Our commitment

In 2008 Unilever made a commitment to purchase all our palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015.

2015 commitment

We are one of the world’s largest buyers of palm oil for use in products such as margarine, ice cream, soap and shampoo. We purchase around 1.3 million tonnes annually, which is about 3% of the world’s total production.

Through our Sustainable Agriculture Programme, we have been researching the sustainable cultivation of oil palms for more than ten years.

We have long been convinced of the need to break the link between palm oil and climate change. We were founding members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004.

USLP logoIn 2008 we made a commitment to purchase all our palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015. This forms part of our Sustainable Living Plan which was launched in November 2010.

Our performance in 2010

GreenPalm certificates support the production of sustainable palm oil certified to the standards of the RSPO. In 2009 we purchased GreenPalm certificates covering 185 000 tonnes of palm oil, accounting for around 15% of our total needs. This volume represented more than 80% of all GreenPalm certificates traded in the year.

Our roadmap commits us to doubling our purchases to 30% by the end of 2010 and doubling it again to 60% by the end of 2011. In 2010 we exceeded our target by more than doubling our purchase of GreenPalm certificates to cover 485 000 tonnes. We are currently working to establish traceability for sustainable palm oil throughout the supply chain.

Leading broader action

Turning our commitment into reality relies on the creation of a market for sustainably cultivated palm oil. This is complex and will take time since it involves many different stakeholders – governments, NGOs, processors, manufacturers, large growers and smallholders.

Unilever is working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to increase availability. The Roundtable has set sustainability criteria against which suppliers can now be certified. However, to justify the investment, suppliers need certainty around the demand for palm oil. We need to encourage others to make public commitments similar to ours and help drive market demand. This in turn will reassure growers that they will get a return on their investment in sustainability certification.

In 2008, as part of our commitment, we established a global coalition of companies and NGOs to combat deforestation. The coalition meets regularly and comprises nearly 40 companies, including some of the world’s leading consumer goods companies. By the end of 2010, the majority of members had set public targets for purchasing certified sustainable supplies of palm oil. In addition, the pledges made on palm oil as part of the Consumer Goods Forum deforestation target are contributing to a growing market for sustainable palm oil.

An example of the collective action we have taken is the letter that 15 companies and NGOs wrote to the European Commission in 2010 (see Downloads). This opposed the classification of palm oil plantations as “continuously forested areas” in the draft communication on the implementation of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive.

External recognition

Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) has been commercially available in the marketplace since November 2008. To further promote production and take-up of CSPO, WWF has conducted various global assessments of companies’ performance regarding sustainable palm oil.

In October 2009 WWF published the 2009 Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard – an assessment of the palm oil purchasing practices of 59 European companies. Unilever was rated among the top five companies and was commended for contributing to the RSPO, for setting up internal systems to control the use of palm oil and for showing real progress on commitments to buy and use palm oil.

In April 2010 WWF published its assessment of six major Australian food companies and retailers. Unilever was rated the top company with a score of 24.5 out of 29. WWF reported that Unilever and Cadbury had made the most progress in moving their supply to certified sustainable palm oil.

In November 2011 WWF published its second Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard assessing the palm oil buying practices of 132 European, Australian and Japanese companies. Unilever scored eight out of nine.

More than 130 major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers were measured against four areas: active membership of the RSPO, public commitment to source RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil, disclosure of volume of palm oil used/bought, and disclosure of how much of the palm oil they use is CSPO or is supporting sustainable production. Unilever is the largest user of palm oil in the 2011 scorecard and the only company using over 100 000 tonnes of palm oil a year of which more than 50% is purchased from certified sustainable sources. Unilever was acknowledged for its ambitious commitment to purchase all its palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015, despite substantial logistical and cost challenges.

The WWF assessments are available to download.