What will this mean for the future of workers and ancillary businesses at Pozzilli?
Gianfranco: The project will take about two years to complete, which will give us enough time to reskill the team. People here feel part of the Unilever family, and even the best solution in the world is difficult for them to accept if it means they are no longer working within the Unilever ecosystem.
The fact that Unilever is a joint shareholder in the new project and that we have logged our intent to be a long-term commercial partner is very important to them. And, of course, this is why we are investing so much in reskilling our workforce through training. The same goes for our partner businesses. Over the transition period, we will help them keep the same level of turnover in the short term, while in parallel helping them rethink their core businesses in a way that will better support the new plastic recycling site.
Leena: This is a beautiful example of how important it is to protect livelihoods. No business can stand up today and say I am going to protect every job ever created. No government can say that. But what we can say is that while we may not be able to protect your jobs, we can try to protect your livelihoods by creating new opportunities.
I am so excited about this project as it connects our vision for circular products, as outlined in our Clean Future programme, with employability and inclusion.
Why was recycling rather than production chosen as the purpose of the new factory?
Gianfranco: Sustainable recycling ticked all the boxes for us and all the stakeholders involved in the project as we assessed all potential solutions.
We evaluated everything against two strict criteria. The first was to protect the livelihoods of Unilever employees and all the partner businesses in the value chain. The second was to accept only long-term, strategically sound projects that would be able to ensure a bright future for the area.
Creating a high-value recycling plant made sense for us as it was in line with our sustainable business model and our Clean Future commitments, and could ultimately provide Unilever with the high-quality recycled plastic it needs for its sustainable packaging.
It also made sense for the Italian government, as it aligned with their ambition to position Italy as an attractive option for investment in high-value green and circular economy ventures. The fact that Unilever was committed to the project and was remaining as a partner was instrumental in central government deciding to make such a huge investment in the area.
Leena: The Pozzilli project reflects so many of our business’s core values. It has the potential to make the business better, to help us in our zero-waste journey through plastic reconversion and to transform supply chains. Moreover, it shows that business transformation does not always have to come at the cost of jobs. We can find an answer that is a win–win solution for everyone.
What makes this project unique?
Gianfranco: As well as working on a zero-waste, fully circular model, the new factory will also be the first in Italy to use both mechanical and chemical recycling methods. Mechanical recycling uses about 60–70% of reclaimed plastic, but with the chemical method you bridge the gap and rework 100%. Not only that, but the chemical recycling process also creates plastic that can be used for food packaging.
We will be meeting a growing need in the market as there is high demand for recycled packaging in Europe, but currently low supply. And, of course, the new plant will also help us in the long term by potentially ensuring a steady supply of the PCR [post-consumer recycled plastic] and high-quality secondary raw materials we need for our packaging.
Leena: While this may not be the solution for all future projects, this is the first practical example of our Future of Work initiative being implemented in an industrial reconversion setting.