Average read time: 8 minutes
But a focus on nature alone is not enough; our work has to start with the people. We’re taking steps to build a more socially equitable world, where farmers and growers in our supply chain have a secure living income. By raising their quality of living, we can empower them to think long-term and become invested in our future as true custodians of the land. We’re facing a climate and ecological emergency and there is no time to waste, so we are challenging ourselves to higher standards than ever before.
This starts with protecting the precious and irreplaceable ecosystems that already exist - like forests, peatlands and tropical rainforests. By 2023, we will have a deforestation-free supply chain in palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy and cocoa, so anyone who uses a Unilever product containing any of these commodities can enjoy it knowing that these commodities have not contributed to forest destruction.
To achieve our goals, engaging closely with farmers and growers is essential. We’re building on the work we have done to date, to empower a new generation of people in our supply chain to protect and regenerate nature. We want to increase the number of farmers and smallholders we reach through programmes based on our new Regenerative Agriculture Principles. These are agricultural practices focused on delivering positive outcomes in terms of nourishing the soil, increasing farm biodiversity, improving water quality and improving livelihoods.
In 2021, we'll start applying these Principles with selected suppliers in a number of ‘Lighthouse Projects’, so called because they signal the way to a brighter future. These include climate and nature friendly farming practices that can also enable smallholders to boost their income, reduce risk and become more resilient in the face of climate change. As we learn, we’ll set targets to include all our suppliers.
To drive this transformation, our brands will collectively invest €1 billion in a new Climate & Nature Fund, which will be used over the next ten years to take meaningful action to improve the health of our planet. It’s early days but we’re starting to expand existing programmes such as restoring landscapes, reforestation and reinstating wildlife habitats. We’re focusing our efforts on a priority set of crops, including palm oil, paper and board, soy, tea and cocoa.
Deforestation-free supply chain
by 2023 (palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy and cocoa).
With an agricultural footprint of 3 million hectares for the crops with high deforestation risk: palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy and cocoa, we have a responsibility to preserve land for future generations. One of the ways through which we’re aiming to achieve this is through a deforestation-free supply chain, enabled by greater transparency. We’ve been leading on sustainable sourcing practices for over a decade, and 89% of our forest-related commodities are now certified to globally recognised standards.
We are making progress, particularly with palm oil and soy suppliers. We believe that combining certification efforts with low-risk sourcing, traceability and technology to enable smallholder inclusion will help us create a deforestation-free supply chain. However, while certification plays an important role, we know it’s not enough. To end deforestation, we need visibility on sourcing origins. Simplifying our supply chain and working with more focused partnerships, for example, allows us to better manage traceability and risk.
In 2020, we introduced our new People and Nature cross-commodity policy (PDF 2.04MB) Opens in new window – superseding our individual commodity policies – making clear our supplier requirements and expectations: to achieve a zero deforestation supply chain, and to respect and promote human rights.
Responsible and sustainable sourcing of all our key crops and commodities by 2030.
Responsible and sustainable sourcing is a cornerstone of our approach to drive sustainability throughout our supply chain, from the largest commodity suppliers to smallholder farmers. It involves raising the standard of agricultural practices to drive social, economic, and environmental improvements.
To maximise our impact, we’re building on the work we have done to date, which for the last decade was through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. We are focusing on sustainably sourcing the 12 key crops and commodities – such as palm oil, paper and board, soy, sugar and tea – which make up around two-thirds of our agricultural raw materials.
The Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) and the Unilever Regenerative Agriculture Principles (RAPs) provide the basis for our responsible and sustainable sourcing programme. The SAC is a collection of best practice principles for farming that hundreds of thousands of farmers have used since 2010 to make their operations more sustainable. But despite years of implementation, the SAC has not been enough for us to solve all the sustainability challenges in our agricultural supply chain – from decline in soil health to biodiversity loss.
This is why in 2021 we are introducing the Unilever Regenerative Agriculture Principles, which provides guidance on how to nourish the soil, capture carbon and restore and regenerate the land. We aim for these to inspire our business, brands, our suppliers and peers – and form the basis for regenerative programmes for ingredients in our supply chain.
Working closely with our suppliers is crucial to reaching our goal. They help us get closer to the people who grow our crops, which, in turn, helps us ensure they come from sustainable sources. Our work in this area is detailed in our People and Nature cross-commodity policy (PDF 2.04MB) Opens in new window, which builds on our previous Unilever Sustainable Living Plan sourcing commitments.
Empower farmers and
smallholders to protect and regenerate
Sustainable sourcing involves not only large commodity suppliers, but farmers and smallholders.
An estimated 500 million people earn their income by working on their family smallholding. With generations of experience, these smallholder farmers often know more about their local growing conditions than anyone else. We rely on smallholders for a sustainable supply of some of our most important ingredients, including tea, palm oil, vegetables, cocoa and vanilla. That’s why we need to include smallholders in our efforts to promote regenerative farming, protect biodiversity and ensure a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.
Until now, our smallholder programmes have aimed to increase profitability for farmers by improving the sustainability of their operations, professionalising their businesses and promoting sustainable farming practices. But with the right support, smallholders can be at the forefront of global efforts to protect and regenerate nature. If smallholders are empowered to use sustainable and regenerative farming practices, they can replenish the land for current and future generations, boosting yields while building resilience.
Now, our smallholder programmes will focus on our priority crops of cocoa, palm oil, coconut, vanilla and tea, and will progressively embed our Regenerative Agriculture Principles. These principles are focused on farming practices such as good soil management, water conservation and improving biodiversity. Holistic programmes may also include social elements, such as training programmes on health, hygiene and financial management.
Implement water stewardship programmes in 100 locations in water-stressed areas by 2030.
Today, 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress – the gap between water availability and water use. The causes are wide ranging and include deforestation and land use change, the over abstraction of groundwater from agricultural crops, pollution from industrial waste, poor infrastructure, and solid waste management. And these causes are expected to continue as the impact of climate change is felt on water quality and availability across the globe.
We’re stepping up our efforts to mitigate water risks and working with others to address shared water challenges to achieve this goal will be critical.
To do this, we’ll take the learnings from our Prabhat programme in India, which works with communities to tackle water quality and supply risks around our factories and has preserved 50 billion litres of water so far, adopting the Alliance for Water Stewardship Standard, and learning from our peers’ best practices.
100% of our ingredients will be biodegradable by 2030.
Biodegradability is a natural process where micro-organisms break down ingredients into safe and simple building blocks such as carbon dioxide, water and salts, without harming ecosystems.
We’re focusing on the products that are generally washed off after use in people’s homes. These include laundry, household cleaning, skin cleansing, oral care and hair care products. For instance, our Clean Future strategy is creating a new generation of cleaning and laundry products that biodegrade in the environment. We’re finding ways to use new types of polymers and other slowly degradable ingredients that leave no trace behind.
In many cases we’ll replace our use of non-biodegradable ingredients with biodegradable alternatives. But some of the ingredients that we currently use have no viable biodegradable alternatives, so we’ll need to partner with our suppliers and others to find innovative solutions to reach our goal.
For example, we’re partnering with biotech leader Evonik Industries to develop a renewable and biodegradable surfactant – the ingredient that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, increasing its spreading and wetting properties – which is already used in our Sunlight (Quix) dishwashing liquid in Chile and Vietnam. We hope to significantly scale up our use of this technology as we develop more biodegradable formulations.