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Protect and regenerate nature Strategy and goals

If we want a healthy planet, we must look after nature and the livelihoods it supports.

This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Life on land

Average read time: 8 minutes

Building a positive future for people and nature

Nature has enormous potential to tackle climate change and support livelihoods. By protecting forests and regenerating ecosystems, we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change and improve livelihoods to build a more socially equitable world.

Women working in tea field

To protect and regenerate nature, we’ll need everyone on board: that means bringing people, partners and technology together.

Smallholder farmers are custodians of the land and they’re critical to the future of our forests and landscapes. We want to empower smallholders to be a positive force at the forefront of global efforts to restore nature. By supporting farmers and growers in our supply chain with a secure living income and the right tools and resources, they can play an active role in the protection of our planet.

We’re increasing the number of farmers and smallholders we reach through training and livelihood programmes based on our Regenerative Agriculture Principles. We’ve begun to apply these Principles with selected suppliers in a number of ‘Lighthouse Projects’, so called because they signal the way to a brighter future. As we learn, we’ll set targets to include all our suppliers.

By 2023, we will have a deforestation-free supply chain in palm oil, paper and board, tea, soy and cocoa. We’re using technology to help us understand what is happening to forests globally, so we can work to prevent deforestation before it happens.

Our brands are investing €1 billion in a 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 also want to preserve and protect water to create a future where everyone has access to a safe and resilient water supply. As water stewards, we’re engaging in innovation and collective action to close the gap between water availability and water use. And we’re taking action to make our product formulations biodegradable by 2030.

To achieve our goals and generate change, we also need partnerships. We’re collaborating with suppliers and have set out clear requirements in our People and Nature Policy to protect forest-related commodities and promote human rights. Together with governments, NGOs and other multi-stakeholder partnerships, collectively we can tackle deforestation, build regenerative agricultural systems, restore landscapes and preserve water.

Our goals

Eliminating deforestation

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 a 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 we’re aiming to achieve this is through a deforestation-free supply chain, enabled by greater transparency. We’ve been leading 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 on its own. 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 cross-commodity People and Nature Policy (PDF 2.04MB) – to supersede 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.

Zero deforestation

Sourcing all key crops sustainably

Responsible and sustainable sourcing of all our key crops and commodities.

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 introduced the Unilever Regenerative Agriculture Principles, which provide guidance on how to nourish the soil, capture carbon, and restore and regenerate the land. We aim for these to inspire our business, brands, 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 cross-commodity People and Nature Policy (PDF 2.04MB) which builds on our previous Unilever Sustainable Living Plan sourcing commitments.

Sustainable and regenerative sourcing

Light shining through tropical forest

Enabling farmers and smallholders

Empower farmers and smallholders to protect and regenerate farm environments.

Sustainable sourcing involves not only large commodity suppliers, but also 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 and cocoa. 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 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.

Empowering smallholder farmers

Scaling water stewardship

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.

Water stewardship

Embedding biodegradability into our products

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.

Water stewardship