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Working with suppliers to beat the clock on climate change

To achieve net zero emissions across our value chain by 2039, we’re inviting our suppliers to commit to our new Climate Promise.

If the planet continues to warm, the impacts on business – and global supply chains – will be catastrophic. Climate change is also, without question, a socio-economic crisis affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people today. It wreaks havoc on harvests and the availability of clean water and is contributing to an increase in life-threatening extreme weather events. Decisive action on a global scale is needed now.

In 2020, we set out a range of ambitious commitments and actions to fight climate change, protect and regenerate nature, and preserve resources for future generations. At the heart of these is our goal to achieve zero emissions across our own operations by 2030, and net zero across our value chain by 2039.

We’ve made significant progress, with all Unilever factories, offices, R&D facilities, data centres, warehouses and distribution centres around the world now powered by 100% renewable grid electricity.

But a net zero value chain is not something we can achieve alone. We want to empower every one of our 56,000 suppliers to join our climate journey.

To do this, we’ve launched the Unilever Climate Promise – an invitation for our suppliers to position themselves on the leading edge of our planet goals and to demonstrate their shared values and commitment to reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of their value chains.

Suppliers willing to commit to the Climate Promise are asked to set a public target to halve absolute GHG emissions by 2030, report openly on their progress, and share their emissions and footprint data with us.

As Dave Ingram, our Chief Procurement Officer, says: “More and more climate-conscious companies are recognising that the majority of GHG emissions in their value chains come from outside their own operations. Through our Climate Promise, we’re finding new ways to support our partners to measure, reduce and report on emissions in their own value chains, so that together, we may scale and accelerate our progress for the climate and help make sustainable living commonplace.”

Through our Climate Promise, we’re finding new ways to support our partners to measure, reduce and report on emissions in their own value chains, so that together, we may scale and accelerate our progress for the climate.

Dave Ingram, Chief Procurement Officer, Unilever
Working with suppliers to beat the clock on climate change

Focusing on where we can have the greatest impact

While we encourage all our suppliers to consider their emissions sources if they haven’t already, we will focus our support on a subset of 300 suppliers that we have identified as having the most significant impact on climate.

Within this group, we have detected a range of climate capabilities. Some have set stretching targets that align with what science says is needed and are well on their way to achieving them. Many have targets that aren’t ambitious enough. And others have not yet begun their journey at all.

To support those where we see the greatest potential for emissions reductions, we have simultaneously launched the Unilever Climate Programme, through which we will provide this high-impact group with hands-on guidance and access to tools and resources.

We’ll be introducing the programme in phases, kicking things off this year with a small group of diverse suppliers who can help us shape it, before moving to a pilot involving about 40 companies in 2022. From 2023 onwards, we plan to reach those 300 suppliers who contribute most significantly to our overall greenhouse gas footprint.

Just as climate change was a collective effort, climate action needs to be too. As Dave says: “When we assess the urgency of climate challenges and the scale of emissions from our upstream value chain, it becomes clear we also need to motivate the entire business sector if we are to collectively achieve the 1.5°C ambition and to halve emissions before 2030, to be able to deliver the Paris Agreement.”

Our raw and packaging materials account for more than half of our direct value chain emissions, so we mapped them to understand where most emissions arise by material type and which suppliers we buy the majority of these materials from. This could be high volume or high footprint, or a combination of the two. The result was a list of 300 suppliers – representing a diverse range of material groups – who contribute around two-thirds of our upstream scope 3 footprint.

Our partnerships are already driving positive climate and nature action

By partnering with businesses who are leading experts in their respective fields, we have introduced new science and technologies to reduce or replace everything from plastics to carbon.

For example, working with biotechnology company Evonik, we have harnessed a naturally occurring process to develop a biodegradable and renewable surfactant. We introduced this in our Quix brand in Chile, the first time it has been used in a household cleaning product anywhere in the world.

Through another pioneering process, we’re capturing waste CO2 from a factory before it reaches the atmosphere and turning it into a cleaning ingredient for our OMO detergent. This work is being carried out alongside two partners – carbon recycling company LanzaTech and India Glycols, a manufacturer of green technology-based chemicals.

And through a partnership with diversified chemicals partner, SABIC, Magnum became the world’s first food brand to use recycled polypropylene plastic in its packaging.

We also use partnerships to drive transparency, traceability and action across our value chain, particularly in the first mile, from the individual crop source to a mill.

We’re partnering with Orbital Insight, a US tech company, on a pilot that uses geolocation mapping to improve the visibility of our sourcing beyond direct suppliers and mills so we can map the origins of our crops to the municipality and farm level. We’re also using satellite and geolocation technology from Google and Descartes to work in partnership with our suppliers and industry partners to create traceable and transparent supply chains.

Unilever recognises that by working with others and sharing learnings, we can accelerate climate action in supply chains. As a Partner of Exponential Roadmap, Unilever co-founded the 1.5°C Supply Chain Leaders initiative to support suppliers to align with a net zero future.

We are also part of Transform to Net Zero, a cross-sector initiative to accelerate the transition to a net zero global economy. Download new guidance for companies working to engage their suppliers on climate targets.