Independent assurance & our metrics

Our environmental reporting has been independently assured for over 20 years. In 2019 we continued to attain limited assurance of selected performance indicators.

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Independent external assurance helps us to drive continuous improvement in performance and in the quality, rigour and credibility of our data. We need accurate and robust data on our sustainability performance to help us make decisions, monitor performance and report progress to our stakeholders.

Our environmental reporting has been independently assured for over 20 years. In 2019 we continued to attain limited assurance of selected USLP and Environmental and Occupational Safety performance indicators.

Our Environmental and Occupational Safety performance measures have been independently assured since 1996 by globally recognised providers. In 2011 we began to assure selected key performance measures in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). Assurance of the Unilever Green Sustainability Bond started in 2014 and completed in 2018.

In addition to our annual assurance indicators noted above, we have developed a phased assurance programme that will enable us to gain independent limited assurance over our four environmental pillar commitments and five social pillar commitments of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) – Greenhouse Gas, Water, Waste, Sustainable Sourcing, Health & Hygiene, Nutrition, Fairness in the Workplace, Opportunities for Women and Inclusive Business. We have been assuring a number of our USLP targets since 2010.

We have extensive and diverse targets within our USLP which means that an annual assurance approach is not a pragmatic option given the size and scale of our business. We therefore aim to assure each pillar commitment and selected underlying metrics at least every two years. Given the maturity of our reporting and the depth of assurance programme, we believe this phased approach is appropriate and maintains robust insights to the business.

Our approach to assurance

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) provide independent assurance of the USLP, and DNV GL and KPMG LLP provided independent assurance in relation to our Green Sustainability Bond, which completed in 2018.

We operate a wide range of processes and activities across our operations covering strategy, planning, execution, and performance management. It is the responsibility of Unilever’s management to ensure that:

  • Appropriate arrangements are in place to prepare our performance information.
  • Reported information reflects our performance.
  • Data is meaningful and consistent with stated definitions, scope and boundaries.
  • Any specific exclusions are stated clearly and explained.
  • We describe openly any assumptions we make as well as our accounting and calculation methods.
  • We aim for transparency to enable users to have confidence in the integrity of our reporting.

Risk management is integrated into every stage of our activities, processes and systems to ensure we mitigate accuracy and reliability risks. Our Corporate Audit function provides us with an objective and independent review of the effectiveness of risk management and internal control systems throughout Unilever. External independent assurance from globally recognised assurance service providers supports our internal controls.

We have developed a phased approach to assurance that will enable us to obtain limited assurance over our nine pillar commitments that are central to the USLP by the target completion deadlines – with the aim of assuring each pillar metric and selected underlying metrics at least every two years.

External assurance in 2019

We reappointed PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) to provide independent assurance for the eighth consecutive year. PwC’s assurance engagement is in accordance with ISAE 3000 and they apply the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales (ICAEW) Code of Ethics. The Unilever Board's Audit Committee oversees the USLP assurance programme.

In 2019, PwC’s scope was to provide limited assurance of selected Environmental and Occupational Safety (EOS) performance measures and four USLP pillar commitments: Nutrition, Greenhouse Gases, Water and Sustainable Sourcing, as well as selected Inclusive Business metrics.

Unilever’s Basis of Preparation 2019 (PDF | 429KB) contains a full description of all the USLP and EOS performance measures – including the definition, scope and data preparation and assumptions – and the four pillar commitments that have been subject to limited assurance by PwC’s work. PwC’s Limited Assurance Report 2019 (PDF | 189KB) concludes their work for the 2019 reporting year.

There are currently no industry norms or globally recognised practices for evaluating and measuring many of the performance indicators in the USLP. We have developed a phased approach that will enable us to obtain limited assurance over the nine commitments which are central to our USLP.

The environmental performance indicators assured were chosen because they reflect the main environmental aspects for our manufacturing sites, including utilities consumption, and waste, air and water pollution. Occupational safety indicators were chosen because a safe workplace environment is always a top priority for our business.

