Posted on 16 November 2010.
Unilever has announced plans to decouple its future growth from environmental impact. The food and consumer goods giant has pledged to halve the environmental footprint of its products; help 1 billion people to take action to improve their health and wellbeing, mostly in developing countries, over the next 10 years; and to source 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably.
“We have ambitious plans to grow the company. But growth at any price is not viable. We have to develop new ways of doing business which will ensure that our growth does not come at the expense of the world’s diminishing natural resources,” explains Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever.
Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan sets out over 50 social, economic and environmental targets. It will see Unilever, whose global brands include Dove, Omo, Knorr and Lipton, halve the greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste used not just by the company in its direct operations, but also by its suppliers and consumers.
Over two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions and half the water used in Unilever products’ lifecycle come from consumer use, so this is a major commitment on an unprecedented scale.
Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever.
“People tell us they want to reduce their environmental impact but find it hard to change their behaviour and don’t know how they can make a difference,” says Paul Polman. “By halving the total carbon, water and waste impact of our products, primarily through innovation in the way we source, make and package them, we can help people make a small difference every time they use them. As our products are used 2 billion times a day in nearly every country in the world, our consumers’ small actions add up to make a big difference.”
Other key goals Unilever plans to achieve by or before 2020 include:
* sourcing 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably including, by 2015, 100% sustainable palm oil;
* changing the hygiene habits of 1 billion people in Asia, Africa and Latin America so that they wash their hands with Lifebuoy soap at key times during the day – helping to reduce diarrhoeal disease, the world’s second biggest cause of infant mortality;
* making safe drinking water available to half a billion people by extending sales of its low-cost in-home water purifier, Pureit, from India to other countries;
* improving livelihoods in developing countries by working with Oxfam, Rainforest Alliance and others to link over 500,000 smallholder farmers and small-scale distributors into its supply chain.
Paul Polman sees no conflict between Unilever achieving its sustainability goals and growing its business. “We are already finding that tackling sustainability challenges provides new opportunities for sustainable growth: it creates preference for our brands, builds business with our retail customers, drives our innovation, grows our markets and, in many cases, generates cost savings.”