Our sustainability strategy

We have a clear mission and a long-standing set of values and principles that guide our behaviour and underpin our approach to sustainability.

Our values

We have always been a business driven by a strong set of values. Today those values are as important as ever. We now know that the well-being of society and the environment is critical to our ability to grow our business.

In November 2009 we launched a new mission for Unilever - to double the size of the business while reducing our overall environmental impact across our entire value chain.

This is an audacious goal which has energised our people and builds on our heritage of combining social purpose with commercial success. We are one of the first consumer goods companies which has set itself the objective of decoupling growth from environmental impact.

We are embarking on a long-term programme of work with our employees, suppliers, customers and other partners to realise this goal.

Our mission

We work to create a better future every day.

We help people feel good, look good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and good for others.

We will inspire people to take small, everyday actions that can add up to a big difference for the world.

We will develop new ways of doing business with the aim of doubling the size of our company while reducing our environmental impact.

Our Compass strategy

We will deliver our ambitious mission through what we call our Compass strategy. The Compass focuses us on delivering growth – winning market share and growing volume profitably across our categories and countries. We will do this by winning: with brands and innovation; in the marketplace; through continuous improvement; and with people.

Our Sustainable Living Plan

In November 2010 we launched our Sustainable Living Plan. The Plan complements our Compass strategy and will drive delivery of our environmental impact reduction and enhanced social impact.

Our Plan commits us to three significant outcomes by 2020: To help more than one billion people take action to improve their health and well-being; to halve the environmental footprint of the making and use of our products; and, to source 100% of our agricultural raw materials sustainably.

Our vision is to create a better future in which billions of people can increase their quality of life without increasing their environmental footprint.

However, the Plan is not just the right thing to do for people and the environment. It is also right for Unilever: the business case for integrating sustainability into our brands is clear and persuasive.

  • Consumers want it: consumers around the world want reassurance that the products they buy are sustainably sourced and protect the earth’s natural resources. A more sustainable brand is often a more desirable brand.
  • Customers want it: many retailers have sustainability goals of their own. They need the support of suppliers like Unilever if they are to achieve them. Our collaboration is broadening and deepening the relationships we have with our customers.
  • It fuels innovation: sustainability is a fertile area for innovation in both products and packaging. It is allowing us to deliver new products with new consumer benefits.
  • It helps us grow our markets: over half Unilever’s sales are in developing countries, the very places which face the greatest sustainability challenges – deforestation, water scarcity, poor sanitation. These countries represent major growth markets for Unilever. If we can develop products today that help people adapt to the changing environment of tomorrow, it will help us grow faster in future.
  • It saves money: managing our business sustainably reduces energy use, minimises packaging and drives down waste. It not only generates cost savings, it can also save consumers money.

Engaging consumers

Our research shows consumers not only want to be reassured that the products they buy are ethically and sustainably produced; they also want to choose brands that are good for them and good for others.

However, they also told us they feel powerless to make a difference: the scale of the challenge is too great and their individual actions are too small.

We believe we are well placed to help people understand how their brand choices and small actions, when added to those of others, can make a big difference across the world.

Unilever brands x small, everyday actions x billions of consumers = big difference

For example, Unilever's detergent brands are used in 125 billion washes a year. That is the equivalent of 14 million washes every hour. Every time a Unilever consumer does the laundry at a lower temperature or with a full load, the reductions in energy, CO2 and water are cumulatively very large.

With consumer use accounting for nearly 70% of our greenhouse gas footprint, inspiring our consumers to change their behaviour will be key to achieving our mission of creating a better future every day.

Embedding sustainability into our business

More than 100 years ago, our founders not only created some of the world's first consumer brands, they also built a business with strong values. We have continued to update our vision as the world has changed.

Our brand imprint process

In the 1990s we started to integrate sustainability factors into our sourcing and manufacturing processes. Then, in 2005, we began to embed this agenda into our product brands using a process called Brand Imprint.  This provides our brand teams with a 360° scan of the social, economic and environmental impact that their brand has on the world. Since 2005, Brand Imprints have been completed across all our product categories and social and environmental considerations are now integrated into the innovation and development plans of our major brands.

Assessing impacts across the value chain

Our commitment to reduced environmental impact extends right across our value chain – ie from the sourcing of raw materials through our own production and distribution to consumer use and eventual disposal of packaging.

In 2008 we developed a set of metrics for our four priority environmental impact areas across the value chain:

  • greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • water
  • waste
  • sustainable sourcing.

These metrics are designed to measure the impacts of our products when used by consumers, such as grams of greenhouse gas per single usage occasion. These metrics have formed the basis of the targets we have set in our Sustainable Living Plan.

