Combating deforestation

Deforestation is seen as a key contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The issues & our approach

Deforestation is responsible for approximately 20% of world greenhouse gas emissions and has an adverse impact on ecosystems and biodiversity. Unsustainable patterns of cultivation of some of our raw materials such as palm oil and soy have the potential to exacerbate the destruction of remaining tropical rainforests.

As part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have targets in place to source palm oil and soy sustainably. In 2012, we announced that we would reach our 2015 target to source 100% of palm oil from sustainable sources three years ahead of schedule. This has been achieved primarily through the purchase of GreenPalm certificates. We recognise that these make a significant contribution to a more sustainable palm oil industry, but they are only a first step.

We have taken action in this area since 2008 when we agreed to support a moratorium on further deforestation in South-East Asia. At the November 2009 meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) we supported the inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions associated with palm oil production in the RSPO Principles & Criteria.

Around 14% of palm oil is now certified as sustainable by the RSPO, but only half the available GreenPalm certificates are being purchased. In 2012 Unilever joined key players in industry and government for the China Sustainable Palm Oil Supply Chain Forum, for talks on promoting faster uptake in China, the world’s largest consumer of palm oil.


Advocacy is an important part of our work to reduce deforestation. We are engaging with governments to stress the importance of implementing national energy policies that take into account the full greenhouse gas emission implications of land use change.

In 2013, we were one of 139 companies that responded to the CDP’s Forests programme’s request for information. Formerly known as the Forest Footprint Disclosure Project (FFD), CDP’s Forests programme helps companies understand how they are contributing to deforestation through their use of five agricultural commodities that are responsible for most deforestation (palm oil, soy, biofuels, timber and cattle products) .

Unilever was recognised as the 2013 sector leader of the Packaged Foods, Meats/Brewers & Soft Drinks industry sector by CDP’s Forests programme. It is essential that we eliminate deforestation from our supply chain and surveys such as this provide an objective review of how our management of this complex issue compares to our peers.

We will continue to work in partnerships to improve traceability of our supply chain across all key agricultural resources.

The Consumer Goods Forum

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) is an industry association that brings together over 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other stakeholders across 70 countries. It aims increase industry collaboration on non-competitive matters and supports the exchange of knowledge and good practice. Unilever CEO, Paul Polman sits on the board of the CGF and co-chairs the Board Strategy Advisory Committee.

Unilever co-chaired the team charged with delivering the deforestation and refrigeration pledges of The CGF at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2010. Participating companies agreed to mobilise their resources to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020. The target aims to create funding streams that incentivise forested countries to protect their natural environment, whilst enabling them to reach zero net deforestation, and meet their own economic development goals.

At the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012 the United States government announced that it would put additional resources into promoting sustainable agriculture that protects forests. A working group has been formed between the Consumer Goods Forum and the United States government, called The Tropical Forest Alliance, which is based on our shared objective to reduce any deforestation associated with sourcing sensitive commodity crops from our supply chains Membership of the partnership will be open to governments, companies and NGOs.

We also welcome the Joint Statement from the governments of the United Kingdom, Norway, United States, Germany and Australia that was made in November 2012. This highlighted the urgency of tackling climate change and committed continued support to the UN REDD+ programme, the United Nations collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) in developing countries.

The increased use of soy, palm oil and paper and board by business creates many of the economic drivers that contribute to deforestation. However, we are confident that our commitment to combating deforestation through sustainably grown crops will lead to increased yields with the resultant reduction in input costs. The final outcome is intended to provide a win-win situation for farmers, consumers and our planet.