Unilever is an international consumer goods giant that is engaged in a wide range of sustainability initiatives. The company manufactures everything from ice cream to soap and in 2013 they announced that they had managed to make massive cuts in their carbon emissions, use less energy, significantly reduce waste, minimize water consumption, and increased the amount of sustainably sourced raw materials.
Sustainability at the Core
At Unilever sustainability is embedded in their core business strategy.
The company’s sustainability director for manufacturing, John Maguire,
said in a statement: “Eco-efficiency isn’t just about reducing the
environmental footprint it also makes good business sense…”
In an April, 2013 report, the company described how
brands that “have made sustainability central to their brand proposition
or product innovation have accelerated sales during 2012.”
Paul Polman’s Sustainability Leadership
Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever is an
undisputed green leader among corporate behemoths. Polman’s
comprehensive sustainability philosophy has embedded sustainability into
Unilever’s DNA. As Polman explained, “we are not out there just to make
money, but to satisfy consumer needs and doing it well, we will make
money.” He also said, “If you buy into this long-term value-creation
model, which is equitable, which is shared, which is sustainable, then
come and invest with us. If you don’t buy into this, I respect you as a
human being, but don’t put your money in our company.”
Polman believes that if businesses don’t act responsibly, they will be ‘thrown out of office’ by the consumers.
While most businesses are concerned about how they can use
society and the environment to be successful, under Polman’s
stewardship, Unilever changed the paradigm and focused the company on
how they can contribute to society and be successful.
Sustainable Living Plan
Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan includes more than 50 social,
economic and environmental targets such as its goal to reduce by 50
percent the company’s greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste.
In 2010, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, set the ambitious goal of doubling its business while halving the
environmental footprint of its products and boosting its positive social impact
sourcing 100 percent of agricultural raw materials sustainably, all by
Sustainably Sourced Raw Materials
Under the Sustainable Living Plan Unilever plans to source all of its
agricultural raw materials from sustainable sources by 2020. Currently,
more one-third (36 percent) of its agricultural raw materials products come from sustainable sources which exceeded their goal for 2013. The company has also committed to
sustainably sourcing 100 percent of its paper and board packaging by
Unilever doubled the amount of the palm oil it draws
from sustainable sources in 2010. According to Unilver’s most recent
report, the company now sources 100 percent of palm oil from sustainable
sources, and it is making significant progress on the sustainable
sourcing of sugar, cocoa, vegetables and sunflower oil.
Unilever and its partners are also behind an initiative titled Tea 2030,
a project aimed at developing sustainability innovations to help secure
the industry’s long-term future.
The company helped to train 450,000 tea farmers
in sustainable practices, of whom over 300,000 have achieved Rainforest
After years of
collaboration with Solazyme, Unilever recently agreed to buy at least
10,000 metric tons of algal oil from the renewable oil and bioproducts
company. Delivery will begin early in 2014 and the relationship between
the two companies is expected to expand going forward.
The company has reduced its CO2 emissions by 838,000 tonnes in its manufacturing activities and improved efficiency in its logistics operations which helped the company to cut an additional 211,000 tonnes of C02 since 2008.
In 2012, more than half of
Unilever’s factories achieved the goal of sending no waste to landfill.
The early achievement of this target prompted the company to advance its
zero waste goal by five years (2015 rather than 2020). By the end of
2015, Unilever’s 252 factories worldwide will not send any non-hazardous
waste to landfill. The key drivers of their success are recycling and
Unilever is not just highlighting its own efforts it is
reaching out into the communities they serve and making environmental
heroes out of consumers. This is the thinking behind its food waste
initiative which is helping families reduce their household waste
while saving money on food bills. The company is using the results of
this initiative to inform future brand marketing and behavior change
Sustain Ability Challenge
To accomplish their ambitious sustainability goals Unilever launched a campaign titled the “Sustain Ability Challenge,” which is part of the company’s Sustainable Living Plan. Challenge is
intended to engage with civil society, companies, government and other
key stakeholders to develop new models of collaboration and study consumer
behavior so that they can move to the next level in sustainable living.
More than 2,200 sustainability leaders and experts,
representing 77 countries, registered for the first Unilever Sustainable
Living Lab, a 24-hour live, online dialogue that ran from
April 25th to 26th. Discussion topics included sustainable sourcing; sustainable
production and distribution; consumer behavior change; recycling and
Partner to Win
Unilever’s Partner to Win program works closely with suppliers to increase sustainability and among other things, the program supports carbon-reduction. One of the joint ventures that are part of this program involves Unilever’s partnership with DHL. They are engaged in a series of initiatives designed to increase sustainable practices including developing technology to improve carbon efficiency and reduce waste within global logistics operations.
Help a Child Reach 5
Unilever’s efforts range from global in scope to smaller more regional programs. The Help a Child Reach 5 campaign was launched by Unilever’s
Lifebuoy brand. This program aims to end preventable deaths of children
under five through the simple act of improving hand-washing behaviors in India. This program has been significantly expanded of late.
Unilever is not only being more environmentally and socially responsible
they are also seeing significant growth. They are well on their way to
achieve their goal of being more socially responsible and cutting their environmental impact in half all while
doubling the size of the company.
Awards Recognition and Ratings
consistently ranked among the most sustainable companies in the world.
They recently led the Tomorrow’s Value Rating 2013 (TVR), which
recognizes companies that increasingly demonstrate “clarity of vision
and innovation in their pursuit of a sustainable business model.”
For the second year in a row, Unilever is the top-rated company in terms
of its global warming commitments, according to the Climate Counts
2012-2013 Annual Company Scorecard Report, published in December 2012.
© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.
Unilever Sustainability Journey: Go Big or Go Home
Video: Sustainability at Unilever
Recognizing Sustainability Leadership in Business
Patagonia May be the World’s Most Responsible Company
Patagonia Shows the Way with Responsible Business Leadership
Video – Yvon Chouinard Founder of Patagonia and 1% for the Planet
AECOM’s Sustainability Leadership
Corporate Sustainability Leadership in America
The Most Meaningful Global Brands of 2013
The 2013 World’s Most Ethical Companies (Ethisphere)
2013 World’s Most Admired Companies (Fortune Magazine)
The World’s Most Sustainable Companies: The Global 100 (2013)
10 Great Companies Who Were Green Before It Was Cool”
Green Businesses that Made It Big
Interface’s Award Winning Sustainable Product Innovation
PUMA’s Comprehensive Sustainable Strategy
HP’s Sustainable Innovation Serves the Planet and Profits
Walmart and HP’s Sustainable Supply Chains
HP and Dell Sustainability Journeys