Sustainable paper & board sourcing

Unilever is a significant user of wood fibre-based material. This is purchased from a large number of suppliers and is mainly used for paper and board packaging.

A commitment to sustainable sourcing

Unilever has a role to play through our procurement practices in promoting sustainable forest management practices and in helping to put an end to deforestation.

USLP logoIn 2010 we published a new policy on sustainable paper and board sourcing, which is now incorporated in our Sustainable Living Plan. We have committed to source 75% of the paper and board for our packaging from certified sustainably managed forests or from recycled material by 2015, reaching 100% by 2020.

Through our Plan we are also looking to increase the sustainable sourcing of our office materials. By 2013 we will source all paper-based office materials from either certified sustainable forests or recycled sources. For more information, see Green IT & workplace impacts.

During 2009 we worked with Rainforest Alliance to review the sustainable sourcing practices of our key suppliers and understand our sourcing challenges and opportunities. We also engaged with key stakeholders and organisations promoting sustainable forest management. This work informed the development of our policy.

Our approach

Unilever is the first global fast-moving consumer goods company to commit to sustainable paper sourcing on this scale within a clearly defined timeframe.

We will buy paper packaging that comes either from well-managed forests or from recycled material, whichever is best in order to ensure product quality. To achieve our goal, we will work with our suppliers and other stakeholders to:

  • progressively increase our sourcing of virgin paper and board from certified sources with a full chain of custody
  • promote the expansion of forest certification through our purchasing practices.

For paper from virgin sources, we will give preference to supplies delivered through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification scheme. We will also accept other national schemes under the framework of international Forest Management Certification standards, such as Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC), provided they comply with our policy’s implementation guidelines.

The logos of acceptable forest management certification schemes will begin to appear on our brands’ packaging as we make progress towards the target, helping to increase consumer awareness and promote the expansion of certified forests.

What is virgin paper?

‘Virgin fibre’ is fibre extracted from a plant of some sort, the most common being wood fibre from trees.

In some cases, trees are planted in forest areas for the purpose of getting fibres for paper and board production; in other cases, wood comes from timber industries and forest thinning. Typically, fibre used for paper making is from timber that cannot be used for other purposes, eg immature trees removed to let other trees mature (‘thinnings’) and sawmill waste. Once this virgin fibre has been made into paper it can be recycled several times (typically five to seven times).

How do we define recycled?

'Recycling’ means giving material a second life rather than simply disposing of it. The recycled material used for our packaging comes from two main sources. ‘Post-consumer waste’ is packaging which has been used, ie it has served its purpose. This represents around 85% of material used in our recycled packaging.

The other (minor) source of recycled material is ‘post-industrial’. This is material which for one reason or other was not used directly for the packaging. The most common form of post-industrial waste is ‘clippings’, which is waste generated when packaging is cut to shape. As both post-consumer and post-industrial waste would be disposed of by sending it to landfill if not recycled, we do not differentiate between them.

How do we choose between virgin or recycled paper?

We start by looking at the application and what the packaging is required to do. Where safety regulations demand a virgin material, then the choice is very simple. Where there is a choice it will be the best material for the application and the material that is most readily available, as not all materials are available everywhere. If we have a choice and recycled material is available delivering the performance required, then we will give preference to recycled material.

How are we making it happen?

We are now engaging with our paper and board packaging suppliers to discuss our policy requirements, assess their current capabilities and establish a roadmap towards achieving our ambitious targets.

We monitor progress with our suppliers by requiring them to complete a self-assessment and report on progress using software developed specifically for this purpose. The assessment data will be validated and verified by Rainforest Alliance, and the consolidated results will enable us to track our progress.