Unilever has announced an extensive package of new plans aimed at improving the health of the planet. The Anglo-Dutch conglomerate said that, with the latest commitments and measures, it will achieve net zero emissions from all products by 2039.
To that end, Unilever’s brands will collectively invest €1 billion in a new dedicated Climate & Nature Fund. This will be used over the next ten years to take action, establishing projects that are likely to include landscape restoration, reforestation, carbon sequestration, wildlife protection and water preservation. Unilever’s CEO Alan Jope emphasised that, devastating as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may be and while continuing to grapple with serious issues of inequality, the climate is still very much an urgent issue.
“The climate crisis is not only an environmental emergency; it also has a terrible impact on lives and livelihoods. We, therefore, have a responsibility to help tackle the crisis: as a business, and through direct action by our brands,” he declared.
Unilever has further expanded its science-based targets of eliminating all carbon emissions from its operations, and halving the GHG footprint of its products across the value chain by 2030.
“In response to the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, we are today additionally committing to net zero emissions from all our products by 2039 – from the sourcing of the materials we use, up to the point of sale of our products in the store,” said Jope.
This goal is 11 years ahead of the 2050 Paris Agreement deadline and to accomplish it, the company is prioritising partnerships with suppliers who have set and committed to their own science-based targets. Also, the company will set up a system for suppliers to state the carbon footprint of the goods and services provided on each invoice and enter into partnerships with other businesses and organisations to standardise data collection, sharing and communication.
“The race to zero must be a collective effort, and business alone cannot drive the transition at the speed that is required. We call on all governments to set ambitious net-zero targets, as well as short term emissions reduction targets, supported with enabling policy frameworks such as carbon pricing,” Jope said.
Last year, the company embarked on an ambitious plan to halve its use of virgin plastic, and to collect and process more plastic packaging than its sells.
“While it’s critical to address the impact that our products have at the end of their life, it’s just as important to continue to look at the impact they have on the planet at the start of their life – in the sourcing of materials – as well as in their manufacture and transport,” Jope said.
Currently, 89% of the company’s forest-related commodities are certified as sustainably sourced to globally recognised standards. Unilever intends to improve on this by achieving a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023, and will also work with the industry, NGOs and governments to protect other important areas of high conservation value and high carbon stock which are under threat of conversion to arable land, with potentially devastating impact on the natural habitats.
Biodiversity will be a further focus. Among other initiatives, Unilever is also introducing a pioneering Regenerative Agriculture Code for all suppliers. The new code will build on our existing Sustainable Agriculture Code and it will include details on farming practices that help rebuild critical resources. The Regenerative Agriculture Code will be made available to any organisation that may find it useful – with the goal of driving change throughout the industry.
Unilever will empower a new generation of farmers and smallholders who are committed to protecting and regenerating their farm environment. Unilever will also step up direct efforts to preserve water implementing water stewardship programmes for local communities in 100 locations by 2030 and joining the 2030 Water Resources Group, a multi-stakeholder platform hosted by the World Bank, to contribute to transformative change and building resilience in water management in key water-stressed markets, such as India, Brazil, South Africa, Vietnam and Indonesia.
“To further protect water resources, we also aim to make our product formulations biodegradable by 2030, to minimise their impact on water and the aquatic ecosystems. Although some of the ingredients that we currently use have no viable biodegradable alternatives, we will work with partners to drive innovation and find solutions to help us reach our ambition,” said Jope.
“The planet is in crisis, and we must take decisive action to stop the damage, and to restore its health. We will reduce the impact that our products and our operations have on the environment, and we will do our part to bring the planet back to health.”