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How we’re protecting nature to grow a healthier business

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Our updated sustainability goals strengthen our commitment to nature. Chief Procurement Officer Willem Uijen explains how we’re supporting resilient ecosystems in the places we work, and why protecting and regenerating nature is vital for people, the planet and our business.

A lush, green cornfield under a partly cloudy sky with trees in the background.
Willem Uijen, Unilever’s Chief Procurement Officer
Willem Uijen, Chief Procurement Officer

Nature loss and the impacts of climate change are causing significant risks to economies, businesses and communities around the world. An estimated 3.2 billion people globally are being adversely affected by land degradation,[a] and around 1 million plant and animal species are thought to be at risk of extinction.[b] For the one in five people globally who directly rely on wild species for their income and food,[c] that poses a very real problem.

Yet, with better stewardship, nature has the potential to be one of our most powerful allies in addressing climate change, reducing inequalities and improving livelihoods.

At Unilever, we’ve been working on the nature agenda for a long time, with some significant successes. For example, by the end of 2023 we were independently verified as being 97.5% deforestation-free in the sourcing of our five key commodities. But we know we need to do more.

As part of our updated sustainability plan, we have developed stretching targets for our work to preserve nature. We’re determined to act with greater urgency, delivering tangible results and concentrating our advocacy on creating real change.

Growing the impact of our nature goals

Our updated goals focus on areas where we know we can deliver a significant impact, while still stretching ourselves to deliver the best possible outcome for nature. The key to our strategy is helping create resilient and regenerative natural and agricultural ecosystems.

We’ve significantly increased the amount of land we hope to protect and restore, to include implementing regenerative agricultural practices across 1 million hectares of farmland and restoring 1 million hectares through our landscape work. We’ve renewed our commitment to ensuring that our primary deforestation-linked commodity supply chains remain free from deforestation, and pledged we will verify 95% of our key crop volumes as sustainably sourced by 2030. Finally, we’re committed to preserving water resources by addressing shared water challenges within and beyond our operations, setting up programmes in 100 locations in water-stressed areas, also by 2030.

A field of tomato crops in rows

Interlinked solutions will help maximise our impact

Delivering on each of these goals demands a multi-pronged and often interlinked approach. For example, we’re using a mix of solutions to tackle deforestation. These range from making fundamental transformations within our supply chain and that of our suppliers to directly investing in infrastructure, technology and innovation to ensure better traceability and improve land use. We’re also working with farmers and smallholders in the communities and areas we source from, to increase local support for deforestation-free practices and help provide alternative income streams. Finally, we’re engaging with other businesses and government to lobby for wider change.

The interlinked nature of our ecosystems means that the work done to meet one goal is often likely to have beneficial outcomes for another. So a landscape-focused approach to tackling deforestation will also help us meet our new goal of protecting and restoring 1 million hectares of natural ecosystems.

Take our existing landscapes programmes in the provinces of Aceh, North Sumatra, Riau and Central Kalimantan in Indonesia, and Sabah, Malaysia. Through these sustainability initiatives, we have already helped to protect 290,000 hectares of forests and land within South-East Asia. This is something we hope to replicate elsewhere.

Similarly, the way we deliver our regenerative agriculture goal will impact our sustainable sourcing target. Our existing regenerative agriculture programme will help us implement regenerative farming practices across 1 million hectares of farmland. The programme also outlines the Unilever Regenerative Agriculture Principles (RAPs) (PDF 8.34 MB), which feed into our sustainable sourcing programme to help deliver our goal of 95% (by volume) of 12 key crops being verified as sustainable by 2030.

Our updated goals focus on areas where we know we can deliver a significant impact, while still stretching ourselves to deliver the best possible outcome for nature.

Willem Uijen, Chief Procurement Officer

Working together to restore the natural balance

Collaboration will be vital to our success, especially on the ground. We can’t meet these goals without the support of the smallholders and communities whose livelihoods depend upon the landscapes our crops are grown in.

We will help smallholders increase their incomes through certification programmes and income growth programmes aimed at improving crop yields. These ‘smartmix’ interventions can include diversification of income streams, access to credit and labour-saving tools. We’ve helped cocoa farmers secure the rights to their land and supported agroforestry projects in Côte D’Ivoire. We’ve also found ways to help independent smallholder farmers, by sourcing directly from smallholders and supporting their efforts to grow other crops too.

Partnerships to protect nature

To generate change, we will need strong partnerships. Our collective ability to build a sustainable future relies on collaboration with those who share our values and ambition. With our suppliers, we have set clear requirements in our People & Nature Policy (PDF 2.04 MB) to protect forest-related commodities and promote human rights.

We must work closely with governments to encourage and support political leadership, and we need stronger action from businesses and our peers. As seen in our landscapes programmes, by working with NGOs we can develop scalable solutions for common problems, pilot multi-stakeholder approaches and share lessons learnt to help transform the industry.

Men harvesting palm oil

Investing in nature

More than half of the world’s total GDP, equal to $44 trillion of economic value generation (PDF 6 MB), is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. At Unilever we recognise that our business cannot exist without functioning natural systems. To harness the environmental and social solutions that nature provides and preserve the essential natural resources we all rely on will require a radical shift in our collective mindset.

Our new nature goals acknowledge the role we must play in rebalancing our ecosystems and will help us act together to make sustainability commonplace.

To read more about our updated commitments on climate, nature, plastics and livelihoods, visit our Sustainability Hub.

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