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Unilever unveils plan to decouple business growth from environmental impact


Global consumer goods company Unilever today announced plans to decouple future growth from environmental impact.

Global firm announces plans to:

* halve the environmental footprint of its products
* help 1 billion people improve their health and wellbeing
* source 100% of its agricultural raw materials sustainably

At the launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, announced simultaneously in London, Rotterdam, New Delhi and New York, CEO Paul Polman explained: “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.”

He also announced plans to help over 1 billion people take action to improve their health and wellbeing, mostly in developing countries, over the next 10 years.

The 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.

“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,” explained 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.

Commenting that Unilever wants to be sustainable ‘in every sense of the word’, Paul Polman said:

“There are billions of people who want the improvements to their health and wellbeing that everyday products like ours provide and who want to live sustainably. Our aim is to help people in developing countries improve their quality of life without a big increase in their environmental impacts, and to help those in developed markets maintain a good standard of living while reducing theirs.”

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.”

Polman emphasised that Unilever did not have all the answers and that the company would need to work in partnership with customers, suppliers, governments and NGOs if it was to achieve its goals.

Download the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and view the global launch webcast at:


The Unilever Sustainability Journey

In the UK, William Lever opened a factory near Liverpool to produce Sunlight, the world’s first packaged laundry soap. A few years later he launched Lifebuoy, the world’s first health soap, with the slogan ‘Lifebuoy saves lives’.

The values of our founders have stayed with the company and become an integral part of who we are and how we do things. We continue to see sustainability challenges as opportunities for business growth.

In 1995, faced with the prospect of declining fish stocks, we joined forces with WWF to create the Marine Stewardship Council, the international certification body for sustainable fisheries.

The following year we started our Sustainable Agriculture Initiative. Working with farmers and suppliers we developed a set of sustainability indicators that over time became our Sustainable Agriculture Code. Today, 10% of our agricultural and forestry ingredients comes from sustainable sources.

In 2004 our ice-cream business worked with Greenpeace to develop ice-cream freezers using natural refrigerants instead of HFCs. So far we have converted nearly half a million cabinets to ones using Hydro Carbon refrigerants.

We launched Small & Mighty concentrated laundry detergent in Europe in 2007. This enables people to wash clothes at lower temperatures, saving them money on household bills, reducing packaging and cutting millions of kilograms of CO2.

2007 was also the year we became the first mainstream tea company to commit to sustainably sourcing all the tea that goes into our Lipton and PG Tips teabags by 2015. So far all our Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips teabags in Western Europe are 100% Rainforest Alliance certified.

In 2008, we became the first large company to commit to buying all our palm oil from sustainable sources by 2015. To date 30% of our palm oil purchases are covered by sustainable GreenPalm certificates.

And in February this year, Ben & Jerry’s, who launched the world’s first Fairtrade vanilla ice-cream in 2006, announced that every ingredient that can be Fairtrade certified, from nuts to sugar and bananas to cocoa, will be certified by 2013.
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