Unilever’s commitment to put sustainable and equitable growth at the heart of its business model is helping to drive increased sales while reducing costs and risks, according to the company’s second Sustainable Living Plan Progress Report.
Brands that have made sustainability central to their brand proposition or product innovation have accelerated sales during 2012, reports Unilever. One such example is Persil Small & Mighty liquid which, in 2012, overtook the powder variant and is now the largest part of Unilever UK & Ireland’s laundry portfolio. Persil Small & Mighty helps to reduce environmental impact in the laundry category as it has a lower greenhouse gas impact from manufacturing and distribution.
Unilever said it is also accelerating the integration of sustainability into the heart of many of its biggest brands. For example Dove, its largest personal care brand with sales of over €3bn, redesigned its self esteem programme for young people in 2012 to further strengthen its engagement with consumers by helping them look and feel their best. Last week Dove launched a new Real Beauty campaign and just in a couple of days the video reached over 10m views on YouTube. Another example comes from Unilever’s biggest brand, Knorr, which launched its first product with a ‘sustainably grown’ label on pack.
At the same time, eco-efficiencies in Unilever factories from reducing energy, water, materials and waste have enabled the company to take more than €300m globally out of the system since 2008, the company reports. Examples of where Unilever in the UK and Ireland has contributed to this saving include the installation of a new water system at the Port Sunlight home care factory saving 100,000 tonnes of water a year and optimising the production of biogas from an anaerobic digester at its Marmite factory in Burton saving 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
The company said it has also reduced risk at a time of volatility in food commodity prices by increasing its purchases of agricultural raw materials from sustainable sources from 14% in 2010 to 36% in 2012.
Unilever Sustainable Living Plan second year progress
In 2010 Unilever set three big goals, all to be achieved by 2020:
1) Help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being;
2) Source 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably;
3) Halve the environmental footprint of its products across the value chain.
Two years in to its 10-year Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever reports solid progress on two of its three big goals.
Help more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being
Globally the company said it has reached 224mn people with programmes to reduce diarrhoeal disease through handwashing with soap, provide safe drinking water, promote oral health and improve young people’s self-esteem. In the UK and Ireland specifically, Unilever passed a significant milestone in 2012 and has reached more than a million young people to improve their self-esteem through its Dove Self Esteem Project.
Source 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably
Unilever said it now buys over a third (36%) of its agricultural raw materials from sustainable sources, with particular progress in palm oil, sugar, cocoa, vegetables and sunflower oil. It has also now helped to train 450,000 tea farmers in sustainable practices, of whom over 300,000 have achieved Rainforest Alliance certification. In the UK and Ireland, Unilever said it has made continued progress in this area in 2012, increasing the use of cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms for all Magnum ice creams, and Unilever’s Irish tea brand Lyons is now fully Rainforest Alliance Certified.
Halve the environmental footprint of its products across the value chain
Unilever said it is making good progress in the areas which it can control. Between 2008-2012 greenhouse gas emissions from energy in manufacturing were cut by nearly a third and manufacturing waste halved. Over half of Unilever’s 252 manufacturing sites around the world – including the UK and Ireland – now send zero non-hazardous waste to landfill and the company has set a new target of extending this to all its factories worldwide by 2015.
However, its manufacturing impact accounts for only a small part of the total environmental footprint of Unilever’s products in the total value chain – just 4% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint for example. The majority of Unilever’s product footprint is in the sourcing of raw materials (25% of its GHG footprint) and in the way consumers cook, clean and wash with the products (68% of its GHG footprint). One of our biggest challenges remains how we encourage our consumers to use our products more sustainably at home.
One of the ways in which Unilever UK and Ireland said it is making strides in area of reducing its environmental footprint is through the recent launch of compressed deodorants which, due to being half the size, reduce the overall carbon footprint of the product by an average of 25 per cent versus standard cans. This innovation is one of the most significant in terms of sustainability for the company since the introduction of Persil Small & Mighty in 2007.
Although there is considerable progress, the company said it also faces challenges which it cannot solve alone. To reach its goals and achieve large scale change, Unilever believes even more collaboration is needed between companies, governments, NGOs and consumers. Among the areas where the company would welcome more cross-sector collaboration are: reducing and eliminating deforestation associated with soy, palm oil, beef, pulp and paper by 2020; integrating hygiene behaviour change into national health policies and education curricula; linking more smallholder farmers into food supply chains; and building infrastructure to promote waste recycling and recovery.
Helping consumers change their behaviour to live more sustainably is also key. In the absence of major framework changes by governments, the company is tackling this in a number of ways, from driving habit change through packaging solutions, such as single dose laundry detergent capsules which make it easier for consumers to dose accurately, to working with others such as retailers and civil society organisations to encourage shoppers to make sustainable choices at the supermarket and in the home.
In 2012 Unilever UK launched a six-month social experiment called the Sustain Ability Challenge, working with 12 families across the UK to take action to live more sustainably and challenge the perception that sustainable living is always more expensive.
The Challenge is providing Unilever with invaluable evidence and insights about how consumers can adapt their daily routines in the kitchen and bathroom to live more sustainably.
Unilever’s global growth of 26% since 2008 and its progress towards its Unilever Sustainable Living Plan goals represent significant milestones on the way to realising Unilever’s vision of doubling the size of the business whilst reducing its environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact. However, to reach its goals and achieve large scale change, Unilever believes more collaboration is needed between companies, governments, NGOs and consumers.
Among the areas where the company would welcome more cross-sector collaboration are: reducing and eliminating deforestation associated with soy, palm oil, beef, pulp and paper by 2020; integrating hygiene behaviour change into national health policies and education curricula globally; linking more smallholder farmers into food supply chains; and building infrastructure to promote waste recycling and recovery.
Amanda Sourry, executive vice president, Unilever UK & Ireland said, “We are now two years into our 10-year Sustainable Living Plan and can begin to demonstrate how putting sustainability at the heart of our business model is an important contributor to our success.
“While we are making good progress in terms of reducing greenhouse gases and waste from manufacturing, sourcing raw materials sustainably and rolling out sustainable product and packaging innovation, we still face considerable challenges in positively influencing consumer behaviour and it is in these areas where collaboration will be necessary if we are to achieve the significant changes we need to secure a sustainable future for us all.”