ideas get bought for peanuts? Please – I’m supposed to be the naive one around here.. Why not take a look at http://www.recyclingshower.com.au. This is what a winning idea is worth – the shower technology company won €500,000, and the Intellectual Property still belongs to them 100%. Value of the idea/IP? I’d guess somewhere between €2M and €10M at it’s present stage – possibly much more. To offer €5000 for this sort of technology may not be theft, but it’s so close that it’s difficult to tell the difference. Please don’t defend the indefensible. Although as I see you are a “Research Fellow” at Eyeka, the company running the “competition” I guess that you have your job to do? I do think that you should have been a little more honest and mentioned your interest – I can’t see how your opinion is in any way impartial.

        • yannigroth

          I didn’t know that initiative (www.recyclingshower.com) thanks for sharing this. But it’s a company, right?

          I think there is a slight difference between a technology, which is fully developped, patented and even ready to go to market (like that of CINTEP), and a raw idea to be potentially developped. I totally agree with you that a revolutionary shower technology is worth much more than 5,000€, and that Unilever could potentially benefit much more, in terms of ROI, from a revolutionary tool. But the competition is really about ideas, not about marketable technologies. Anyone who has ideas, from small improvements (give away a device that beeps after 2 minutes to get people to shorten their shower) to totally out-of-the-box and difficult to implement ideas (take a dry shower out in space), can submit them. I think people will decide themselves whether they want to participate or not.

          There are many competitions where big companies ask for technological solutions (not ideas), and where the incentives are much higher: In 2010 Cisco’s I-Prize competition winner received $250,000, in 2011 GE’s Ecomagination Challenge offered $200 million, in 2012 the Low Carbon ANZ Challenge offered $10 million… but here it’s about developping a business together with the winner, not just buying an idea. Does that make sense? It’s really about buying into an existing business, and that deserves a fair price, 100% agreed!

          As to my affiliation with eYeka, where I’m Research Fellow indeed, I think I’m being a quite transparent (I use my real name to comment), but I take good note of your remark, I’ll make disclaimers in future comments.

        • Naive Consumer

          Don’t get me wrong – I think that crowdsourcing has it’s place, and most of the competitions that eYeka runs are fine as they are looking for “concepts” like ideas for an advertising campaign, and for that, the rewards are fair, with the added benefit of the kudos of a win. However, Unilever are looking for an “original and revolutionary design” (their words)- i.e. a patentable innovation. I stand by my original point – this is unethical in the extreme, and it damages the reputation of Unilever and eYeka.

  • flavoredlayers

    Agreed. I feel that if you are going to harvest a world changing idea from the community, you need to make it very clear (as part of your marketing/intention) that setting up the wining inventor(s) for long term success is the goal. A true partnership for those with winning submissions. And why wouldn’t you? I like this concept, but protection of the “artists/creator” is non-existent. Ever hear about the inventor that created the intermittent wind shield wiper for the car?