Unilever to Cut Environmental Impact of Products by 50%

by | Nov 15, 2010

Unilever plans to cut the environmental footprint of its products in half, sustainably source 100 percent of its agricultural raw materials, and help 1 billion people improve their health and well-being.

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

The Sustainable Living Plan sets more than 50 social, economic and environmental targets. One of the key goals set by Unilever, whose global brands include Dove, Omo, Knorr and Lipton, will cut in half the company’s greenhouse gas emissions, water and waste used by the company in its direct operations, and 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. Since the company’s products are used 2 billion times a day in nearly every country in the world, all of its consumers’ small actions will add up to a big difference, said 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,” Polman stated.

In the area of GHG emissions, the company expects that CO2 emissions from energy at its factories will be at or below 2008 levels despite higher volumes by 2020. This represents a 63 percent reduction per tonne of production and a 43 percent absolute reduction (versus a 1995 baseline).

The company also plans to more than double its use of renewable energy to 40 percent of its total energy requirement by 2020, which is the company’s first step towards a long-term goal of 100% renewable energy.

Unilever also expects its CO2 emissions from its global logistics network to be at or below 2010 levels despite significantly higher volumes by 2020, representing a 40 percent improvement in CO2 efficiency. This will be achieved by implementing several measures including reducing truck mileage, using lower emission vehicles, employing alternative transport such as rail or ship and improving the energy efficiency of its warehouses.

As part of its goal to cut water use in half, Unilever expects water abstraction by its global factory network to be at or below 2008 levels by 2020, which represents a 78 percent reduction per tonne of production and a 65 percent absolute reduction (versus a 1995 baseline). The company will focus in particular on factories in water-scarce locations.

Unilever also plans to implement measures to reduce water in agriculture, laundry process and skin cleansing and hair washing.

Unilever also expects total waste sent for disposal to be at or below 2008 levels by 2020, representing an 80 percent reduction per tonne of production, and a 70 percent absolute reduction since 1995. All newly built factories will be designed and engineered to generate less than half the waste of current ones, said Unilever.

The company also plans to reduce the weight of its packaging by one-third by 2020 through lightweighting materials, optimizing structural and material designs, developing concentrated versions of its products, and eliminating unnecessary packaging.

Unilever also has plans to reuse and recycle more packaging. As an example, Unilever cut packaging costs and reduced its environmental footprint by working with Sonoco Global Plastics to redesign the packaging of its Suave brand of shampoo and conditioners. The new packaging improved the overall strength of the bottles and reduced the resin required to produce the bottles by 16 percent.

Other key goals Unilever plans to achieve by or before 2020 include sourcing 100 percent of its agricultural raw materials (including palm oil) sustainably by 2015, making safe drinking water available to half a billion people by extending sales of its in-home water purifier from India to other countries, and 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.

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