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Unilever unveils ten year target for sustainability

By Andrew McDougall , 16-Nov-2010
Last updated on 16-Nov-2010 at 12:57 GMT

Global consumer products company Unilever has revealed its new sustainability strategy which aims to halve the company’s environmental impact, but double the size of the business by 2020.

The Sustainable Living Plan sets out over 50 social, economic and environmental targets and will see Unilever, whose global brands include Dove, Lynx and Vaseline, 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.

At the launch of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, 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.

“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 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.”

Source, make, package…

The main aims of the plan are to implement a sustainable sourcing strategy, reduce environmental impact, and ensure the health and hygiene of people around the world.

The global firm has spent the last two years auditing its products to calculate its impact on the environment, and plans to supply data on the impression of each of these.

In some cases this has meant changing the way certain products are formulated, or designed.

For example, Unilever has looked to reduce the amount of waste used in the packaging of a product, yet maintain protection. In the US, Unilever has minimised the packaging on its stick deodorants as well as making them more lightweight, to reduce the impact of transporting the goods.

Another example has seen the firm calculate that a substantial part of the greenhouse gas impact of its body-wash comes from the hot water used to wash in. From this, Unilever aims to educate consumers to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions whilst washing, as well as reducing the emissions from its own factories.

No conflict between goals and business growth

In reference to whether these targets could be met, and still grow the business as suggested, the company claims there will be no conflict.

“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,” said Polman.

Polman also emphasised that Unilever did not have all the answers and that the plan will need cooperation with customers, suppliers, governments and NGOs if it was to achieve its goals.

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