Four years into its ambitious and wide-ranging Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever says it is making a growing and positive impact on its business in terms of growth, cost efficiency and resilience for the future. At a time when more and more companies are talking about 'brands with purpose', Unilever has put some definition and measurement behind what it calls 'sustainable living brands' – meaning brands that contribute to one or more of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan goals and have a sustainable living purpose.
Many of Unilever's brands that have led the way on sustainable living, such as Dove, Lifebuoy, Ben & Jerry's and Comfort, are achieving above average growth, with high single and double digit sales over the past three years.
These findings were shared with sustainability specialists from NGOs, government, academia and business gathered at Unilever's London headquarters, to review progress on the fourth year of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, said: "In a volatile world of growing social inequality, rising population, development challenges and climate change, the need for businesses to adapt is clear, as are the benefits and opportunities. This calls for a transformational approach across the whole value chain if we are to continue to grow. Consumers are recognising this too, increasingly demanding responsible business and responsible brands. Our experience is that brands whose purpose and products respond to that demand – 'sustainable living brands' – are delivering stronger and faster growth.
“These brands accounted for half the company's growth in 2014 and grew at twice the rate of the rest of the business."
The business case also now extends to the investment community, which is becoming increasingly aware of the risks and opportunities of managing in a new economic ecosystem where the interdependencies are more complex and unpredictable. This is evidenced by the growing number of institutions moving capital into businesses that will help realise a low-carbon future. Governments too are responding to the forthcoming climate negotiations in Paris in December with robust national plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The Company confirmed that it is on track to meet most of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan goals, which it set in 2010. The consumer element of the reducing environmental impact goal remains more challenging, and heavily dependent on wider market shifts. But Unilever has started to decouple its environmental footprint from its underlying sales growth.
Within the Company's supply chain, there is promising progress. More than 55 percent of Unilever's agricultural raw materials are now sustainably sourced, reducing the risk to supply - more than half way to its 2020 target of 100 percent. It has achieved its target of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its factory network, and is making significant reductions in CO2 from energy and water in manufacturing, reducing them by 37 percent and 32 percent per tonne of production respectively since 2008.
Against the ambitious target to help improve the health and well-being of more than one billion people by 2020, Unilever is nearly 40 percent of the way (397 million) to reaching it. The Company has also enhanced the livelihoods of more than one million people so far, having helped and trained 800,000 smallholder farmers since 2010 and provided 238,000 women with access to training, support and skills.
'Sustainable living brands' now represent half of Unilever's growth and are growing twice as fast as its other brands. A growing number of its leading brands have integrated sustainability into the contribution they make to the world - their purpose – and into their products' ingredients and lifecycle. The 'sustainable living brands' are evidence of Unilever's Purpose in action - making sustainable living commonplace.
Unilever is committed to working to bring about transformational change throughout the whole value chain and to developing further its portfolio of 'sustainable living brands' in a way that meets the needs of consumers. It will continue to systematically measure its brands' sustainability performance, using the learnings from this to drive further progress.
The detailed report on progress made against the targets set out in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and Unilever's approach to transformational change is available online at: unilever.com/sustainable-living