In 2009 we also started to develop a set of metrics covering social impacts. For those of our brands with social missions, the metrics seek to measure the benefits they bring to society. Lifebuoy piloted the metrics during 2010. The exercise provided valuable feedback from brand teams around the world and will be used to refine the metrics further. This will ultimately help us track our performance against our Sustainable Living Plan goals.

Adding sustainability to our innovation processes

All decisions about new projects and innovation now have a sustainability dimension. We have developed a set of proprietary tools to allow project teams and brand leaders to evaluate environmental impacts early in the development of new products and at every critical stage of the innovation process.

We have committed a significant proportion of Unilever’s R&D budget to finding radical new technologies to address our sustainability targets. A dedicated team is responsible for identifying medium- and long-term solutions to our biggest environmental challenges.

Developing stronger consumer science

A significant part of our environmental footprint is influenced by the way our consumers use our products. We are developing new tools and technologies to measure the environmental impacts associated with how our products are used by consumers at home.

We are also researching the best ways to change consumer behaviour – in terms of eating more healthily, using less water and energy for example – and looking at what triggers consumers to choose more sustainable products.

Sustainability champions

We have appointed sustainability champions to promote our sustainability strategies in every category and in key functions and countries.

Incentivising our leadership on sustainability targets

The delivery of our Sustainable Living Plan forms part of the personal work objectives of our Chief Executive Officer, the President, Global Foods, Home & Personal Care and our Chief Marketing and Communication Officer. Others have targets linked to specific areas of the Plan. For example our Chief Procurement Officer is responsible for the delivery of our sustainable sourcing commitments.

Working with others

We do not have all the answers to the challenges and dilemmas that our business faces today. Many sustainability issues can only be addressed through a collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach. If we are to fulfil our mission, we must work in partnership. Partners bring expertise on specific issues as well as the networks to deliver practical initiatives on the ground. We complement this with our own experience, marketing expertise and commercial strength.

Some of our partnerships are formal, long-standing relationships with well-known global organisations; others are informal alliances with others in industry, NGOs, governments and UN agencies. One example is the work we are doing to promote sustainable palm oil through a coalition of businesses and NGOs including Greenpeace, Oxfam and WWF.

In 2011 we partnered with sustainability organisation Forum for the Future and Sainsbury’s to develop a practical toolkit to help the consumer goods industry respond to future challenges and stimulate more sustainable models of consumption. The Consumer Futures 2020 report outlines four scenarios which explore how patterns of consumption and consumer behaviour may have changed by 2020, and how sustainable products, services and business models could become mainstream. The scenarios are ‘my way’, ‘sell it to me’, ‘from me to you’ and ‘I’m in your hands’.

Our global partnerships

Our principal global partnerships are with:

  • the UN World Food Programme: to improve the nutrition, health and hygiene of malnourished children through Project Laser Beam
  • the World Heart Federation: to promote heart health
  • the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition: to co-create new approaches in food fortification to address malnutrition
  • FDI World Dental Federation: to improve oral health
  • the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap: to save children's lives by promoting handwashing with soap.

UN Global Compact

The United Nations Global Compact logoWe are signatories to the United Nations' Global Compact and are committed to living out the Compact's ten principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption in our everyday business operations.

Our own Code of Business Principles has long reflected the Compact's goals. Our Global Compact Index illustrates this and provides links to the Sustainable Development Report pages that describe how we implement these principles in our business. Our Sustainable Development Report provides our annual update for the Global Compact’s Communication on Progress.

In January 2011 Unilever joined a group of 54 companies signing up to LEAD, a new Global Compact initiative to improve environmental, social and governance performance and set a new benchmark for corporate sustainability. Companies joining LEAD commit to work towards implementation of the Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership, a comprehensive roadmap outlining roughly 50 concrete actions businesses can take to achieve greater sustainability.

The Blueprint was first introduced by the Global Compact in June 2010. It provides an action plan in three core areas, identifying best practices in each and a total of 50 criteria for leadership:

  • integrating the Global Compact’s ten principles into strategies and operations
  • taking action in support of broader UN goals and issues
  • engaging with the Global Compact.

LEAD companies will also share their knowledge and report on their activities at an advanced level and pledge to work more actively with United Nations agencies, funds and programmes to tackle sustainability challenges. See United Nations Global Compact Index for more detail.

External recognition

Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes LogoUnilever was named sustainability leader in the Food Producers sector of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI) for the 13th consecutive year in 2011.

We led the Food Producers sector with an overall score of 81% - substantially ahead of the average industry score of 45%. We received full marks for our record in the Health and Nutrition, and Packaging criteria. In Corporate Citizenship, Unilever scored 92% up from 72% in 2010.