As we incorporate more sustainability data in our Annual Report and Accounts, we are aligning our assurance process with our financial reporting timetable. As a result, independent assurance was provided for our Annual Report and Accounts 2019 in February 2020, apart from our Sustainable Sourcing metric. These were assured in time for publication of the online Unilever Sustainable Living 2019 Report in April 2020.

Unilever Green Sustainability Bond Report and assurance

In March 2014 Unilever issued a £250 million Green Sustainability Bond, inviting investors to support our vision for sustainable growth while investing in Unilever credit. The four-and-a-half year bond, which was repaid 19 December 2018, was a first for Unilever - the first green bond in the sterling market and also the first to be issued by an FMCG company. Proceeds were used on projects linked to greenhouse gases, water and waste targets in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Projects benefiting from proceeds of the Bond:

  • Home Care South Africa: Our factory at Anderbold, Johannesburg, South Africa produces home care brands for the domestic market. The site design employs eco-efficiency improvements including rainwater harvesting, water recycling, daylight harvesting and LEED building certification. The site became fully operational in 2017.
  • Home Care China: An investment in Chengdu, Sichuan, China is Unilever’s eighth factory in the country. The site, which produces laundry powders, brings eco-efficiency improvements including water recycling, a biomass furnace, LED lighting and LEED building certification. The site became fully operational in 2017.
  • Beauty and Personal Care Turkey: A new multi-category factory in Selçuklu-Konya, Turkey producing brands employing eco-efficiency measures such as rainwater harvesting, water recycling, solar water heating and LEED building certification. The site became operational during 2018.
  • Refreshment: This project further strengthens the environmental credentials of our ice cream cabinets at the point of sale through the purchase of HFC-free freezer cabinets using natural hydrocarbon refrigerants (HC). Freezers have been purchased for distribution and operation and this project is completed.
  • Spreads US: An extension to an existing factory in Johnson County, Kansas, US (subsequently sold in July 2018 as part of the disposal of Unilever’s spreads business). The design for this site introduces many eco-efficiency features such as energy efficient drives and lighting, heat recovery from steam and refrigeration systems and LEED building certification. The site became fully operational in 2017.

Outcomes

  • The Spreads factory in the US, the Home Care factory in China and the Home Care factory in South Africa each achieved all of the relevant environmental criteria for greenhouse gases, water and waste.
  • The Home Care and Beauty & Personal Care factory in Turkey met the relevant environmental criteria for greenhouse gases and waste; whilst not fully meeting the water target in its early operational phase. Since, this factory has demonstrated that it is capable of meeting the water criteria on the basis of the production volumes in the design forecast for the factory. 
  • The Home and Personal Care factory in Turkey continues to monitor and improve its water usage.

We worked with independent sustainability service provider DNV GL to develop a Green Sustainability Bond framework which provides clarity and transparency around the Environmental and Use of Proceeds criteria. Together these criteria meet the guidance given in the Green Bond Principles (comprising Voluntary Process Guidelines for Issuing Green Bonds dated 13 January 2014) that there should be a robust process and disclosure by an issuer to facilitate understanding of the characteristics of a bond by investors and others in this area. The DNV GL Independent Limited Assurance Statement (PDF | 937KB) is the fifth and final limited assurance report for the Unilever Green Sustainability Bond for the year to 31 December 2018 in accordance with ISAE 3000.

Independent review

In 2011 a panel of lifecycle analysis experts led by Professor Roland Clift (University of Surrey, UK) conducted a scientific review of our approach to measuring and reducing our environmental impacts and concluded it to be sound and appropriate.

They looked at the scope and boundaries of the metrics, the validity of calculation methods, assumptions and data sources. The Panel’s full report can be found here (PDF | 98KB). They concluded:

“We consider Unilever’s approach to be sound and appropriate. Unilever has selected a set of impacts which are relevant to describing the lifecycle environmental impacts of the company’s businesses and products. The baseline data provide a representative picture of current performance in terms of these impacts, and consistent application of the approach should give a sound indication of progress towards the targets the company has set.”

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